Dr. Nelson Harrison is an interesting man. He is not only accomplished, but has a thirst for knowledge that simply cannot be matched. He is a Clinical Psychologist, among other things, and has an acute understanding of the history of music and how music can affect the mind. As part of this Dr. Boyce Watkins/Your Black World Spotlight, Dr. Harrison speaks about the metaphysics of music and specifically answers questions related to how hip hop music can impact the minds of our kids.
One of the most interesting pieces of Dr. Harrison’s response is the following:
The drum machine was designed to imitate human drummers, however, the machine produces a quantized beat that is mathematically perfect. This makes it a perfect hypnotic trance inducer that allows post-hypnotic suggestions (the content) to become imbedded into the subconscious mind of the listener. The human subconscious mind receives its basic programming between the ages of 0 to six years. We see the results of several decades of gangsta rap coming through the earphones worn by a child in diapers on a daily basis. It certainly is not the child’s fault that their reality base consists of some of the images that the industry is putting in the market.
I found Dr. Nelson’s work to be fascinating because it goes back to the debate that I had with Georgetown University Professor Michael Eric Dyson. During the debate (which you can watch here), I explain that when children are being fed a daily message on the radio which teaches them that black men are supposed to stay high/drunk, kill one another, sleep with every woman in the building, and be proud of being ignorant, these destructive messages end up creating an oppressive partnership during which we buy into our own self-destruction.
Dr. Harrison’s responses are somewhat long, but he’s an interesting man and I think that this kind of expertise is exactly what we need in order to understand what the world is trying to do to our children:
1) What is your name and what do you do?
Nelson E. Harrison, Ph.D., clinical psychology. Speaker, composer, ASCAP, lyricist, arranger, poet, playwright, educator, author, archivist, photographer, trombonist musician, inventor of the trombetto, founder/host of the Pittsburgh Jazz Network.
2) Can you please explain the idea behind the metaphysics of music?
Metaphysics is a paradigm that endeavors to investigate first causes of all existence and knowledge. It seeks to explain the nature of being, the origin and structure of the world, in relationship between the ethereal and the physical. Metaphysics holds that the soul, the spirit and the physical body are one as is the Universe. The concept of separation is an illusion of our limited choice of perceptions that are due in time to be challenged.
The Metaphysics of Music is a comprehensive look into the properties and values of music known by the ancients and rediscovered in modern understanding with an examination of its value and utility in the new millennium. We refrain from discussing music as art on purpose in order to direct the reader’s attention more toward the less familiar aspects of music.
Quantum scientists have sought the smallest building block or substrate in the Universe for the past hundred or more years. The latest assessment is almost exactly what the Ancients must have known. It is called string theory which in essence says that the Universe is music. It seems that music may be the energy that organizes matter and perhaps everything else as well.
“The meaning of the word music is far deeper, richer, and more complex than what any single source, especially a dictionary, which deals in the outer layers of surface meanings, could possibly define or describe. If you trace the etymology of music you´ll discover that early in human history it meant “the art of the muses” which covered in Classical Mythology nine of the bases in the performance arts including astronomy (music of the spheres). Spend some time with thinkers and teachers like Hazrat Inayat Khan (THE MYSTICISM OF SOUND AND MUSIC) and you’ll discover that for millennia enlightened folks have realized that the essence of music is the same as that of life, namely movement” Source (7-11-03): http://www.microweb.com/ronpell/IotaExchangesContinued.html
The science of cymatics can demonstrate this very dramatically. It has also been determined that the nearest black hole to our solar system play a B-flat 54 octaves below our hearing range. Manfred Clynes has demonstrated that our emotions are elicited by vibrations and has more specifically identified 20 emotions in music produced by what he calls “sentic forms.” It is also demonstrable that stones can be levitated with sound and that perhaps this is the secret technology used to build the pyramids and other massive stone structures.
“Acoustic levitation was first experimented with successfully in the 1940s. Now, the use of high-powered sounds is sophisticated enough to suspend objects in the air and move them along as though on an invisible conveyor belt. “Yoshiki Hashimoto, of Tokyo’s Kaijo corporation, has developed a machine that lifts objects and moves them by acoustic levitation using supersonic waves. Source (7-11-03): http://www.rense.com/general/soundwaves.htm
These are some examples of aspects of sound that are addressed as the Metaphysics of Music.
3) When you listen to the violence, misogyny etc in mainstream hip hop music, do you believe these lyrics to be harmless, or do you believe that they impact the thinking of young children?
