Singing Bowl 2

I recently wrote about how a singing bowl came into my life.  I’d wanted one for a while, but didn’t really know where to find one, and wanted to choose one “hands on.”  I found the bowl (or rather, it found me) at the Summer NAMM show in Nashville in June.

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This lovely purple Ovation guitar also found me at NAMM, but unlike the bowl, didn’t follow me home.  whew.

The day I found the bowl was a Friday, and the next afternoon we were scheduled to play a concert featuring selections from Women at the Well at Grace Episcopal Church in Hopkinsville, Kentucky. We left the NAMM show  at 6, ate supper and decided to do a quick practice.  We use backing tracks for some songs and had recently decided to switch to using an iPad for tracks, and wanted to make sure everything went smoothly as technology has a tendency to invite gremlins and other “ghosts in the machine.”

One song (without tracks) is titled Our Father, Our Mother. It has sparse instrumentation, is a paraphrase of the Lord’s Prayer, and is…well, a chant. When I wrote it years ago, it came to me easily and suddenly. I love the song, and love singing it.

We moved quickly through the set, reviewing all songs with tracks first to ensure that the iPad would behave.  So far, so good.

Then, I had an idea.

“Hold on a minute,” I told Bubba, and walked to where the bowl was sitting.  I had just bought it that afternoon, and had been enjoying its tone in a more quiet environment.  I picked up the bowl, struck it, and began singing.

Father, Mother, God, Creator, hallowed be thy name. Upon earth; thy will in heaven, be all things the same….

Bubba joined in on the keyboard.  The bowl was the right pitch for the song.  No wonder this bowl and I got along so well; I was tuned to it. I asked Bubba to keep the keys sparse, and we continued the song.  To my delight, it worked…wow, did it work. What synchronicity!

Grace Episcopal Church, Hopkinsville, KY

Grace Episcopal Church in Hopkinsville, KY

The next day, we packed up the bowl along with our instruments and headed to Kentucky. It was an easy drive, a beautiful day, and a lovely church. Rev. Alice Nichols met us, and made us feel most welcome.  I love older churches.  Not only are they beautiful, one can feel the echos of generations of worship deep in the structure itself.  We set up, and the sound of this handmade, prayer-filled bowl filled the church.

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Setting up.

Even the iPad was still behaving!  We relaxed and took in the sights of this lovely church, which included panels honoring church members who had fought in the First and Second World Wars.  The needlepoint cushions at the communion rail were filled with rich symbolism, and the baptismal font told stories of generations of new lives.

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Some of the needlepoint at Grace Church

The evening began with a Eucharist, and then it was time for the concert.

That was the moment that the iPad officially became an iPest.  Or perhaps an iPain.  The volume control, which had behaved perfectly during all run-throughs and tests, vanished. Well, not vanished, exactly, but the dreaded greyed out.  It was visible, but infuriatingly nonfunctional.

It’s times like this that try the mettle of any musician.  Happily, the congregation could all relate to techno-glitches, and when it comes to technology, we have triple-redundant backup readily available…so we switched to the CD player. (I figured that the iPad would find its wayward volume control by the end of the concert.)

In the meantime, it was the bowl’s debut.  One strike, one tone,  and I began to sing. I could feel the vibrations of bowl and voice.  Later comments indicated that others felt the richness of the bowl in that song as well.

At the end of the concert, sure enough – the iPain worked.  We all shared a good laugh, and then a lovely reception with fellowship and good food.

Grace has a beautiful labyrinth across from the church.  Alice and I had originally discussed the idea of performing at the labyrinth, but it had been too hot (and humid) that day. After packing up instruments and gear, we took some time to walk over and enjoy it.  I took a quick walk, breathing in the aftereffects of the concert’s energy.

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Joshua at the labyrinth

The following day, we packed up and headed south, with a stop at Moony’s Market in Monteagle, Tennessee.  We’d found this delightful health food store / gift and antique and herb / yarn shop on our April visit and performance in nearby Sewanee. Oh, the yarn! Oh, the food! I purchased a small African handbasket – which I later realized was the perfect size for transporting the bowl.  More synchronicity, or at least my subconscious mind at work.

traveling bowl

Ready to travel! And why not? Bowl and basket both have come halfway around the world already!

In addition to bringing me daily beauty and mindfulness, I think this bowl and I are meant to go places and make music together.

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Singing Bowl

Each summer, I escape the flatlands of south Louisiana for some time in Tennessee.  It’s never long enough, but always fulfilling and downright fun, as the time is spent visiting friends, playing a few gigs, and attending the NAMM show in Nashville.

