In 1983 the Center received a letter from a composer named Steven Halpern. In it he expressed his desire to combine the words of A Course in Miracles with the peaceful music for which he had become well-known. This letter produced a “miraculous” joining which resulted, a few months later, in a recording entitled You Are Entitled to Miracles. Five hundred copies were duplicated as an experiment to see if anyone would find this collaboration beneficial. Nothing could have prepared us for the enthusiasm which greeted that recording and the six that have followed it. Now hundreds of thousands of the recordings have been sold, and the Center has received thousands of letters which elaborate on the healing effects the series has had on people. Since Steven and Beverly have never really spoken publicly about how the series came about or how their collaboration took place, we thought it might be nice to spend some time with the two of them and explore the creative process that produced these healing tools.
The following is an interview excerpted from The Holy Encounter, with Steven Halpern, who holds a Ph.D. in the psychology of music and is a pioneer in the field of sound health, and Beverly Hutchinson, who is the president of Miracle Distribution Center and an international lecturer and author on the principles of A Course in Miracles.
The Holy Encounter (THE): You both have created a beautiful and healing series of recordings. How did you come up with the idea for a series?
Beverly Hutchinson (BH): Well, first off, we had no idea that this was going to be a series. Steven first approached me and the Center with the idea of doing a recording with thoughts from the Course and his healing music. The idea seemed so perfect to me because I had a background in acting and broadcasting. I love the spoken word and had done quite a bit of theater. Shakespeare was a favorite, and, as you know, A Course in Miracles is written in iambic pentameter which is the same blank verse Shakespeare used, so to have an opportunity to present the beautiful words of the Course as a “soliloquy” was a great honor.
Meeting Steven was in the world’s terms a coincidence, but the Course tells us that all things are gently planned by One whose only purpose is our good. And it was quite clear to me that our meeting was a “holy encounter.” I’ll let Steven tell you more about that.
Steven Halpern (SH): The idea for a recording using the Course and my music literally came to me. I often play gentle, relaxing music like my album Comfort Zone in the background when I read. The first time I studied A Course in Miracles I noticed that the music helped me slow down and really “hear” the message. I remember receiving a thought, that just popped into my head, that others might also benefit if the words and music were made audible. I also had the clear sense that this was a project that was now on my recording agenda.
I discussed this idea with Judith Skutch Whitson and Jerry Jampolsky who both expressed support but had other priorities. Then, while I was presenting a workshop at the Association for Research and Enlightenment in Virginia Beach, Virginia, I met Beverly at the home of a mutual friend, Milton Friedman. Milton was a student of the Course who worked in Washington and had the distinction of having been a speech writer for President Gerald Ford. The recording idea naturally came up and there was an immediate recognition and the “ah-ha” reaction. The rest, as they say, is history.
THE: How do you two create a recording?
SH: The folks at Miracle Distribution Center decide on a focus and choose the passages. Beverly records her voice in a studio in southern California and sends the voice masters to my studio in northern California. I meditate with the words and sense what music would be appropriate, or in some cases, which music has already been composed. We’ve had so many cases of “cosmic coincidence” where the narration lasted exactly as long as the music. You couldn’t get it any closer if you tried for days! At other times, I’ll compose then record the music spontaneously, on piano or synthesizer, as I listen to the words for the first time. In both situations, however, it was pretty obvious that we were co-composing the music and we were not alone in the studio.
BH: Steven was really our teacher in this process. We had no idea how to do a recording like this, but we trusted his advice and followed his direction. There is a line in the Course that says, “Trust would settle every problem now.” (T-26.VIII.2:3) And, that is what we did – we trusted Steven and we trusted the Holy Spirit to guide us in the passages that we were to use. Many people are surprised when I tell them that Steven and I are not in the same studio when we record. They always comment on how perfectly the words and music blend. Like Steven, when I go into the studio, I pray that I may step back and “let Him lead the way.” It is remarkable what happens.
