Do you know that music is composed of waves of vibration? And that trillions of cells in our body resonate and respond to vibrations, which influence our feelings?
From ancient sages to modern molecular science and string theory, studies have proven that all matter in the universe, including our bodies, vibrate. In other words, the universe is a grand symphony of sound!
In an exclusive interview, composer and teacher Dr John Sharpley regaled us with his intriguing account of sound and vibration at his bijou residence along Changi Road.
“Sound is vibration. We are vibrations. Everything is vibration, and somehow these all connect.” – Dr John Sharpley, international composer and pianist
Dr John Sharpley, a Singapore-based international composer and pianist, is a teacher with extraordinary ideas and unusual insight.
He doesn’t live in a world where he thinks of music as a career.
To him, the most exciting part about his music development has more to do with neuroscience, epigenetics, anthropology, sociology or even mathematics.
The lively musician regards music not as a profession but as a continuation of life, which he clearly loves and has enjoyed deeply for as long as he can remember. His mother was a pianist who particularly loves Mozart.
Some quotations that speak to him include a famous quote by Ludwig van Beethoven: “Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy.”
“I believe in that. I don’t see music as an entertainment, but it is something else,” Dr Sharpley asserts.
“This vibration is a very extraordinary thing. Music goes beyond entertainment or for passing time, and has an astonishing power to affect us, emotionally, spiritually and physically.” – Dr John Sharpley, international composer and pianist
Everything in Life Is Vibration
“If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration,” Nikola Tesla famously said. Tesla was a Serbian-American inventor who contributed to the design of the alternating-current electrical system, which is widely used in our daily lives today.
According to Albert Einstein, “What we have called matter is energy, whose vibration has been so lowered as to be perceptible to the senses. There is no matter.”
Dr Sharpley concurs with the words of these great minds.
For him, music, sounds, life and all things begin with vibrations. Music is the continuance of life, and somehow or other, we are interconnected and interwoven through vibrations.
“Sound is vibration. We are vibrations. Everything is vibration, and somehow these all connect,” he explains.
“Music is vibrational, and the universe is vibrational. And all that we see in the material world are vibrations. This glass is vibrational, and if I create a resonance of the same frequency, you know what will happen? The glass will break! We think that everything is solid matter, but it is not.”
Indeed, science has proven that everything — including our bodies — is composed of energy vibrating at varying frequencies. Since we are all vibrational, how would the different sound vibrations and frequencies interact with our molecules and affect us? And vice versa — how would the vibrations emanating from inside of us affect the environment outside of us?
“It affects everything around us. It affects nature, our environment, our body. Even the ancient (people) knew and talked about it — the ancient Indian culture, the ancient Chinese culture, and the ancient Greek culture. I think we all have our different experiences of how music affects us,” says Dr Sharpley.
He adds: “This vibration is a very extraordinary thing. Music goes beyond entertainment or for passing time, and has an astonishing power to affect us, emotionally, spiritually and physically.”
The Tibetan Singing Bowl and the Chinese Qing
During the interview, Dr Sharpley demonstrates the effects of vibration and sound using the metal Tibetan singing bowl he had purchased in Kathmandu, Nepal, and the Chinese qing or chime bowl he had picked up in Taiwan. Over 300 musical instruments from around the world are stored in the composer’s humble abode.
Traditionally, the Tibetan singing bowl is used in rituals, prayers, and meditation by monks, nuns, and Buddhist practitioners.
The chime bowl is a Buddhist musical instrument and an auspicious symbol in Chinese culture. Since ancient times, monasteries ring the chime bowl to convene their monks.
As Dr Sharpley strikes the bowls, the bowls emanate deep, sonorous reverberations of sound, evoking a soothing, sacred feeling.
Their vibrations are sometimes described as the ‘sound of the universe’.
For centuries, the Tibetan singing bowl has been employed by the Tibetan people as a tool for healing and consciousness transformation.
Similarly, modern scientists have found incredible healing benefits from the resonance of these metal bowls. It is said to significantly improve human immune function, lower heart rate and blood pressure, ease pain in cancer patients, and reduce stress levels.
“Put your hands around it [the chime bowl], touch it and feel the vibrations,” Dr Sharpley instructs.
“It is very tangible or not something abstract at all. We have a resonance for the vibrations. We like the tune, but it is actually much deeper than that,” he shares.
“The vibration interacts with our body, and will have a tremendous effect on us. [It can perhaps define] even our physical cells, our spiritual cells.” – Dr John Sharpley, international composer and pianist
The Healing Effects of Vibration
Since sound and vibration can alter the physical world in the aforementioned experiments, can we use it to alter the body of a sick person?
In fact, the healing effect of sound and vibration is not a newly discovered concept. It had already been embraced and harnessed long ago by ancient sages of many Eastern and Western cultures.
For instance, the Chinese character for medicine, ? (yào), is derived from the character for music, ? (yuè). In ancient China, one of music’s earliest purposes was for healing.
Sounds manifested in mantras, divine names, and prayers have been integrated in Hindu, Buddhist, and Jewish rituals, to bring about spiritual and physical healing effects.
Around 500 B.C., Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras applied mathematics and music to create various musical compositions of harmonic ratios to heal ailments of the spirit, soul, and body.
Today, this extraordinary idea of healing is known as energy medicine or vibrational medicine.