NAMM stands for the National Association of Music Merchants, and they have a huge trade show in Anaheim, California each January to introduce new instruments, new technology, and just about everything new (as well as old and faithful) in the world of musical manufacture.  I’ve been to the Anaheim show a few times, and it is busy, crowded and crazy.  The Nashville show in the summer is smaller, with fewer booths, but has the advantage of being within driving distance.  It’s also in an area of the country that I love.

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A quiet moment at the Summer 2016 NAMM show

I’ve found several instruments and fun things over the years at NAMM, and the show always brings wonderful synchronicity for music partner Bubba and me.  A summer NAMM show was where I discovered and fell in love with Luna guitars.

That same show was where Bubba and I met mastering engineer extraordinaire Roger Nichols (think: Steely Dan) and where he offered to master our Blue Merlot CD.  We have found instruments, equipment, and made new connections and friends over the years.  Bubba, who is a Grammy-winning engineer and producer, goes with a list of manufacturers and new software / gear that he wants to learn about.  I go with an open mind, looking for inspiration (as well as a wish list of items, such as an easy midi controller for our pipe organ at Epiphany).  Last summer I found a wonderful harp (Harpsicle) that has given me relaxation and another inspirational sound to play with.  (www.harpsicle-harps.com)

My harp

My Harpsicle…pluck away in Dorian mode for lovely, relaxing (and easy) music!

As we walked from the car to the Music City Center, Bubba asked “are you looking for anything in particular?”

“Nah, not really” I replied.  I was more focused on the gigs we had lined up, and was content just to see what was new, though heaven knows we need some new mic stands.

“But…” I said, “I would love to find a Tibetan singing bowl.”

This isn’t the type of thing that we usually see at the show, but you never know.

We arrived, got our badges, and I put in my earplugs to buffer the onslaught of noise that is typical for NAMM.  Every guitar slinger, drummer, etc. wants to try out the goods.  I keep thinking that it would be nice if NAMM posted the “key of the day” so at least there would be some continuity in the cacaphony, but that hasn’t happened. We entered the huge showroom, with aisle after aisle of everything from acoustic guitars to zithers.  The first booth we saw had tubas in purple and other bright colors.

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A very bright tuba!

 

BUT – right next to that was a booth with Tibetan singing bowls!  A whole booth of singing bowls,  crystal bowls, tingshas, drums and more.

Now at NAMM, there is a background melee of every kind of musical instrument, soundtrack, synth and drum that mashes together in a mess that doesn’t even resemble music but rather what I imagine a barrel of wet, angry cats would sound like.  Anyone with “soft” instruments is at a disadvantage, especially if they are anywhere near the drums (this is a “hands on” kind of show). This particular booth, Serenity Tibet, was an aisle over from the drums.  Yikes, how was I going to hear them?

In spite of everything, there was a sense of centeredness in the booth. Bowls like this are used in meditation.  A quick lesson from Ruby Shrestha taught me how to elicit tones from the bowls – that I could hear, in spite of the screaming cats chorus all around me.

No one had to show me how to feel them.  These bowls vibrated like crazy.  At the Serenity Tibet boot, I learned that Sureen Shrestha uses bowls like these in healing and teaches healing at his school in Colorado. I’ve been drawn to sound healing for a long time, and these bowls seemed to be an affirmation that this is an interest begging for more exploration. I purchased Sureen’s book, How to Heal with Singing Bowls, and resolved to purchase a bowl the next day.

I began reading the book that night, and felt a click of agreement when I noticed that Sureen referred to quantum theory in his book.  We feel and interact with sounds and vibrations. As a singer, I feel the songs that I sing.  (Yes, some feel much better than others, and it’s not necessarily linked to the lyrics.) On the very smallest level, we are – and everything in creation is – energy.  Like sound, we are made of vibrating particles / waves, in a marvelous swirling sea of cosmic energy.

I could go off on a quantum tangent here, but I’ll save that for another day.  Let’s just say that the tones and vibrations of the bowls are very centering and grounding.  The give you an aural sigh of relief felt throughout the body.

I selected a bowl the next day, or perhaps it chose me.  Through the rest of our trip, it came with me everywhere. It stayed in the car only when we were going to a different place – I brought it out to ring wherever we were, experiencing calm when I did so. What a great way to re-energize hotel rooms!  A visit with friends Deacon Diane, Vickie and Sister Madeleine Mary saw (and heard) the bowl passed around, and sparked a conversation on sound and spirituality. The bowl began inviting synchronicity and happy accidents immediately (more on that in another post).

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The bowl that asked to be mine.