I remember when I was recording the passages for Looking Within, one of the recording engineers (who is not a Course student, but he is familiar with our work since we had worked with the same recording studio for the past thirty years) had a terrible migraine headache. He came into the engineering booth and laid his head down on his arms on the table. The recording took over an hour to complete. When we were done, he raised up his head turned on the microphone into the recording booth and told me how his headache was gone and he felt refreshed. Now, I’m not saying that our recordings are a substitute for aspirin, but I do think they allow your mind to relax and be at peace, and according to the Course, “Health is inner peace.”
THE: Is there a benefit to putting the words of the Course to music?
SH: The music seems to allow your brain to shift effortlessly in the beneficial alpha brainwave frequencies. This evokes our built-in “relaxation response” and also allows the music to take the words deeper into your consciousness.
BH: That really is true. I am probably the hardest person to sell on brainwave frequencies and so on, but ever since our work with Steven on these recordings, I am a believer. Whatever it is, it works, and it even works on me. I remember one time in particular when I was not feeling well. I was very tired and experiencing heart palpitations – I was afraid! The words from the Course came to me, “The presence of fear is a sure sign that you are trusting in your own strength.” (W-48.3:1) So, I asked for Help, and what came to my mind was to put on The Holy Instant, which has a thirty minute meditation on one side. I turned on the recording, laid down, closed my eyes, listened, and fell asleep. It was the most peaceful sleep, and when I woke, I had a “hunch” I should investigate some herbs I had been taking. I found out that excessive amounts of one particular herb could cause tiredness and heart palpitations. That recording gave me the willingness to open my mind to hear God’s Voice – it is not the recording that is holy, but the Holy Spirit did use it as a vehicle for me.
THE: Do you have a favorite recording in the series, and why?
SH: The one I’m working on at the time. I find each one has a special timeless quality that speaks to me in different moods at different times. Each is perfect in its own way.
BH: Yes, so true. But for our readers, let me share a little about each of the recordings in the series, because each has its own particular focus. You Are Entitled to Miracles was our first recording. It really is a general overview of the Course’s ideas. It is wonderful for people to get a feel for the Course and its power. Because it is the first we did together, it will probably always be a favorite of mine. The next recording was The Forgotten Song. This recording has seventeen longer passages from the Course which highlight the entire journey the Son of God undertakes. It starts with reminding us of our true identity in God and then takes us through the world we think we live in, with all of its pain and suffering. It goes on to say that the dream of pain can be replaced as we accept a gentler dream and follow the Voice for God which will show us the answer to our suffering, which is forgiveness. The Forgotten Song beautifully shows us the gift that forgiveness gives and the peace that we will experience when we accept our true identity as God’s Holy Child. The last passage on the recording is one of my favorite passages. It is from the pamphlet The Song of Prayer entitled, “Come Unto Me.” It is so moving and reassuring as the last lines say, “Your Father needs you and will call to you until you come to Him in peace at last.” Steven’s music throughout The Forgotten Song is truly powerful and unique to each passage.
I have already mentioned The Holy Instant, which has a thirty minute mediation on one side and four actual forgiveness lessons from the Course on the other side. These lessons are very helpful because they are done in such a way that you can close your eyes and have time to actually follow the instruction of placing a person who you are having a challenge with into the lessons. If we had an hour I could tell you some stories about this recording!
The Ark of Peace and The Invitation to Healing are two recordings that highlight specific concepts in the Course: relationships and healing, respectively. My husband, Paul, loves listening to The Ark of Peace. We’ve been married for over thirty years, so maybe that will tell you something about that one! The Invitation to Healing covers sections in the Course that focus on sickness and healing. This was the recording I was working on right before my grandmother died. I was very close to her, and, as I was in the studio recording these healing passages, she was in my mind and heart. I have had many tell me that this recording has a very powerful feel – it certainly was meaningful to me.
