“Once upon a time … there was the simple understanding that to sing at dawn and to sing at dusk was to heal the world through joy. The birds still remember what we have forgotten, that the world is meant to be celebrated …”
~ Terry Tempest Williams
One cold mid-winter night outside of Fairbanks, I watched the northern lights cascading in the northern sky — a shimmering green and white curtain. It seemed to pour onto the opposite hillside, illuminating the forest. It crackled and hissed as it dropped through the trees. Of course, science tells us that what I heard is not possible, so maybe it was just an impossible event.
According to reporter Colin Marshall, early 17th century astronomer Johannes Kepler “… came up with a theory that each planet sings a song, and each in a different voice at that. Mars is a tenor, Mercury is a soprano, and Earth … is an alto.” Kepler described the solar system “… in terms of divine harmony …” finding “…a system of the world that was mathematically correct and harmonically pleasing.” In this “… music of the spheres … each planet emits a tone that varies in pitch as its distance from the Sun varies from perihelion to aphelion and back, producing a continuous glissando of intermediate tones, a ‘whistling produced by friction with the heavenly light.'”
One of the few pleasant memories of the evangelical church I attended as a kid is of singing A capella, blending voices with the congregation. No musical instruments were allowed it, so it was ragged and usually off-tune with lots of incorrect lyrics. The old lady in the front row blared out her song in an attempt to keep everyone in rhythm, and the old guy in back always sang the wrong verses. Us kids often nudged each other about the gaffs and tried to keep from laughing under the glare from parents and other surrounding adults.
But in some ways it was magical, and there was no insincerity, no lack of feeling in the combined voices. Every one of us could feel the vibrations. Maybe it was Kepler’s “divine harmony”.
Birds sing to the sky; dolphins and whales sing under the seas; wolves, coyotes and dogs howl at the moon. Elk bugle their love (or lust) across the mountains. People sing in joy and sadness; community and loneliness; in bravery and in fear. Is it any wonder that one of the world’s premier physicists believed that the Earth and other planets sang as well?
Utah author Terry Tempest Williams refers to “The Liturgy of Home”, the feeling of belonging. One evening when she conducted an outdoor religious seminar in a desert canyon, “I opened my scriptures and spoke of the earth, the desert, how nature mirrors our own. I began to read…’And the Lord spoke…’ when all at once, a pack of coyotes behind the rocks burst forth in a chorus of howls … I was so overcome with the perfectness if this moment, I forgot all religious protocol and joined them. Throwing back my head, I howled too – and invited the congregation to do likewise – which they did. Mormons and coyotes united together in a desert howl-lelujah chorus.”
I have sung in church, in school choruses, around campfires, hiking down trails, at parties (drunken and sober), around Christmas trees and while driving alone. I have sung to the National Anthem while standing on the sidelines. I’ve crooned to babies and toddlers, pets, friends and lovers.
Singing is a way to express the connection you feel to the world around you, whether people, animals or just maybe, the Earth (alto) and the universe (continuous glissando).
Music and harmony bring us a little closer to the divine.
Colin Marshall, Johannes Kepler Theorized That Each Planet Sings a Song, Each in a Different Voice: Mars is a Tenor; Mercury, a Soprano; and Earth, an Alto, May 24, 2019, Open Culture
Terry Tempest Williams, An Unspoken Hunger, 1994