The bowl that I selected is handmade, formed and hammered from 7 different metals that Ruby explained correlate to the 7 chakras, or energy centers of the body.  Most are made in Nepal, and they are infused with prayer and intent as they are crafted.  You can learn more about these specific bowls at  www.atmabuti.org.  Other bowls were machine made, inscribed with the beauty of images, symbols and Sanskrit prayers and words.  I saw and heard an incredible frosted crystal bowl, inscribed with Om. Even in the noise bath of NAMM, we could hear the voices and feel the spirits of these bowls, bells and drums.

I am often amused at how new things – especially musical things – pop into my life.  This little bowl was an immediate and complete response to my thought “I’d love to find this….” It doesn’t always happen that way, but it’s fun when it does.  We resonate.

Mountain Thoughts

My friends Diane Moore and Victoria Sullivan are both gifted authors (and publishers) who divide their time between south Louisiana and the mountains of Tennessee.  In addition to new worlds of poetry and polyploids (more on that later), they have introduced me to the Community of St. Mary, an Episcopal Benedictine convent on the mountain in Sewanee. Music partner Joshua (aka Bubba) and I were featured musical performers at a recent fundraiser for the convent.

It was a weekend of unexpected blessings and surprises.  We were provided lodging in the convent, and this respite from daily life was welcome indeed.  Not just the quiet and beauty of this place on the mountain, but the peaceful presence of the sisters create a haven saturated with the presence of spirit. Even cell phone service is nonexistent. Hooray!

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Convent of the Community of St. Mary, Sewanee, Tennessee

Saturday was a day of focus on the fundraiser, a focus on the gig.  Haul equipment, check out the venue, set up, do sound check, run through everything, put away cases.  Head back to the convent to change for the evening.  No big meal prior to playing or singing, so we fixed plates of a delicious meal and asked the caterers to please keep them safe as we’d be eating later.

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Setup for St. Mary’s Gala…I’m glad we only had to deal with the sound system and instruments!

A room a bit too cold for this south Louisiana singer; I was trying to ignore the temperature as I sang.  Don’t move around, the stage floor was hollow, and our prerecorded tracks (which had behaved perfectly in rehearsal) decided to skip occasionally.  Technology is wonderful – when it works. (Computer? Tablet? Misbehaving!)

The evening was enjoyable in spite of a couple of gremlins in the technology, and successful.  Sister Madeleine Mary and her team of interns (Heather, Waddy and Andrew) had put together a wonderful event, and we were delighted to be a part of it.  At then end of the evening, it was teardown and loadout.  In the midst of it all, we discovered that the caterers, in their rush to clean up, had thrown out our food.  So much for that caramel cheesecake…sigh. I probably eat cheesecake once a year, and that was going to be my yearly cheesecake decadence.  Oh, well.  A late-night trek to McDonald’s in a nearby town brought memories of even later night meals after bar gigs. I finally crawled into bed exhausted.

Sunday morning I pried myself out of bed at 7:40 and performed the barest basics of morning presentability.  I made it to the chapel for Eucharist with 5 minutes to spare.

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The chapel at the convent. (Don’t you love fisheye lenses?)

I was expecting a small crowd, but this tiny chapel was full.  Barely awake (with no time for coffee), I settled into the liturgy and hymns with relief.  I’m tired, Lord, but I’m glad I’m here.  I relaxed into the community of the congregation.  In addition to the sisters, interns and Diane and Vickie, there were quite a few faces I’d seen the night before.

The service ended and we enjoyed breakfast together.  And coffee.  (Thank  you, Lord, for coffee; it is absolutely one of your finest creations, along with music and chocolate. Amen!)

I looked to the afternoon, spread out before me with very little “to do” listed there.  Lunch at 1.  Repack the car.  See some mountains. Take some photos. Listen. Above all, just listen, just be.

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Dogwood trees on the mountain

Every child attending a Catholic school hears, sooner or later (usually both sooner AND later) , The Lecture On Vocations. Is God calling you to Holy Orders?  I’d heard The Lecture often, but could never imagine myself in such a setting.  I knew the Sisters of Mercy that served my school, and spent some time visiting and praying in their convent.  I could not see myself there, and always felt a call to motherhood instead.

The Community of St. Mary, though, is more than just the sisters who live in the convent.  They have associates who live in the community, and the convent’s influence is evident to even a new visitor such as myself.  The rhythm of their lives and peaceful presence are threads woven beyond the physical space of convent and chapel.  Through our mutual friends, they have touched my life in the past as far away as south Louisiana.  Through spending time here, they have touched my life again, and I returned home to Louisiana with a bit of their spirit with me.

