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Religious Music Around The World

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Music is an indispensable attribute of any culture. For centuries, people have expressed their feelings, thoughts, and experiences through music. In this context, different communities have specific music pieces that help them to perform rituals and religious ceremonies. In spite of the fact that there is a great level of divergence in societies, music represents a shared history of religious experiences. Additionally, being a part of rituals and religious practices, it has shaped cultures and societies with unique spiritual heritage. Thus, using the examples of different communities, it becomes possible to define the role of music in religious practices around the world.

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Theoretical Background

Music has always been a significant part of religions and rituals worldwide. In the past, music was believed to give soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to life and to everything (as cited in Lesley, 2017). This definition helps to understand the role that music played in ancient societies and their religions. Presently, the topic of music in rituals and religions is a matter of interest due to several reasons. Firstly, there is a great number of musical compositions that have explicit religious significance (Theorell, 2014, p. 29). Secondly, previously, religion had a high status that reflected on the rich musical culture. Additionally, music has been often associated with mystical properties and abilities to put people in a trance that is related to religious experiences in some communities.

Music is still linked to rituals and religions, and this connection may be traced in various cultures. For example, in the Candomble Afro-Brazilian religion... music is so ubiquitous that the same term encompasses what [people] recognize as music and religion (Trehub, Becker, & Morley, 2015, p. 3). In fact, music has always played a significant role and, according to Brown (2014), it never functions entirely alone... but interacts with language and culture, and with expectations shaped by ritual and belief (p. 120). Music also has deep historical roots that help to understand the history of civilizations and their core cultural elements (religious and ritual activities).

There is a great number of musical forms and systems. It is hard to identify specific structural components that may be systematized. Nevertheless, there are some common aspects and features of music that may be regarded to as statistical universals (Trehub, Becker, & Morley, 2015, p. 2). They include the idea of music being engaged in different religious activities in the majority of studied societies. The fact that a particular place, people, and musical pieces may serve for religious purposes was developed around the world. Additionally, most rituals and religious experiences involve both musical accompaniment and singing. In this context, music helps to shape spiritual world of people.

Although rituals and religious activities have undergone different stages of development in various societies, they almost always included music as an integral part of ceremonies. It may be difficult to comprehend specific elements of rituals and religious doctrines of different communities, but it is easier to respond to music that accompanies these practices. Additionally, music also helps to define religious reality (Lesley, 2017). Thus, holistic meanings conveyed through music may be described based on their spiritual and emotional domains using specific examples.

Cultural Context

Representatives of various cultures incorporate music in rituals and ceremonies, and, thus, it is hard to imagine any traditional practice without musical accompaniment. Music creates a specific atmosphere that compels people to respond to, for example, holy texts. It also unites people in their efforts to communicate with gods or spirits. These and other functions may be found in different religious traditions around the world. It is worth mentioning that these religious aspects of music have shaped cultures and societies proving them with an exceptional color.

For example, Zimbabwe music connects with spirits, and, its natives, the Shona people, use it to perform rituals. Their music gives an opportunity to encounter mystic experiences and encourages people to unite with spirits (Xiao Hao, 2014, p. 18). In other words, music is a mediator between the world of reality and the world of a religious vision. To produce music, the Shona people apply a specific structure that transforms repeated patterns into a musical piece which corresponds to mental patterns of the practitioners (Xiao Hao, 2014, p. 18). The rituals help an individual to fall into trance. Without music, the Shona people would not be able to practice their rituals and undergo the ancient mystic experiences. Interestingly, repetitions are also typical of other religions. For instance, in Hindu, there are religious songs (Kritis) that glorify gods. As a rule, they are sung by one artist who performs in a manner similar to concert settings. Additionally, the singer may repeat the names of God (for example in Bruhi Mukundeli) (Xiao Hao, 2014, p. 19). These performances are regarded to as religious acts.

East and West have used music in more traditional practices. These cultures combine different forms of music with religious experience that is directed by a patron. The task of a patron is to manage musical soundings and help people achieve different religious purposes. They were usually served by composers who were employed during the past centuries. For instance, in the Ottoman Empire, many famous composers wrote pieces for the sacred dervish ceremonies, the Mevlevi ayin (Xiao Hao, 2014, p. 18). Some of the highly acclaimed compositions were created to be played during the ceremonies by Sufi mystics (Xiao Hao, 2014, p. 18). Moreover, only sultans had a privilege to choose composers. Thus, the abovementioned facts emphasize the significance of music for the Muslim ceremonies.

In Christian religious traditions, there are liturgical services. The liturgies include several song sections that are a part of the modern tradition. Religious music helps to explain meanings of sacred texts and stress their significance. This type of music also requires people to meditate the words. Christian religious music is popular and continues to develop. Thus, there are opportunities to participate in the religious experience and observe the effects that music has on people in churches.

There is also a great number of musical festivals that have strictly religious significance. The festivals gather people who come to express their religious beliefs. In the past, in the Ottoman Empire, people performed a fast-paced and rhythmic music during festivals when men danced and fell into a trance while listening to repetitive religious lyrics and drumming. This kind of religious phenomenon was a means of experiencing the blessing of God (Xiao Hao, 2014, p. 18). Presently, a similar tendency may be observable in Japan, where people attend the annual kagura festival. The term kagura means music of the gods and suggests thinking that music is also used to communicate with gods (Xiao Hao, 2014, p. 18). These examples stress that music and religions have a number of common features that find their particularization in the need to communicate with gods. In this context, music is a path.

Papua New Guinea has a rather different approach to music and rituals . An ethnic group known as the Kaluli uses natural environment to create music and contact the spiritual world. Here, bird's songs serve as examples of the main rhythms and melodies for religious music. As a result, the Kaluli ritual pieces consist of four descending tones in imitation of the call of the muni bird that can be heard as the voices of their deceased ancestors (Trehub, Becker, & Morley, 2015, p. 3). The communication with the other world does not require trance but is founded on the patterns provided by nature.

Nevertheless, music is not always a part of rituals, and some religions prohibit its interference in sacred practices . For example, in Islam, religious observations should not be associated with music (Trehub, Becker, & Morley, 2015, p. 3). Even during a recital of teachings of the Koran, the process is not regarded to as singing, and, thus, music never accompanies these procedures. Consequently, the contrast between the roles of music in various religious practices shows the difference between cultures. Thus, music has its historic and cultural value for every community.

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To summarize, people use music to establish a connection between the real world and the world of gods and spirits. Music creates an atmosphere that is necessary to fall into trance and undergo religious experience. Moreover, the role of music in rituals and religions differs depending on cultural background. For example, in the ancient Japanese tradition Kagura, music is a means of communication with gods, while the Shone tribe of Zimbabwe use music to unite with spirits. It was one of the major elements of ritual and ceremonies in the past and continues to be a main attribute of religious experience in the present. Additionally, while performing rituals, people apply different approaches to music (for example, the Kaluli imitates the sounds of birds). The research shows that not all religions accept music and incorporate it in their sacred practices. For instance, music is forbidden while reading the Koran in Islam. This discrepancy in the role of music illustrates the different nature of cultures and societies.

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