Music as Healer - Paul Horn - Grandfather of Transformational (New Age) Music
A biographical-interview by Rosemary Phillips
Meet Paul Horn
The setting was the pink Tidemark Theatre courtyard in Campbell River, British Columbia, Canada. Paul Horn and I sat on the circular wall under the cherry tree, amid the traffic of people coming and going. It was a beautiful warm, sunny day in 1992:
R. With us right now in the Tidemark courtyard is musician Paul Horn. Thank you for joining us.
P. You're welcome.
R. I'd really like to know your background in music and how you got started on some of those incredible recordings you did back in the '60's that were created in the Great Pyramid and the Taj Mahal.
P. Well, we're going to cover a lot of years in a short time. I always loved music. My mother was a professional musician back in the 20's, she recorded, had her own radio show in New York City, sang and played piano. Her career stopped when she got married and I came along. But the musical influence was always there because she would play the piano and sing around the house. I went through Conservatory majoring in clarinet and taking up flute. I already played the saxophone. By the time I'd finished all that I was a well schooled musician.
I had a pretty straight ahead jazz career in Los Angeles and around Hollywood after being on the road for a couple of years with the Chico Hamilton Quintet, which got me started. Then I did studio work for about fifteen years in Los Angeles until 1970. But it was in the late '60's that a transformation took place in my life, a spiritual transformation that affected everything, including the music and how I viewed music. Until then music was entertainment, and I was mainly a jazz musician. I was trying to build a career for myself so I was pretty self-centred about it and was very concerned about acceptance with my peers, what the critics thought of me, and everything that it took to prove to myself that I was OK. The career was building nicely, and everything was going as I had hoped it would, and yet the realization came to me quite vividly that I wasn't very happy with all of this. It seemed like a real paradox. I was achieving all of my goals that I had set out to achieve over the years, so why wasn't I smiling from ear to ear twenty-four hours a day? And so I began a spiritual search. There was an inner unfulfillment that obviously didn't lie in the area of my career because that was being fulfilled. So what was it that was lacking?
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and Meditation
R. Did you find something to turn to in that regard?
P. At that time Maharishi Mahesh Yogi came into my life. That was pre-Beatles' time, before it all hit the world stage. A few friends were starting to practice his system of meditation. I'd read over the years about meditation, Eastern philosophy, Yoga, Zen, and things that were attractive to me. In these books they always talked about meditation but no one ever told me how to do it. And here was someone who talked about it and showed how to use a simple technique.
R. It actually became something you could do then?
P. It was something I could do and it was simple. I began to feel better. It wasn't an overnight cure-all, but I felt that this was worthwhile pursuing. Then it came to mind that I should just go to India and spend some time with this man. I dropped everything in L.A., my career and everything, and just went. I spent four months with him in his ashram in India and really got immersed in the whole thing. That really changed my life. I still do meditation as a daily practice otherwise I think I'd have been dead long ago. Meditation grounded me, and it centred me. The whole creative flow and new direction in music then opened up to me.
Inside the Taj Mahal
R. Is that when you did the Taj Mahal recording?
P. Soon after that. The period I was talking about was 1967. I went back again the following year, in 1968, to spend more time with the Maharishi. On that trip I went into the Taj Mahal one night and recorded my flute playing. It was never intended to be a commercial recording, just something that I had hoped to do for myself, to bring back a tape to play for some friends back home as a memento. But the tape came out quite good and a year later Epic Records wanted to release it. That opened up everything. "Inside the Taj Mahal" was the first of that type of album. I had already done about fourteen jazz albums and this was a real departure from all of that.
