Happy Easter! “Spiritual” music, whatever your beliefs…

One of my wilder ideas is to do a PhD with a musical topic. And I think it would be something along the lines of “what is the purpose of music”? Why is it so important to so many of us? Why is it so apparently fundamental to the human condition?

I suspect there isn’t a single answer, because it seems to have a number of core purposes. It is a means of communication – telling stories. Song lyrics are easier to remember than poems or purely spoken tales. It is used to whip up passion – for fighting or for romance. Think of battle songs, the bagpipes, the war drums – or Marvin Gaye or the madrigals of the middle ages for the more pleasant sort of passion!

It’s an aid to celebration, to taking yourself outside of your day to day cares or even outside your physical body.  The waltzes of Strauss or the latest bangin’ Heavy House track fulfil exactly the same purpose, I’d argue.

And then, without a doubt, much of our most loved music has what we might call a spiritual purpose. Even those of us who aren’t particularly religious can feel it, I suspect, with certain songs or pieces of music. They don’t have to have explicitly religious lyrics (or they might even be called “Losing my Religion”), they may not have words at all (Ode to Joy)  but certain pieces of music move us in a way that’s hard to rationalise.

So, for Easter Sunday, here are three tracks that may not be overtly religious, but affect me, even as a doubting scientist, on a spiritual level.

You can argue there is some overtly religious stuff in the Mumford’s songs, but whether or not that’s true, it has a strong spiritual component. This video is from Reading Festival in 2010 where they packed out the big tent, and the surrounding area, with 15,000 ecstatic youngsters (mainly). I was there and it was one of my best ever musical moments - deeply and unexpectedly moving.

Whatever you think about U2, they have written some superb songs that will be appreciated till the human race disappears. And I’m sure the spiritual element of some of their best songs is an important element in their success.  Here’s their greatest song.

Finally, a song that has no apparent religious connotations at all , yet somehow I find very affecting, and clearly has some sort of spiritual component. My favourite song of last year.

Happy Easter!

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