Leadership lessons from Confucius: the power of music

power of music

子在齊聞韶,三月不知肉味,曰:「不圖為樂之至於斯也。」
When Confucius was in Qi, he heard Shao music. For three months, he didn’t know the taste of meat. He said: “I never imagined that music could reach such heights as this.”

Never underestimate the power of music to stir your senses and fuel your emotions. When you are in your darkest moments, it can help you to forget your worries and cares and bring you calm and comfort. When you are searching for inspiration, it can help you to elevate your ideas and imagination to ever greater heights. And when you are looking for escape from the daily grind, it can help you to relax and restore your zest for life.

Notes

This article features a translation of Chapter 13 of Book 7 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 7 here.

(1) Confucius regarded Shao music (said by some sources to be a kind of orchestral ballet) as the purest and most inspiring of all because it was composed to celebrate the peaceful ascent of the legendary sage king Shun to the throne in the 23rd or 22nd century BCE. See Book 3, Chapter 25 for more. You can read more about Shun here.

(2) Confucius first heard Shao music when he fled to the state of Qi at the age of 35 to escape the turmoil that reigned in his home state Lu under the rule of Duke Zhao. It is said that he was so entranced by the performance that he understood for the first time its power to inspire and civilize people. Confucius didn’t just love music for its aesthetic beauty, but also saw it as the ultimate embodiment of cultural sophistication and civilization. Naturally, the music had to be the “right sort” to attain Confucius’s approval. While he was a passionate fan of ceremonial Shao and Wu music, he castigates the suggestive melodies of Zeng for corrupting the classical music of the court in Chapter 18 of Book 17 of the Analects. In his eyes, music needed to have a healthy didactic dimension; it wasn’t for mere entertainment or, even worse, titillation.

I took this image at the Temple of Confucius in Changhua, Taiwan.

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