R. By sharing the recording with others you have helped open doors for many people.
P. It proved to be that way. It was really a phenomenon. The record company couldn't believe all the people that were interested in it and the radio stations couldn't believe all the people that were requesting it because it was so quiet, just a solo flute inside a building that has wonderful acoustics. It's a very meditative album because there's a lot of space in it. Due to the large echo in the building I was forced to not play too much because if I did it would come back as a big jumble of sounds. So, I played a phrase then waited while the sound settled down, then played another phrase and all the echoes went twirling around in that beautiful huge dome. It's quite magical as far as the sound is concerned, and it allows people to drift and sink within themselves creating what is very similar to a meditative experience.
Transformational (New Age) Music
R. It was in fact my first meditation tape, and it has helped me over many humps in my life.
P. A lot of people have told me that over the years. That to me is very fulfilling and rewarding that, somehow, I was a part of that transformational music that was about to emerge in a bigger way. I just happened to be one of the first such musicians. Since then there has been an emergence of a new genre called New Age music, a term which is very confusing to a lot of people, as all titles for genres are, because the music keeps changing. You can't really pin down what this music is, but to me it's a type of music that is basically therapeutic in nature. It's healing music, music that's healing mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally. It has the power to heal very strongly. This is the music that I have been more interested in over the last twenty years, and I think my career has gone more and more in that direction.
R. The recording in the Taj Mahal was totally spontaneous and creative. How did the creativity flow through you at that time and how is that happening with you now, as your music changes?
P. Well, the essence and basis of jazz is improvisation, spontaneous expression of what you feel at the moment, with the knowledge you have attained throughout the years, just as we are now talking an unrehearsed conversation. We trust in the moment because you know the language and I know the language. That's the basis of improvisation. You use the language of music in a spontaneous way. It's always fresh and energizing. There's a certain energy to that rather than, say, a prepared speech. As a jazz musician I've always been into improvisation. It's very natural for me to play music that way. So, when I walked into the Taj Mahal I didn't have any piece of music in mind. I just started playing and let the feeling of the moment come through me. That's basically what I do all the time.
Inside the Great Pyramid
R. Following the Taj Mahal you also did a recording in the Pyramid. How did that experience come about?
P. It was about eight years later. Someone suggested it to me because the Taj Mahal album had been so successful and people were probably looking for more of the same. When a friend was thinking about some very special places in the world the Great Pyramid came to mind. I thought it was a wonderful idea, so about a year later I was on my way to Egypt with a group of people and managed to get inside the Great Pyramid to do the recording. Again it was the same kind of meditative experience, but something a little different because the building is a part of the music too. The history and the mystery of the pyramids is different from the history of the Taj Mahal. There's a history in the Taj Mahal that's about three hundred years old. It's a marvelous world famous building and it has wonderful acoustics, but there's no mystery to it. The Great Pyramid is five thousand years old minimum and there are lots of theories about how it was built, why it was built, when it was built, and all of that. But no one really has a definitive answer. So it's a very mysterious place, and it's a very powerful place. That feeling, that mystery and that history became part of the music.
I've approached music with the understanding that knowledge is available regarding tones and their effect upon the body. I think the father of that knowledge was the mathematician Pythagoras who lived several thousand years ago. Pythagoras was also a fine musician and he knew specifically what tones would affect which parts of the body. I once read a story about his attending a big banquet and while he was there someone had an epileptic fit. He pointed to the lute player in the orchestra and asked him to pluck a certain chord. It stopped the fit immediately. That was a specific example. Another story tells of how he would walk down the streets with his disciples, strumming on a lute, and he'd say, "See that building over there? This is what it sounds like." He would translate the mathematical proportions of that building into physical, musical sounds, which are based on harmonics which are mathematical. He had the brilliance and the genius as both a musician and a mathematician to put the two together. That particular knowledge has been lost, but there seem to be people interested in reviving it.
Music as Healer
R. It's coming out a lot in New Age music, music with a healing approach.
P. That was very specific information known in the days of Pythagoras.
There are people today, Steven Halpern is one such person, who are really looking into this subject, investigating colours and tones and how they correspond to energy centres in the body. Pythagoras said something that rang a bell with me. He said that what's really healing is the mood of the music. That's what I do, I create a mood, and the only way I create that mood is through pure spontaneity. If I'm quiet and balanced and centred then the mood will take care of itself, and the music, whatever the music is to be, comes out of me and reflects that mood.