Touching upon the infinite healing potential of sound and vibration, Dr Sharpley says: “The vibration interacts with our body, and will have a tremendous effect on us. [It can perhaps define] even our physical cells, our spiritual cells.”
The healing could be at many different levels, such as the spiritual and emotional levels which are more evident, he remarks.
He cites an example of hearing a particular piece of music and having a positive association with it when you are feeling depressed, after which you start feeling better.
It could also be chanting or a choir session in religious services.
“If you resonate with that sound, the vibration can actually make you feel more conscious, or in other words, more [awakened] to consciousness,” he says, his face lighting up gently.
On the physical level, through the ages, experiments have proven that different sounds can affect different parts of the body, he adds. Figure 1 illustrates the classical Chinese medicine theory that different healing sounds are associated with each of the five organ systems in our body.
And there is evidence that vibration can heal us physically, such as healing a wound.
“I don’t want to go into that too much because I am not a medical practitioner,” Dr Sharpley demurs.
Nevertheless, researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago published a report in 2014 that shows wounds healing faster in mice exposed to low-intensity vibration.
According to the study, wounds exposed to vibration helped tissue develop new blood vessels — a process called angiogenesis — and form more granulation tissue, which is vital for the wound-healing process. In addition, it also increased the expression of pro-healing growth factors and signalling molecules called chemokines.
Dr Sharpley surmises that when sound and vibration create a resonance, it will create a synchronicity that is healing.
“For example, the cat’s purr is a very healing thing,” he chirps. Dr Sharpley is a cat lover who keeps three cats in his house. There is proof that the soothing frequency of purring promotes healing in our bodies.
“When it is harmonised, it is synchronised. When it is disharmonised, its gets disrupted, hence we have sickness and interruptions. The balance is broken.”
His observation reminds one of Lao Tsu’s philosophy of ‘returning’ to a human being’s natural state of harmony.
“This is the rhythm of life. It is all interconnected,” Dr Sharpley affirms.
“This is the rhythm of life. It is all interconnected.” – Dr John Sharpley, international composer and pianist
Music in the Universe: An Out-of-Body Experience
From ancient times to the present day, many people, across many cultures, have encountered out-of-body experiences (OBEs). Dr Sharpley is no exception.
The composer-pianist experienced this out-of-body sensation 30 years ago, when he had a minor surgery. He could feel his ‘soul’ being separated from his physical body when he was given full anaesthesia.
He vividly remembers seeing himself from the operating table, and looking at the surgeons preparing himself for the surgery. Next, he saw stars and planets; it was as if he was in outer space.
But what struck him was the sounds of the universe.
“All the sounds were so magnified,” Dr Sharpley exclaims. “It was beyond amazing, and the sounds were really quite extraordinary.”
He could sense that the sounds of all the stars and planets were vibrational.
“I could see clearly that our solar system was a community,” he recounts.
From then on, when working on a composition, the veteran composer always keeps in mind the sounds he had heard from his phenomenal out-of-body experience.
And this surreal experience tells Dr Sharpley that there is something more out there.
Experiments Documenting the Effect of Vibrations on the Physical World
Frequencies affect frequencies. The way vibrations affect the physical world has long been recorded by many famous science experiments.
18th century German scientist and musician Ernst Chladni investigated vibration effects in an experiment known as ‘Chladni Figures’. He carried out trials on the surface of a metal plate with sand, and tested different frequencies of vibrations using a tone generator. Through the experiments, he discovered that different vibrations shaped the particles of sand into various fascinating geometric patterns.
Cymatics, coined by Dr Hans Jenny, meaning ‘wave’, explores vibrational phenomena on matter. Cymatics analyses the transformational nature of each individual sound frequency and vibration on matter such as human skin, water, air, or sand.
The CymaScope, developed by John Stuart Reid, is the first scientific instrument used in a study of cymatics. It can capture a visual image of sound and vibration that is previously hidden from view.
The official CymaScope website describes cymatics as “the science of sound made visible”, and highlights how “vibration underpins all matter in the universe. No matter can exist without vibration”.
The website states: “It is based on the principle that when sound encounters a membrane such as your skin or the surface of water, it imprints an invisible pattern of energy. In other words, the periodic vibrations in the sound sample are converted and become periodic water ripples, creating beautiful geometric patterns that reveal the once hidden realm of sound.”
In another ‘water crystallisation’ experiment, Dr Masaru Emoto exposed water samples to various music genres such as classical music and rock music. He found that when the water samples were exposed to positive human intentions or calming classical music, they formed beautiful crystals when frozen. In contrast, when exposed to rock music or even negative human intentions, the water crystal’s basic hexagonal structure was disrupted, forming distorted and ugly crystals.
To further investigate the effect of sound and vibration on matter, Dr Emoto and three hundred others gathered around a polluted lake in Japan for a prayer. Amazingly, the water crystals of the polluted lake transformed from a distorted image before the prayer to intricate, geometric crystals after the prayer.
Born in Texas, Dr John Sharpley has called Singapore home since 1985. He earned his Doctorate in Music Composition from Boston University; Bachelor of Music and Master of Music degrees from the University of Houston; and Diplomas for Piano, Violin, and Composition at the National Conservatory of Music in Strasbourg, France. His composition teachers include Michael Horvit, David Del Tredici, John Harbison and Leonard Bernstein, while his piano teachers include Ruth Tomfohdre, John Perry and Lily Kraus.