Regarding Looking Within, I had wanted to create a recording like this for a long time, and have used this one quite often! It’s subtitled, “Affirmations from A Course in Miracles.” We actually used the word affirmations in a non-Websterian way, if you will. It is not the normal affirmation recording. Each thought, from beginning to end, has a planned progression and is repeated twice with enough time between repetitions for one to repeat the thought aloud or silently. Interspersed within the thoughts are slightly longer passages that highlight and summarize the previous thoughts. I’ve listened to this recording as I drove to the Center on those “good old” California freeways and it is amazing to me how many times I didn’t want to listen to the recording because I didn’t want to be happy! I find if I can just get my ego out of the way long enough to turn on the recording, I find my salvation! No, the recording is not my salvation — but it seems to be the “little willingness” that the Holy Spirit needs to bring my sanity back!
THE: And your latest is A Touch of Heaven.
BH: After studying the Course for over forty years, I have marveled at the beauty and power of its words and thoughts, but I feel the real power of the Course is getting past those symbols and fully living and expressing the Course principles in our daily lives. And, that is what I wanted this recording to move the listener towards. I selected a few of my favorite workbook lessons and presented them as I do when I lecture on the Course. I make them very personal, often repeating thoughts that I feel are very empowering and transcending.
This recording’s title comes from a paragraph within Lesson 157 in the Course that says:
“Today it will be given you to feel a touch of Heaven, though you will return to paths of learning. Yet you have come far enough along the way to alter time sufficiently to rise above its laws, and walk into eternity a while. This you will learn to do increasingly, as every lesson, faithfully rehearsed, brings you more swiftly to this holy place and leaves you, for a moment, to your Self.”
This passage is just so powerful to me. It’s telling us that in our busy, crazy lives we can experience a touch of Heaven right now! Wouldn’t we all want that? It tells us that we will have these moments even though we’ll return to the crazy world – but we won’t return quite the same. We will have been healed, lifted for a moment, and because of this, we will come back to the world as a gift of healing. That’s what I wanted this recording to do for people: break them away from the insanity of the world so they could experience a touch of heaven. From all the letters and emails we have received, it seems to be working!
THE: It is really helpful to hear the focus for each of the recordings. Now, Steven, how do you create or write your music?
SH: Much of the music writes itself. I make an appointment with the recording studio, enter into a meditative state, and the music flows through my fingers. Of course I have had over fifty years of training and experience and it perhaps would not work like that if I hadn’t been doing my homework on “tuning my own instrument” first.
THE: What makes your music different or healing?
SH: There is a unique sense of time and space in this music that truly allows the listener to relax, to merge and become One with the music. The spaces between the notes are as important as the tones themselves, and the actual quality of each instrument is chosen for its soothing, uplifting effect. There are not jagged rhythms, no hard edges in this music.
Because of the open-ended nature of the compositions, you can listen to them over and over again and they’ll always sound fresh and new.
BH: That is really true. The open-ended nature of Steven’s music really does make it easy to listen to over and over again. We play only his music at the Center, and we never tire of it – as a matter of fact it even seems to energize us. And with the activity level of the Center, we need all the extra energy we can get!
THE: Steven, you have coined the term, “Inner Peace Music.” What does that mean?
SH: This is music that creates an experience of inner peace and tranquility when you hear it. It’s so different that the name is trademarked. Originally I called it “Anti-Frantic Music” but I’ve become more comfortable with the positive orientation of “Inner Peace Music” rather than the negatively termed “Anti-Frantic Music.”
THE: How has your series of recordings helped people?
SH: I think Beverly hears most of the stories, so I will turn it over to her.
BH: I first want to say, and I’m sure I speak for Steven as well, these recordings are not our creations, we are merely the instruments. The recordings have been a wonderful example to me of how the Holy Spirit can use anything and any idea to teach us lessons in healing, if we let Him. The stories of how the recordings have touched people are many and varied — Any where from people using them during major surgery and recovery, to prisoners feeling a sense of oneness in the midst of a world of isolation. One lady wrote to tell me how her children, ages seven and nine, have memorized some of the passages and use them as prayers. They find them more helpful than the traditional prayers. We even received a letter from a Course student in Germany who said that although her husband understands only a little English, he enjoys the recordings! Their power is beyond the physical, because their purpose is beyond the physical. They are really an excuse for holy encounters!