R. How do you actually feel at the time of recording or performing?
P. Over the years I've finally got to the point, thank God, that I feel real relaxed when I perform, because I'm not out to prove anything. That stopped a long time ago. And when that day arrived in my life then everything just settled down and was much smoother because I had already established myself and really didn't care about what other's thought of me. I know I'm not going to get everyone to like me all the time. So what! That's part of life. I just show up and play. Music comes from wherever you are consciously. If you show up at a concert feeling very agitated, and don't take time to meditate, when you start playing obviously you are starting from that level of agitation. Your performance is going to be influenced by that feeling or that emotion that you are having at that time. Because I've been meditating on a daily basis for about twenty-five years now it's very easy for me to just go inside myself real deep, within a second. So when I'm on stage, or if I'm inside the Taj Mahal or the Pyramid, or wherever, I can just close my eyes and go inside. Then everything becomes centred and calm, and the music then comes from that calm. I don't worry about anything, and I don't think too much. I just open myself and see what comes out.
R. In other words by feeling that calmness inside yourself you are allowing the creativity to just flow through you much more easily?
P. Exactly, because creativity, the creative intelligence, energy, your life force, that all comes from your centre which is right in here. (Paul pointed to his solar plexus.) The Buddhists call it your Dantien. That's the well-spring of it all. So if you go inside and make contact with that life force, that's where you're going to come from, that deepest level.
So it's just a question of touching home base, and getting connected and grounded with your own Self, your own centre. I know that sounds esoteric and philosophical. It is. But it's open to empirical verification, that is, direct experience. It's not that you have to believe in meditation, you don't have to believe in any of this stuff. This has nothing to do with your philosophical beliefs or your religious beliefs or anything else, it's just that now you can get a direct experience of your own Self. That's all I do. I just go inside, touch bases with my Self, with my inner most part and then let the creative flow come from there, which it always does.
R. You allow everything to come from the calm within you?
P. You used a great word, allow. That's right. You just allow it to happen because to try to make it happen doesn't work. When an animal is sick, what does it do? It stops eating, it doesn't run around and it lies very very still. As humans our job for healing is to be still because nature takes care of the healing. We don't heal ourselves, and doctors don't heal us. It's God, if you will, it's that power, that force of life, nature, cosmic intelligence, whatever name you want to give it, which is healing. It's beyond human direction. What we can do for our part is be as still as possible to conserve energy and to shut down, and that allows the healing to take place.
Music and Meditation
R. And many of us don't do that. We are running so fast with our daily lives and our daily business that we don't take time to just stop. Doing something like putting on your music allows us that opportunity.
P. That's healing music as far as I'm concerned. Select a time of the day for you, say, after you've finished with your business, the kids are in bed and you're finished with dinner and all your chores. It's a time that you can be quiet, but you can't just tell yourself that you're going to be quiet now because your body is going like this and your mind is going like that. What helps is that you put on a piece of music, put your feet up and just go with the music without trying to do anything. Just get absorbed in the music and if it's a quiet type of music it will be very healing to you because it will release a lot of the stress that is in the nervous system and it will quiet you down.
R. Once we go into the quiet we often ask questions about life, the universe and everything.
P. That's not the time to do it. The answers will come in silence but when you are meditating my suggestion would be to not think about anything specific. Don't try to find answers to anything – daily problems, or the great mystery of life, and all of that. That's for another time. This is a time to just be quiet, shut the intellect off, and just float with the music. That's healing. And then, when you are all relaxed and you're centred, you'll want to think of those things and maybe you'll come up with some answers.
R. I heard somewhere that it's OK to ask the questions but we have to have silence to hear the answers.
P. Very good. I like that. Sure. Because most of the time when the answers come we're still asking questions. We don't allow time to receive the answers. The whole thing about meditation is that it is a technique to be still.
