Rav Avigdor Miller on Music is a Motor for the Soul
Some people say that there’s a certain power in music. Is that the case?
And the answer is that it’s absolutely true. Although music per se, music by itself, is nothing at all but if it’s utilized for an ideal it becomes a powerful motor to help you arrive at your destination. Now, suppose a man has a motor, an excellent motor. It turns over, let’s say, so many and so many revolutions per second — it’s performance is the smoothest there is. Only that the motor doesn’t have any belt that connects it to the wheels! So it accomplishes nothing! The spinning is useless; it’s a complete waste of energy.
Music is only important if it’s connected to an ideal. So if you do like Reb Yisroel Salanter did in his days when he started the study of mussar and he introduced the practice of saying: יסוד החסידות ושורש העבודה התמימה הוא שיתברר ויתאמת אצל האדם מה חובתו בעולמו מה חובתו בעולמו – The foundation of all piety and the root of the perfect service of Hashem is that one should recognize what is his duty here in this world, what is his duty here in this world; and then they started off singing to themselves, מה חובתו בעולמו, מה חובתו בעולמו – “What is my duty in this world? What is my duty in this world?” That’s what they did in the old yeshivahs at the instigation of Rebbe Yisroel Salanter. They learned mussar with a niggun – it was a sad, pensive, meditative niggun; and that was a way of using music and it began to enter your heart. מה חובתו בעולמו – “What is your duty in this world?” And they said it about fifteen times over and over again, and they said it with a tune. Then it pierces the shell of your heart, your hard–armored heart and it comes into the softness of the heart and you begin to think, “Actually, what is my duty in this world?”
So music, when it’s utilized for mussar, when it’s utilized for avodas Hashem, absolutely it’s an excellent expedient. And that’s why Dovid Hamelech when the spirit moved him and the ruach hakodesh came upon him and he said ברכי נפשי את השם, so he took out his harp and the harp helped him begin to ascend on the wings of music to the heights of perfection of the soul.
But when music is used for, “Your eyes,” and “Your lips,” and your this and your that and how I miss you, and all the rest of the garbage, so the Kuzari says that means that the music which once was used for the service of Hakodosh Boruch Hu has now become the play thing of the maidservants and the boys in the street. The Kuzari said that almost a thousand years ago. And it has deteriorated since then. Originally however, there’s no question that music was intended to assist in the elevation of the spirit.