"If music be the food of love, play on."
Music is subjective, but religion is pretty subjective, too. Jesus Christ has his followers, but so do Ed Wood, various space aliens and a flying monster made of spaghetti. That being said, it’s not entirely surprising that some music lovers take their adoration to the next level.
The Coltrane Church—or more specifically, the St. John Will-I-Am Coltrane African Orthodox Church—came about following a 1965 appearance of the legendary saxophonist at the Jazz Workshop in San Francisco when a group of spectators believed they saw the Christian Holy Ghost walking with Coltrane as he came out on stage.
Dr. Nicholas Baham, an ethnic studies professor at Cal State East Bay, began his work with the church from an anthropological standpoint, but his association has since grown. He plays guitar with its band, he does lay ministry; he is writing a book.
Although music and religion have been entwined since the earliest pagans first danced ‘round their fires, along the line conflicting schools of thought emerged. The Greeks began to break art into categories of high and low, says Baham, some that was considered more cerebral, some less. “Your European intelligentsia really had a nice way of organizing how you supposedly thought about the music you heard,” he says. For someone like Baham, who primarily studies African-based culture, this doesn’t necessarily apply.
“In Africa, there wasn’t this sense that grows in Europe over time of the ‘professionalization’ of music … that it’s something that is performed for audiences that sit and listen …. [In Africa] Everyone knows the songs, the dances …it’s a part of who you are,” says Baham. “And you don’t have this high and low thing, because the body isn’t regarded as a low thing.”
The Coltrane church is a fusion. “They’re working on an idiom called jazz,” Baham says. “A word that people presumed meant fucking. It was associated with the red-light district, it was a low music.” The European ideology is that there are places where God will be and places where God won’t. The Coltrane Church picks up on more Afro centric notions: Both good and evil are potentially everywhere. At all times. “So they have no problem taking a music that was considered brothel music and celebrating a saint who was once a heroin addict and playing it in a church to be spiritually uplifted.”
Disciples of the Coltrane Church tell a true story about a young girl who lay dying in a hospital bed after being terribly abused at the hands of her father. The parishioners slapped a poster of Coltrane on the wall, lined musicians around the bed and played. The girl, burned over more than half her body, survived. And they believe it was the music, the vibrations from the music, that healed her.
Says Jonathan Goldman, musician, teacher, director of the Sound Healers Association and author of The 7 Secrets of Sound Healing. “Music can heal.” In fact, Goldman believes that music can have profound physiological effects on the body.
“Most people just think of music as energy that they hear,” he says. “It goes into their ears and that’s as far as they get. But the reality is that it goes into our ears and then into our brain and it affects our nervous system—our heartbeat, our respiration, our brainwaves.”
For example, very loud music, he says, not only accelerates all these things, but also stimulates the production of adrenaline. “But an adolescent’s body is different than an adult’s,” he points out. “Whereas an older person may be annoyed or disrupted by excessively loud, fast music, it works more in tune with a person who is going through the hormonal changes of a teenager.”
Could the music of Coltrane heal burns? Goldman can’t say, but he does believe there is something very real and effective in the ancient practice of sound healing. Studies are few (don’t hold your breath waiting for GlaxoSmithKline) however he does cite research showing the effects of sound on hemoglobin cells.
“The note C would be struck and a Kirlian (electrographic) photograph would be taken and you could see major changes within the cell.” Sounds can balance and align all of the major energy centers (chakras) within the body, he says. And this sort of therapy can be done alone or with a partner.
To this end, Goldman and his wife produced The Tantra of Sound Harmonizer. “It’s the first recording created that balances out your brainwaves using psychoacoustics ... I perceive that the sexual experience can be extraordinarily enhanced as we incorporate more and more of the chakras using sound—listening to sound and then, ultimately, making self-created sounds together.”
Goldman has been teaching vowels sounds to resonate the chakras for two decades. “If you make these sounds, you’ll feel them resonating in your body. It helps the flow of energy, and can stimulate that which may have been asleep, such as the kundalini, or sexual energy.”
The Stones—Mick, in particular—have a staggering effect on my kundalini, but that doesn’t mean there’s no room at the inn for Otis Redding. Or Jay-Z. Or AC/DC. They can put their love into me anytime they like. Or at least, inspire me to let someone else do it.
Dr. Baham connects with Jimi Hendrix: “If Jimi wanted to take you underwater in some fantasy of his, he could do that.” Singer/songwriter Camille finds herself into Tom Waits these days. “I didn’t like him six years ago, but somehow he’s grown on me—like Guinness or oysters. He’s an acquired taste I can’t live without.”
“I can’t fuck to disco,” says 41-year-old Lila, a self-described rocker, with a detectable level of disgust. “I mean, who can?”
For Lila, Bee Gee sex is impossible; incontrovertible fact you can’t debate. It would be like selling the Jehovah’s Witness who rang your bell on the merits of organ donation. Our love of music—of loving to music—inspires zealotry so pure, it’s beautiful.