My first introduction to chanting was probably back in the 90’s when the band Enigma was all about the Gregorian type. It was cool for a minute because it was different. But since it always sounded so “churchy” the songs never made their way beyond a lonely mixed tape in my Memorex collection.
Chanting never really came up again until I started taking traditional led yoga classes. The end of class was always the same. The instructor would light a candle or two and then, with the faint scent of nag champa and sweat lingering in the air, I’d begrudgingly follow along with the “let’s close our time together by chanting om three times in unison” routine. Of course there was always one in the room who only came to class for this special moment – so that she could om so loud and proud that the rest of us became nothing but back-up singers in her own private concert. I remember one time when there were only two of us in class and we still did the om chant thing – unfortunately it just didn’t have the same tone, quality or effect (or is it affect? I can never remember). More common was a room full of soprano women, one male baritone and little old me as the lone alto. I would often find myself praying to my higher power of the day (today it’s the veggie quesadilla goddess) that the man sounded so good that he would drown out my off- key oms.
Next was my first Kirtan at the Candler Park Land Trust. I was again taken back to church with the call and response routine. They’d sing some sanskrit words and then we’d mumble back something that vaguely sounded like what they’d just sung. Not quite the Priest saying “The lord be with you” and the Congregation replying “And also with you”, but close. I was quickly put at ease because the music was not as church-like as the Gregorian chanting. Also, there was no holy water present, though there might have been some holy smokes in the air that gave me that relaxed chill-out feeling. And I didn’t see anyone genuflecting or taking communion but there was definitely some communing going on.
Then there was that split second that I was all enamored with Shimshai and his fascinating version of the Gayatri Mantra. I even went to a yoga class where his pleasant dreadlocked self was singing in the corner of a packed room while we did our postures. How perfect was the timing when he did his version of “Roots” as we all did tree pose. I bet he and the teacher planned that.
That up close and personal with Shimshai led me next to some Krishna Das concerts. With him, I came to love his music but I more appreciate his talks between tunes. That’s always my sign of a good show – music interspersed with story-telling and humor – and he’s got that double threat going strong. He’s been around forever so it was very cool to see him play at the Grammys this year.
So why all my ranting about chanting? Because tonight starts the annual Chantlanta Sacred Music Festival at, believe it or not, the Druid Hills Baptist Church. I guess I’m coming full circle with my chanting and church issues. Shout out to this progressive congregation with a covenant that affirms the equality of everyone regardless of “any distinction”. If I were a Baptist, I’d go there.
And another shout out to one of our yoga teachers, Stephanie, who will be playing tomorrow with her band Blue Spirit Wheel. Hoping she’ll do the Hanuman Chalisa but either way it’s worth listening to on the website.
Great, I made it through this whole post without once saying “one enchanted evening”.