Time to Heal
R. We don't give ourselves enough healing time. We get signals like headaches, or back aches or whatever, and we just don't pay attention to them, then we're given a swift kick in the ass to sit, or lie down. It's at that time that you can put the music on and drift.
P. Isn't that something – we're so stubborn as human beings that we're put through trauma to get to a point where we can see simple things again. As you say, maybe an illness, an operation, or a car accident that's really going to lay you up for a while will suddenly force this quiet, force you to stop running around. Almost instantly you re-evaluate your life and maybe think, 'God that was inappropriate, all that stuff I was mixed up in, or worrying about and getting all sick about. What the heck was all that – it's not important. What's important are my loved ones, whoever they may be, my kids, and whatever.' Just figure out what you really like in life, and usually it'll be real simple and clear and no big deal. This other stuff that we all get caught up in is what's giving us sickness.
Music for Healing
R. Has your music in any way been used in places like hospitals?
P. Yes. I've received tapes from hospitals, many in the States. They say that they use my music for post-operative healing in the hospital and then they give a cassette, of which my music seems to be a part, to the patient to take home with them for the purpose of what we are talking about. It's really interesting how this is gradually coming into the medical profession. They are accepting it to some degree. I don't think that they can deny that to be quiet is what's important. Rest. Whenever you're sick they say go to bed and rest, rest, rest. In a hospital you can't get too much rest because they awaken you every hour, shove a pill down your throat or a needle in your arm or feed you, and so you don't get much rest in a hospital. There's a paradox right there. But, when you're home you just have to be quiet and then the healing takes place. To me that's the highest value of music. It can heal us like we've been talking about, and it can bring us together because it's a common denominator to all human beings. Everyone in the world understands music and relates to music because it's sound and sound is vibration and we're all vibration.
R. You say the vibration helps create the mood. This can be everything from quiet meditation to celebration, joy and exhilaration?
P. Yes, music has the ability to take us through the whole gamut of emotions, but when it comes to the healing it's the quiet that we're talking about, that end of the spectrum.
Russia 1988 and Jazz Tour
R. The tour that you are doing now with a group is a celebration of the tour that you did through the former Soviet Union. It's slightly different from the recordings you've done so far.
P. It isn't different from recordings I've done so far but it's different from the recordings we've just been talking about. I do wear two very distinct hats. I wear my old jazz hat which has high energy music played with a group of musicians and my other hat which is the quieter, meditative, solo type of playing. I love them both.
When we went over to Russia in 1988 the people needed and wanted energetic music. Things were really bad over there. It was the third time that I had been there in five years and I could see the changes. I also knew the situation there and how difficult life was for the people, so to play soft, quiet, introspective meditative music was not really what they wanted, rather something in which they could just lose themselves, in a way that was more entertaining, if you will, that had more energy to it. So, I put together this band which is a good jazz band, and the tour was wonderful. We met some great people and made wonderful friendships, some of which are still lasting today. Once again we experienced the connection that music has as a common denominator to us all. All the political stuff, or whatever was separating us, fell away in a minute with the music. And there we were just enjoying our humanness with one another. Music is a great communicator, it's certainly the Universal language.
R. Thank you for joining us and sharing with us and helping us get a bit of insight into the music that you have given us for so many years.
Post Script and Links
The concert that evening at the Tidemark Theatre was a huge success. We kept in touch for a good number of years, exchanging CDs and books, and in 2004, at the launch concert of Rex Weyler's book "Greenpeace - the Inside Story" Paul was performing and while setting up, handed me a copy of the book "Haida and Paul Horn: The adventures of a Killer Whale and a Jazz Musician" written by Shirley E. Forbing, with music by Paul. This was his reply to my own story and music "One Seed."
For a companion story visit A Whale Story - the Magic of Paul Horn's Flute
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