Hip hop music is more than 40 years old now and it has positive and negative aspects that we must take into account. On the positive side it is poetry that emphasizes rhyme and is set to a danceable beat. It emerged from a culture of adolescents who did not have the opportunity to learn traditional instruments to the degree of their precedent generations. Children will always create their own artistic expressions and they usually choose a modality that is divergent of the trends preferred by their parents. This is also expressed in dress and language styles and adolescents are quick to copy what they perceive as a new trend. Rap originated as word gamesmanship as word-up competition became increasingly popular. This can be seen as a positive trend toward vocabulary expansion but it seems that the pre-adolescent is always looking for a way to one-up their predecessors.
Four-letter were incorporated for shock value and it has become a trend that minimized vocabulary expansion in favor of more explicit negative images of adult behaviors associated with sex and violence. Playing the dozens was a plantation game used over many generations to train youth in attitude control in the face of insults of the vilest personal nature. It was a survival training for a social context where any physical and even verbal reaction to insults from the oppressor could result in one’s incarceration or demise. It most certainly requires creative verbal skills
Concomitant with this era of early rap development were a plethora of gangster or mob movies that portrayed certain infamous mobsters from history as heroes. Many aspiring youth began to abandon their sports or artistic heroes and began to adopt the identities of the criminal class. As rap and hip hop began to proliferate among the youth, the exploiters of the music industry recognized the profits they could make by controlling the new growth industry. Propaganda was injected into the music to convince the youth that the most successful models they could imitate were the negative or thug element of humanity. Not being aware of music as a primary change agent in the human consciousness, the youth naively thought they were merely reflecting what was happening in their environment. Life imitates art and art imitates life.
In the early 70s the drum machine and the sequencer were invented and deployed. Youth gravitated toward these devices and away from acoustical instruments that required training and personal development physically, mentally emotionally and spiritually to make meaningful expressions. Instrumental programs were reduced or eliminated in many schools in favor of math/science curricula and standardized testing. As tools these devices have their merits but they also have serious contraindications that should be taken into account. The sequencer turns the artist into a copy and paste machine instead of an original value producer. The drum machine was designed to imitate human drummers, however, the machine produces a quantized beat that is mathematically perfect. This makes it a perfect hypnotic trance inducer that allows post-hypnotic suggestions (the content) to become imbedded into the subconscious mind of the listener. The human subconscious mind receives its basic programming between the ages of 0 to six years. We see the results of several decades of gangsta rap coming through the earphones worn by a child in diapers on a daily basis. It certainly is not the child’s fault that their reality base consists of some of the images that the industry is putting in the market.
Hip Hop is here to stay. There are many positive aspects to it that can be and are being used by responsible artists to uplift humanity toward higher values. There is an organization called the Hip Hop Congress that was founded on the USC campus in the early 90s that is using hip hop style, dancing, martial arts, chess and hip hop oriented educational curricula to teach youth to creatively discover, develop and deploy their highest potential. They define hip hop as Rap minus the Lies. They recognize and respect the power of the culture and the high skill levels it can promote and develop and deploy for the benefit of humanity.
Music is a universal language that can be spoken directly. Improvisation is simply spontaneously spoken music. Neurolinguistics has discovered that most of our learned behavior is learned by imitation. Choosing role models is done instinctively by children. The early learning years clearly demonstrate how prolific and efficient the process can be in the absence of formal instruction. Indeed it could be conjectured that formal education slows the learning process down to some degree. Didactic models do not tend to lead to mastery because the motivational, identity related and exemplary elements are often absent. In learning music the most effective methods of acquisition involving practice techniques and imitation derive from role modeling as a track to run on. It behooves us to choose our role models carefully and imitate those behaviors that we hope to acquire. Some have made the mistake of choosing to imitate the entire personality of a role model to the point of acquiring the frailties as well as the mastery, e.g., those jazz musicians who began shooting drugs because their role model, Charlie Parker, did. It didn’t occur to most of them that Charlie Parker played as well as he did despite his opiate dependence not because of it. Neurolinguistic role modeling does not stifle individualism. On the contrary, internalizing a variety of models leads to individualism as one’s skills mature toward mastery.
“Nobody can ride your back unless your back is bent in the first place.” —Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
How does sound affect our posture? Our spines and spinal chord have been represented by the ancient Egyptians and Pythagoras as a tuning bow that responds to stimuli in the environment as well as to attitudes held by the psyche. We turn to the culture of India and its ancient knowledge of the human chakras that conduct the kundalini through our being.
What is Kundalini ? When the Kundalini is awakened, the qualities of the chakras start manifesting spontaneously and express themselves in our life. Thus, through regular use of the proper exercise (yoga) and proper stimulation (mantra), we become automatically very dynamic, creative, confident and at the same time very humble, loving and compassionate. It is a process which starts to develop by itself when the Kundalini rises and starts to nourish our chakras.”
