Jillian McKenna

Bassist // Musician // Composer

a Life Through Music

a blog.


Post 2: October 27th, 2017

Defining Harmony

What does the word harmony really mean?

The oldest use of the word harmony, that I am aware of, existed over 2000 years ago by the Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras of Samos. He defined Harmonia as “the divine principle that brings order to chaos.”3

Move forward another 200 years and about 7,000 km east to the first-ever medical textbook, the “Huangdi Neijing,” often translated as “The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine.” This book was written by Emperor Huang Di circa 300BC, and is still the foundation of traditional Chinese medicine used today. According to this book, the definition of disease is translated as “loss of the natural harmony within and between the organs.”2 (emphasis added).

Let’s jump forward 1500 years to today’s society and turn to one of the most researched areas in modern physics to what is called quantum field theory. Quantum field theory is defined as, “The unification between special relativity and quantum mechanics,” and it states, “…all matter and its interactions are composed of harmonious vibrations of fields.”1 (emphasis added).

Throughout all of this time, from Pythagoras to our modern physicist, harmony has also persisted in another medium: music. Now, go ask a musician to talk about harmony and I’m sure they will have a lot to say, but I bet their response will have little to nothing to do with anything written above… Or does it? Is it possible that all of these people, from all of these different fields, from different parts of the world are all referencing the same thing? In my mind, the simple answer is yes. The more I think about it the more it makes sense and the more adamant I become in refusing to accept these as mere coincidence.

From philosophy to science, health and music, what each interpretation of this word represents is a relationship - harmony exists between things. In music, as soon as you play more than one note simultaneously you create harmony. It is this connection, this relationship, this interaction that is harmony. Harmony is created in an abstract space where things come together. It is the result of different forms of energy interacting to create something stronger, or at least different, than either on its own. Harmony is essential in life; what is life without connection?

Harmony is something you feel but are often unable to define. When everything seems to be working out, life is happening, you feel almost weightless, euphoric, enveloped in a feeling of total acceptance – that is the feeling of being in harmony. To be harmonious with something is the ultimate form of unity; you belong. But the opposite is just as true. It is easy to become out of sync, whether within yourself or with the outside world, and it leaves lingering feelings of illness, loneliness and confusion. The only way back is to listen and reharmonize.

It is my opinion that music plays a very special role regarding harmony and human beings. Music is an innately human form of art and there is a reason why it has existed in every nook and cranny of this earth since the beginning of civilization. Accepting the significance harmony has in life, see that music provides us an almost tangible medium through which we can create, explore and manipulate this harmony. Musicians often say music is a microcosm of life, and here I think it couldn’t be more appropriate. Musicians and composer are able to create and manipulate a new world of connection and energy for all to experience, to create a space where the power of harmony, the power of precisely coming together in a very particular and beautiful way, to be a part of something larger than ourselves, can be experienced in a very physical sense. Through harmony we are able to create unity.

Like the art of listening, I believe harmony extends much farther beyond the realm of music, but I also believe it exists in music for a purpose – or rather, perhaps music exists to underscore the value of these elements of life.

I have so many ideas thoughts, and questions (mostly questions) about this subject, questions of natural resonance, overtones, frequencies and waves, ideas from Tesla and Royal Rife to Bach and Kenny Wheeler, but I will return to these at a later date. So if you are still reading, thank you, and I will leave with one last thought: The full power of music has yet to be discovered. Harmony is only 1 of 4 of the founding pillars of music, just imagine what would happen if all four of these pillars align in just the right fashion at just the right time, when you are ready to listen.

- Jill


1 Alexander, Stephon. “The Jazz of Physics” Basic Books. 2016

2 Ni, Maoshing. “The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine” Shambala. 1995.

3 Strohmeier & Westbrook. “Divine Harmony” Berkeley Hills Books. 1999.

Post 1: August 14th, 2017 

The Art of Listening

Listening is an art in and of itself.

Simply put, music does not exist without a listener. Sound is waves of pressure oscillating through the air. It comes from a source and goes out in every direction, interacting with other waves, bouncing off walls, filling rooms or echoing off mountains, but it is not until it reaches the listener that it can become music - something understandable, recognizable and relatable. Sound exists, but alone, music cannot. The listener brings it to life. It is an essential part of music. But listening extends much, much farther into our lives.

What you know.jpg

Listening is required to learn anything. The image to the left is something I drew that a great mentor of mine, pianist Adrean Farrugia, described a few years ago. He said imagine the size of a coin, that coin represents everything you know. Now imagine drawing a circle that takes up this whole wall (standard sized classroom), this represents everything you know you don’t know. Now try to imagine a circle encompassing this entire building – that represents all that you don’t know you don’t know.

The first thing that came to my mind is that the only way to make that circle any smaller is to listen.

Now I don’t mean simply listening to someone lecture or explain something – although that is certainly one way to learn – but I mean listen to everything. Listen to yourself, your body, your breath, your heart beat – listen to what it really needs, what you may falsely desire, and what makes you truly happy. Listen to the world around you, there is a constant, overwhelming hum of sound, the wind, the trees, the birds, the people, the cars - there is so much energy that surrounds us all the time, hear it. Feel it.

Listening enables connection. As soon as you decide to listen you create a space of direct connection between you and something external that didn’t previously exist. You see, unlike the passive role of hearing, listening requires active and present participation. By choosing to listen you complete this unique milieu between yourself, sound and source. It is a space you are both contributing to and shaping, a space that is alive and malleable, a space in which through its creation alone you become uniquely and directly bonded to something else. This space is where one can learn, change, and grow. It is in this space where we can find connection, acceptance and purpose. This is the space where we defeat ignorance, and this space can only be created by you.

Listening is the predecessor of appreciation. The listener is the role of the observer, one who surrenders to experience and objectively absorbs. The only way to appreciate the beauty in life is to listen to it – allow yourself to connect with that beauty, let it have an effect on you.

The art of listening is a lifelong pursuit. Listening requires patience, presence, and selflessness; listening leads to growth, connection and appreciation. When you choose to listen, the world begins to reveal its beauty to you. If we all just spent a little more time listening, the world would be a much more peaceful place.

- Jill