Feature Article: Integral Music: Evolution in Action

Jessica Roemischer

Integral Music: Evolution in Action
Jessica Roemischer


jessica RoemischerMusic is arguably a more essential means of human expression than language. Over the course of history music has evolved to communicate an increasingly wide spectrum of experience: isolation, fear of death, dreams of paradise, religious devotion, unrequited love, spiritual yearning, romantic fulfillment, national pride, mystical union, calls to battle, personal desperation, the longing for freedom, counterculture revolt, the steadfastness of tradition, the joy of belonging.

This article is based on recent public presentations in which I use music with a new intention: to catalyze an Integral or evolutionary perspective on ourselves and the world. As I’m discovering, music is a particularly effective tool for the cultivation of self-knowledge and for conscious evolution. In an Integral context, we are all leaders, or should be! It’s a matter of finding the place in one’s self from which authentic leadership arises. I’m endeavoring to support that discovery through music. Using the specially selected piano pieces that follow, I illuminate the past, open our eyes to the present, and evoke hints of the future. Principles of Second Tier/Integral consciousness reveal themselves as living experience.

1. “Out of the Blues” – The Place of Knowing

I grew up with two musician parents. That is until I was five, at which point my father decided to ride the crest of postmodern freedom, throw tradition, marriage vows, and his two young children to the wind and take up with our nanny. Confronted with abandonment, the effects of which I more fully realize forty-five years later, music became a refuge.

Thanks to my mom, I began studying piano at age six and was improvising and composing from the outset. A “child of the ’60’s” (and ’70’s), I found myself as compelled by the soaring harmonies of Crosby, Stills, and Nash, the inimitable guitar of Led Zeppelin, and the hypnotic vocalizations of Van Morrison, as I was by the timeless beauty of Bach, Mozart, and Brahms. And I loved the blues.

By the time I was ten or twelve, I was improvising regularly on the three blues chords. Playing the blues invariably dropped a plum line down to a place where my emotional state was transmuted and I was freed from the vicissitudes of life. I began to experience music as a transformational medium. And more: it made me aware of an immeasurably positive energy. I experienced that force in the most intimate and personal way, and still do. This energy is also universal. It generates knowing—gnosis—the seat of autonomy, authenticity and strength. In whatever way you encounter it, this is the wellspring of a new spirituality and a new leadership.

2. “Shenandoah/Battle Hymn of the Republic” – Including and Transcending

On paper (and off), I exemplified post-modernism. Inclusive and non-discriminatory, I was quite satisfied with my identity. That is, until I met evolutionary activist, Dr. Don Beck. In our first dialogue for a major article in What is Enlightenment? Magazine, Beck took inclusivity to an entirely new level. He introduced me to the principle of “transcending and including,” a cornerstone of the evolutionary theory of Spiral Dynamics and a basis of anything truly “Integral.” Recognizing and “including” the bio-psycho-social structures that have shaped us as individuals make it possible to transcend these structures and gain a new perspective on everything!

Music, as I’ve discovered, is a highly effective way to engage this process and is now a focus of my work. Nineteenth century American melodies such as “Shenandoah” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” for example, are powerful in effect. Their poignancy brings to life earlier stages of development as one’s self.

Oh Shenandoah,
I’m bound to leave you.
Away you rolling river,
Oh Shenandoah,
I’ll not deceive you.
Away, I’m bound away,
‘Cross the wide Missouri.

Music is simultaneously imminent, trans-temporal, and transcendent. As such, it awakens “memes” below the surface; dimensions of the self are brought to life. Experientially recognizing who one already is, naturally gives rise to the awareness that we are evolutionary beings, shaped by millennia of history. Therein lies music’s power as a catalyst for conscious evolution!

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3. “Flying Free: Music without Limits” – The Evolutionary Power of Beauty

Last December, at a small concert hall in Pittsfield, MA, I had the opportunity to stage a unique musical event called “Flying Free: Music without Limits.” On a beautiful, Steinway grand piano I performed improvised and semi-improvised duets with the women I teach at Riverbrook Residence in Stockbridge.

The Riverbrook women have disabilities that range from blindness to autism and Down’s syndrome. Some of the women are just beginners at the piano; one woman who is blind is quite adept. As you’ll see in this video, regardless of the level of experience, each woman plays with disarming naturalness and creativity.

These women demonstrate that beauty is not merely a function of talent, as we tend to define it—it is more profound and universal, a dimension of the human soul unfettered by any limitation. At that depth, beauty becomes an “evolutionary attractor of perfection” as Steve McIntosh writes. As such, it awakens in us new hope, confidence, and trust—not in a God out there—but in ourselves.

4. “Piano Improvisation with Laura” – A Principle of Integral Leadership

Every Saturday afternoon, I play the piano at a small gourmet coffee and confection shop in Lenox, MA called “Chocolate Springs.” People from as far as Boston, New York, and Albany, as well as Berkshire locals, come to savor the world class chocolates that are hand-crafted on the premises.

Young children sometimes arrive accompanied by their parents. Their eyes widen as they discover the hundreds of decorated chocolate squares set behind arced glass cabinets. Very occasionally, the sound of my piano music entices them as much as the chocolate. Very, very occasionally, the piano is even more attractive than the chocolate. When a child expresses a greater interest in music than in chocolate, I take notice!

From the moment I spotted her walk through the door, that rare response was apparent in a girl named Laura. If a child meets my secret criterion, I may invite her or him to join me for a spontaneous improvised duet at the piano. Laura accepted the invitation, even though we’d never met and despite the fact that we were in a crowded café. She was seven years old.