Source (7-11-03): http://www.al-qiyamah.org/subtle_system.htm
Certain mantras or vowel intonations are routinely used to awaken the Kundalini, another term for the vital life force or Chi as the Chinese refer to it. This causes one to wonder what happened in the collective psyche of the hip-hop culture that has curled the spine of its members into simian-like postures and permitted the increase in violence (attack) against others for symbolic reasons. The concomitant stranger-danger attitudes have seemed to spread endemically in the culture. These postures and attitudes parallel the diminished emphasis on music in the schools and is worthy of study.
4) You are an accomplished musician yourself. Can you tell us more about that?
Music was the soundtrack of my community during my youth. There was a piano in most houses whether anyone played it or not. Few record players were owned and almost no tape recorders. House parties were popular and often the entertainment was simply a piano player and some singing. There were vocal music classes and a bit of music appreciation but there was no such thing as music education in the schools. There were, however, many private schools or individuals in the community who offered private lessons on various instruments. It was schools such as these that produced the legends of music we still celebrate from that era (30s – 50s).
We had radios in our homes and we listened to music most of the day. The first jazz radio show I experienced was in 1948 at 3:00pm when a local musician DJ (Walt Harper) opened his show with Dizzy Gillespie’s Big Band playing “Manteca” with Chano Pozo on conga drums. That hooked me on instrumental jazz. We also had another DJ who initiated the Black R & B tradition on the air which is still celebrated today as “oldies” They were called race records then because they were not played on the white stations although the DJ on the Black Station was himself white. He is still alive today at 94 years old and know as the father of the oldies… Porky Chedwick, the Daddio of the Raddio.
I began to play trumpet at age 10 when my older brother was given a trumpet and he showed me how to play it after a friend on our street had been playing and showed my brother how to make a sound. He began formal lessons on the trumpet and showed me everything he learned. By the time I entered 7th grade is was as good as the 9th grade students but they had too many trumpet players. They made me switch to baritone horn so I could get into the senior band. The following year they discontinued the band so I had to switch to trombone to get into the orchestra. I began my formal classical studies on the trombone at age 12. In the community we acquired a mentor who had led a jazz band in the Navy and was going to law school. My brother’s friends formed a band and he brought his professional big band charts and music stands out every week and coached us into the big band tradition.
There were many doo wop singing groups springing up in the community and since we were among the few musicians, we were solicited upon to accompany them at various teen-age dances and on some recordings. I played my first night club at age 13. I made $5.00 that night and gave up my paper route the next day. From that point there was no stopping me.
Short cut the next 4 years during which I completed my advance classical studies on the trombone, played principle trombone in the Pittsburgh Symphony Jr. at age 15 and in our Westinghouse High School State Champion Orchestra in 1956 and was All-State trombone soloist at age 17.
I became ill with tuberculosis in 1958 and eventually had to stop playing in 1960 so I could get lung surgery after my freshman year at the University of Pittsburgh. I was in the hospital for 14 months so I taught myself to play the piano during that time.
I resumed playing in 1962 and a summary of my career highlights follow below:
Veteran trombonist of the Count Basie Orchestra featuring Joe Williams, Sarah Vaughan, Helen Humes, Joe Turner, Eddie Vinson, Dennis Rowland (‘78-80 incl. Japan tour); played with Dionne Warwicke, The Supremes and The Temptations (’64), Joe Westray (1962 – 72); Sonny and the Premiers (1963 – 67); Walt Harper (1967-70); James Brown (’67-68); Nathan Davis (1970-75); Lena Horne and Tony Bennett (‘74), Billy Eckstine and Earl “Fatha” Hines (1975), Kenny Clarke (‘79), Liberace (’77), Nancy Wilson and Melba Moore (’78), Sammy Davis, Jr. and Aretha Franklin (’79), Perry Como and Johnny Mathis (‘80), Bobby Vinton (’81), Ginger Rogers and Glenn Campbell (’82), Jay McShann (‘87), Slide Hampton (‘86), Nelson Riddle (’84) Marvin Hamlisch (’97) and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band in New Orleans (’98) to name only a few; inventor of the “Trombetto,” a compact brass instrument with four valves that plays a chromatic range of six octaves with a trombone mouthpiece; played at festivals in New Orleans, London, Edinburg, Sacramento, New York City, Seattle; clinics and lectures in Santa Cruz and San Jose, CA, Quebec City and Montreal, Canada, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Cleveland, New York and Toronto; scores written to movies by Georg Sanford Brown and John Russo and plays by Richard Wright, August Wilson and Rob Penny; lyricist of 125 bop standards; featured horn soloist avec vocalese with the Pittsburgh Connection Big Band at the 2007 IAJE Convention in NYC; nationally recognized expert on Pittsburgh jazz history. Students have played with Maynard Ferguson, Ahmad Jamal, Stanley Turrentine and Freddie Hubbard. Composer of over 400 songs including scores for national movies/plays.
