For those of us who grew up in the “just say no” era, the research that is being done on psychedelics at John Hopkins is puzzling. I thought drugs were the enemy. Turns out that might not be true. There are several clinical studies going on regarding the benefits of Schedule 1 drugs.
In these studies, psychedelics and music go together well. What kind of music goes well with psilocybin, for instance? Lots and lots of classical music.
The psilocybin playlist from John Hopkins has been shared by the Columbia University Press Blog.The playlist accompanies a book by William A. Richards entitled Sacred Knowledge: Psychedelics and Religious Experiences.
...from Elgar's Enigma Variations from the playlist.
I see a can of worms. Let’s open it.
For starters, yes, there is religious music on the playlist. No, there isn’t any Grateful Dead. The playlist isn’t based on the musical taste of the subjects or the researchers in the project. I’ll let the Columbia Blog take this one:
“We have learned that in high-dose sessions, especially during the onset and intense period of entheogen effects, the supportive structure of the music is more important than either the guide’s or the volunteer’s personal musical preferences. In states of ego transcendence, the everyday self as the perceiver of music may no longer exist, having entered into a unitive awareness that is claimed to be quite independent of whatever sonic frequencies are coming into the ears through the headphones or loudspeakers.”
In treating alcoholism with psilocybin, the Johns Hopkins study found that participants responded to Brahms symphonies, of all things. Brahms is criticized for being a bourgeois composer, but apparently his music isn’t for squares. Many of the subjects went on to attend symphony concerts and classical music remained a part of their lives.
Now, who is going to be the first symphony orchestra to present a psilocybin concert? Yes, it’s illegal, but what better way to find a new audience than an underground illegal magic mushroom concert based on the John Hopkins playlist?
It’s not like there isn’t a tradition of drugs in classical music. Berlioz hit opium all the time and even wrote music about it. His Symphonie Fantastique is about a young man tripping on opium.
Someday, maybe we’ll all go to a performance of Symphonie Fantastique and be able to smoke a bowl of opium before the concert instead of listen to a talk about the influences on the composer’s music — which should include drugs. We treat the drug use as if it were just a footnote. From what I’ve heard, opium is a “helluva drug” and is gonna take a central position when it’s being used.
Chopin also took loads of opium via sugar cubes. Chopin and Berlioz? That’s good company. Schumann is another composer who used mind altering substances, but it is unclear what he used outside of mercury and arsenic. Opium was everywhere at the time so it’s a likely candidate.
We’ve been over the sex part several times here in the column, but this is the first time we’re including drugs. So now we’re in a position to assert that it’s all about sex, drugs, and classical.
Just so we’re clear, I’m suggesting that illicit drug use become a part of the classical music culture, as it was in the past, in order to create a new audience. Maybe we can start with some medical marijuana since it’s a gateway drug.