My pre-supposition is that anyone—young, old, musically inexperienced, with disabilities, or not—has the capacity to express beautiful music and access that source of knowing in themselves. In fact, everyone with whom I’ve ever improvised has produced something of striking beauty. This inner certainty often goes unstated, yet I believe that people trust me because in some way it’s transmitted to them.

The approach I use is the following: When someone first sits with me at the piano, I begin by playing an evenly rhythmic, harmonically pleasing accompaniment in the bass (on the white notes, key of C). At a certain point, I ask the individual to improvise a melody in the treble (also on the white notes). They are supported by my playing, which comes from the finest musical tradition and aesthetic. Without fail, each person begins to venture into the unknown, inspired by the sounds emerging from their own fingers and mine.

This approach to piano improvisation is, I believe, applicable to Integral Leadership in any domain, whether it’s business, politics, the arts. In all cases, the role of a leader is to activate the source of leadership in others. This is accomplished by generating a field of engagement where trust and discovery can flourish—a context alive with inspirational and spiritual energy.

Indeed, the results are thrilling. Over and over again in my work, I hear people produce music of remarkable originality. In so doing, each in their own way demonstrates a deeper truth: that beauty, creativity and freedom are inherent to us all by virtue of being human. As you’ll hear in thisaudio clip, Laura was no exception.

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5. “Exodus/Swing Low Medley” – The Never-Ending Quest

Years of piano playing, combined with a knowledge of Spiral Dynamics has convinced me that music is ideally suited to express principles of Integral/Second Tier consciousness. When asked to give a presentation at Dr. Don Beck’s 10th Annual “Confab” in May, however, I wondered what would happen if, rather than have a pre-set agenda, I used music in an open-ended way to learn about my fellow participants.

In advance, I emailed everyone this question: “What is your favorite song or piece of music, and why?” I suspected that the answers would reveal something essential about each of my colleagues. They did. That query elicited far more than I would have otherwise known about the other attendees, even though we were all steeped in Integral/Spiral Dynamics theory and practice. From their responses emerged a fascinating and variegated landscape of human experience.

I took their songs as musical inspiration and added my own favorites, creating a series of piano medleys. I then performed these pieces at the Confab, interpreting in new ways the music most meaningful to the audience. In the process, I realized that who we already are, when given expression (i.e., through the music we love), will reveal who we’re becoming, and open the way there. This is the evolutionary impulse in action! Here’s a perfect example of what I’m describing:

One of the participants, a veteran SDi practitioner, was South African by birth and currently resides in Texas. The song “Exodus,” from the movie of the same name, is among her favorites. She said that it expressed her abiding sense that she is no longer a citizen of any particular country, but is on a journey into unknown territory—an evolutionary journey.

“Exodus” is a hauntingly beautiful melody. I combined it with two other pieces: the song “Pilgrim” by Enya, suggested by another participant and a favorite of Don Beck’s, and the African-American spiritual, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” “Swing Low” seemed like the right counterpart to the “Exodus” song. The minor key of “Exodus” resolves into the major in “Swing Low” and conveys a sense of imminent homecoming.

I chose “Swing Low” because this next grand chapter in human history—call it Integral, Second Tier, or Evolutionary culture/consciousness—is giving me intimations of something deeply familiar and yet altogether fresh, a coming home in a new way. The “Exodus/Swing Low Medley” was the final piece in my presentation at the Confab. The result was far more compelling than I could have imagined. Don Beck approached me afterwards. A number of people had remarked to him that this was the first Turquoise presentation at his conference. I asked Don if he thought it was true and he nodded, yes. His response confirmed what had just occurred. I saw clearly my role in creating the future.

Discovering one’s purpose in the evolutionary process—in my case, to use music to help catalyze the next stage in culture and consciousness—yields a spiritual certainty previously unknown. That’s the ground of authentic leadership. That’s what’s coming forth to carry me home!

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Acknowledgements (a very partial list!)
Dr. Don and Pat Beck, Elza Maalouf, Miriam Roemischer, Said Dawlabani, Andrew Cohen, Marilyn Sophos, Petra Pieterse, Joan Burkhard and Riverbrook Residence for Women, Yasuhiko Kimura, my husband Lawrence Carroll, the many students I’ve taught and currently teach, everyone who has ever responded to my music, and all those who have entrusted me with the songs they hold most dear.

Jessica Roemischer graduated magna cum laude from Princeton University in 1982. Born into a musical family, her parents studied with some of the finest classical musicians of the 20th century, whose pedagogical lineage links directly to Franz Liszt and Ludwig van Beethoven. For the past twenty-five years, Jessica has taught and performed music internationally, as well as on the Applied Music Faculty of Middlebury College from 1989 to 1999. Her eclectic background includes lecturing and writing on aesthetics, culture, visual arts, spirituality/religion and social change. As a Senior Editor for What is Enlightenment? Magazine from 2000-2007 (now EnlightenNext), she produced the seminal article on Dr. Don Beck and Spiral Dynamics and dialogued with some of the world’s cultural and spiritual icons, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Carlos Santana, Karen Armstrong and Huston Smith. Jessica Roemischer currently resides in Stockbridge, MA. She performs on piano and lectures widely on Integral Aesthetics, using music to awaken an evolutionary perspective on the human experience. As a dedicated teacher, she is training a new generation of musicians, including those whom she instructs at Riverbrook Residence for Women.

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