Currently active in Pittsburgh with The Blues Orphans, Roger Humphries Big Band, Wee Jams, and my own The World According to Bop, Jazz ‘N Jive, Dr. Jazz and the Salty Dawgs, Blue to the Bone, Nelson Harrison and Associates and Musical Director of The Jazz Conspiracy 17-piece dance band.
Discography: Live at the Attic (1969) with the Walt Harper Quintet (Birmingham Label); Makatuka (1970) (Segue Label) and Suite for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1971) (Tomorrow International Label) with Nathan Davis; Kansas City Shout (1980) with the Count Basie Orchestra (Pablo Label); On A Coconut Island( 1993), Don’t Give Up the Ship (1995), Burgundy Street Blues (1996) and Honky Tonk Town (1997) with the Boilermaker Jazz Band (Biograph Label); Tuesday Night at James Street (2002) with the RH Factor, Don’t Give Up (2003) with the Roger Humphries Big Band; Moonlit River (2003) songs by Fred Moolten, (MGO Media Label); 21st-Century Musicism (2005) compositions by Karlton E. Hester (Hesteria Records); If I Can’t Dance, It’s Not My Revolution (2006) Anne Feeney; Schism ‘n Blues (2005) & Root Rot (2007) with the Blues Orphans (Staggerin’ Fitz Label) which are the first commercial recordings of the trombetto, Not from Concentrate (2007) Genie Walker & Harmonique (Hip Tip Label).
Cited in the Marquis publication Who’s Who in the East (1979) and received the Renaissance Too Magazine Professional Men in Jazz Award (1989) and the East Liberty Hall of Fame (1991), the Westinghouse High School Hall of Fame (1995), Evolution of Jazz: Bridging the Gap Mentors Award (2006), the Walt Harper All That Jazz Award (2008), the Legacy Arts Project Keepers of the Flame Award (2008), the Build the Hill Award (2008) and the MCG Jazz Pittsburgh Legends of Jazz Award (2008), African American Council on the Arts Rob Penny Lifetime Achievement Award (2009).
Musicians who think in terms of the sound of music rather than its written form, structure of terminology often experience musical telepathy. This is a common phenomenon in jazz performances especially when group improvisation is taking place. A sort of psychic envelope is created as a collective mindset that each member of the group shares enabling them to think and play with one mind. My most dramatic experience of this was each night on the bandstand with the Count Basie Orchestra. The Count never announced the program, rather he used a form of telepathy to convey his instructions/intentions to the band members
5) What kinds of projects are you working on right now?
I have worked professionally with children K – 12, college and graduate students, teachers, the mentally ill, retarded, and autistic, the drug addicted, experienced professional musicians and performing artists, and seniors both autonomous and assisted living groups. The emphasis on looking good vs. feeling good tends to shift us into our visual consciousness (measurement, evaluation, left brain) and away from our internal consciousness (being, feeling, right brain). The sounds of music, on the contrary, shift the listener directly into the right brain consciousness where the experience of alienation, separation, isolation does not reside and where problems such as hate, envy, depression, destruction, and low self-esteem cannot abide. The challenge is to get them to open their ears again to a world of meaningful sound made by nature and human beings. This is a formidable task in an educational environment that disparages art education in general and music in particular. Expressing one’s life experience and communicating directly through music frees the mind to become a part of a world with no visible barriers and a connectivity with the harmonies that can resound peace, sharing, respect and love throughout one’s life experience. This paradigm affects everything I do in life. I continue to create music, write, perform and speak whenever and wherever the need arises and my services can be contracted.
6) Is there anything else you’d like to share with the Your Black World audience?
The creative artist is the alchemist of the modern world in that they are involved in bringing new values into the manifest world by transforming the invisible into the visible, the intangible into the tangible, the silence into the sound and the dream into the reality. This ability is something the machines cannot ever do and the arena where the human being will always have value.
Music is my passion and my metaphor for life. I use it as a key to solving life’s mysteries. The curriculum I developed helps others to unlock the joy and power of music that is usually inaccessible because of the way music is traditionally taught. When one learns music initially by sight, the memorization, improvisation, composing and interpretive skills are problematic. Initially ear trained musicians rarely have this problem. Memorization, improvisation, composing and interpretation are virtually automatic. Practice is effortless and fun. We all learn our native languages this way without having to read and write notes to each other. Music is rush hour traffic not map reading. My music defensive driving curriculum condenses years of formal training into a few weeks.
Music is a universal language that can transform any situation, form, or object or aspect of nature that comes into its sphere of influence. This is a power that is worth more than money and is possessed by everyone. The Universe was manifesting values through creation long before man created money and will continue to do so through quantum consciousness when money has lost its place as an element in the value equation.
Nelson E. Harrison, Ph.D.
Pittsburgh Jazz Network