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The connection between faith and music is undeniable, especially in the context of music festivals.

“Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to life and to everything.” -Plato

“Music: my drug, my pain, my relief, and sometimes my mood. How could music not be more spiritual? … Living without music is missing out [on] a meaning of our existence.” -Sathor, guitarist of Ars Macabra

The connection of music and religion is ineffable. Music can be an expression and enrichment of spiritual experience, as apparent in the ubiquitous presence of music in religious services and rituals. What is a visit to a church, chapel or temple without music?

The power of music can be seen in the fact that it has grown to become a ministry of its own. Different religions have their own versions of music festivals, where believers come together to enjoy music that expresses their religion and reflects their deeply held beliefs. Even as music is a way to escape reality, as Philippe Herbaut writes, it has also become a way to embrace one’s religious reality. Listening and singing to music has evolved into a form of worship for many religions, as one sings to one’s chosen deity.

This is where religious festivals come in, where people come together to celebrate their spirituality.

There are many religious elements to music festivals, as explored by Barbie Bird, a student of religious studies. The first of them is sacred time: as individuals hold the time they spend expressing their spirituality sacred, the time spent in religious festivals is also sacred. It gives followers an opportunity to refresh, reflect and regroup, to assess the very reasons that brought them to the festival in the first place, and to work towards the spiritual rewards that they want to get out of it. For example, in the Christian world, there is an entire website dedicated to Christian Music Festivals around the United States, listing them by date, state and location. Christians are well-known for the various music festivals they hold throughout the year, to support Christian music and musicians. While Jesus remains to be the central point of the festival, and evangelism the primary goal, the enjoyment of Christian music is what brings people together. Some Christian music festivals also feature Christian speakers and evangelists, and include talks that inspire and enrich attendees spiritually.

Another example of a music festival which personifies the element of sacred time are a type of Hindu festivals, where Gandharva music is the principal style of music performed, same as in courtly ceremonies and temple rituals that honor deities such as Siva, Vishnu, Brahma, Ganesha and Devi.

Another religious element of music festivals is the “bonding” or connection made by attendees. Because of the intimate nature of music festivals, there is plenty of time to forge new acquaintances and spend quality time with people you already know. The common affinity to the brand of music played at the religious music festival also brings people together. People are drawn to one another because of their taste in music. One such example of a music festival that has brought people together since 1994 is the World Sacred Music Festival, a festival held in Los Angeles every three years for sixteen days at a time. Started by the Dalai Lama in 1999, it celebrates the rich sacred music and movement traditions of Angelinos, consisting of events in different venues that includes the metropolitan area’s major stages and religious destinations.

Imagery is also a religious element of music festivals, as can be seen in the Shamania, an electronic dance music culture (EDMC) music festival. Held in 2006, it showcases hard trance music sound systems, with stalls, workshops and other elements from groups of Shamanism: Paganism and Wicca. There are wall decorations that feature self-similarity and magic geometry, masonic and gnostic imagery, and prehistoric rock art. Another EDMC festival is the Boom Festival held in Portugal, which features meditation, Tai Chi sessions, spirituality workshop seminars, new age discussions and visual art. It occurs every two years, with attendees journeying to the venue like pilgrims.

Religious music festivals also feature both well-known music that believers have grown to like and brand new music. From 2006, the Jewish Musical Festival had been the only one of its kind to feature new music, and it ended its 30-year run in 2015. The festival showcases “the world of Jewish music,” says director Ellie Shapiro, “not just East European music but Jewish music in relation to other music around the world, from India to Mali – other cultures and other Jewish cultures.” The 30th year festival consisted of ranging from liturgical music to Yiddish barn dancing, held in Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco.

Not all religious music festivals are confined within organized religion. A popular example of a music festival that isn’t confined within a religious institution but has religious elements is the Burning Man festival. In 2011, the “Temple of Transition” was created, a cathedral-like structure meant to memorialize loved ones that have departed. Ten Tenets were posted on them, including “Do not covet world peace or any other conclusion. Life is alive with infinite possibilities and infinite worlds…Go out and seek miracles on a day at Burning Man.” Many of those who attend the festival “seek the miraculous and infinite possibilities made available to them by the festival.” While popular culture and media emphasize that festivals like Burning Man are largely secular in nature, festival-goers usually consider them “at the center of their spiritual lives.”

To celebrate music in the name of one’s religion has been a practice since time immemorial. Music festivals provide the avenue to do this, and provide enriching spiritual experiences that cannot be achieved in any other avenue. 

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