The very air there is saturated with a sense of the creative, evident in some of the silent auction offerings at the gala, and certainly evident in the writings of Diane and Vickie. One of Diane’s poetry collections, In a Convent Garden, has a photo of a small concrete statue of a merry nun on a swing.  I smiled when I saw the original. Two of Vickie’s novels deal with a fascinating “it-could-almost-happen” new race of humans called polyploids.  I will let creativity strike as it may and be content that I soaked up the blissful peacefulness.

Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. – Luke 5:15-16

I realize such quiet time isn’t a luxury, but a need. If Jesus needed solitude and “down time,” don’t we all? I was reminded of a far distant ancestor of mine, who at the end of a life of political and family intrigue, leadership, and imprisonment, retired to a convent in France.  I can understand her desire for the sanctuary that such a place provided.  We all need rest to combat the weariness of the spirit.

Diane’s blog is A Word’s Worth

Vickie’s first book about polyploids: Pinyon Publishing

Poetry and other good reads by Diane, Vickie, Anne Simon and others at Border Press

 

 

Filling in the Gaps

Our church has a small but dedicated choir, but we often  compliments such as “it sounds like the loft is FULL! It sounds like there’s a lot more people singing up there than there is!” It’s a lovely comment, especially as we’re often more of a quartet than a choir.

My friend (and fellow chorister) Margaret recently observed: “I think that God comes in and fills in the empty spaces for us.”

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We do sing with intention. We want to give our best to God, to our church family, and to Leon (our choir director who brings out the best in us).  I think Margaret got it just right: God does fill in the spaces and magnifies our efforts. God can enlarge what we do if we allow it. Here’s an example from my own musical life:

On December 27, 2011, I lost my hearing in my left ear.  Unable to find any other explanation for this sudden change (I’m meticulous about hearing protection when performing), my doctors figured it was the result of “a virus.”  Over the next year I went through multiple tests, consultations, and listening to well-meaning folks telling me that it might just be wax in my ears, and why didn’t I just have surgery? I clung to hope of a spontaneous return of hearing (it might happen, my doctor said, we have to give it a year).  I resisted the idea of a hearing aid for a while, and then began to look forward to the one year mark when I could begin the process of being fitted for a hearing aid.

That was not to be.  The sensorineural hearing loss I have does not respond to a hearing aid.  Welcome to life in monaural. I cried a river.

I’ve had to adapt.  In the case of Epiphany’s choir, small is a blessing for me.  I’m able to hear and enjoy the other parts without being distracted or confused.  You can’t sing harmony without listening to what else is going on. While that’s not a problem with two working ears, it’s very tricky with only one. Unison singing can be challenging if we’re not all completely unison.  My fellow choir members have become used to my moving around to find just the right spot to stand in the loft so that I can hear. At least solos are easy.

Recording vocal parts requires adjustment, too.  My music partner Joshua and I recently remixed and re-recorded some demos from our Women at the Well program and released a short CD.  A main objective was to re-record vocals and add vocal harmonies on several of the tracks, and there’s where God filled in the blanks.

Adding the harmonies required overdubbing – me singing different lines over myself.  You can’t do that without hearing everything, and hearing everything with only one ear means the brain is  processing some signals differently.  I can’t exactly describe it, but I do know I had to completely re-learn how to manage this.

Since the only budget for this project was earmarked for CD replication, we were recording at Joshua’s house.  The bathroom was the vocal booth.  Contrary to what you may think, that’s not because of “bathroom acoustics” but rather because it was the quietest room in the house. Since a vocal booth needs to be “dead,” we had a lot of blankets and towels draped everywhere!

It’s a pretty funny picture.  I was standing in a tiny bathroom, blankets draped over the shower curtain rod and piled in the bathtub, a big stuffed teddy bear crammed into the closet-without-a-door, scribbled notation taped to the wall in front of me so I’d remember exactly what to sing (what line am I singing now?) and I’m holding one headphone a couple of inches away from my ear so I can hear where to come in – but not so much as to be confusing….In the middle of all of this, a daddy longlegs spider appeared in the corner to watch.

Our budget also doesn’t allow for autotune, so it had to be perfect.

When I heard the final product, I cried with joy and relief.  I’d feared I’d never be able to do this again, yet there it was, beautiful harmonies and all.

One of the first people to hear the final product was our friend Danny, who plays keyboards and sings backup in a world-touring zydeco band.  Danny knows of my hearing loss, and also understands what’s necessary in overdubbing harmony lines.  How did you do that with just one ear?  he asked.  That’s a miracle.

God stepped in to fill in the blanks inside of my head and ears.  A next-to-nothing budget, Joshua’s considerable production skills and a whole lot of Divine assistance gave us a CD we could be proud of, that we could offer to those who heard our Women at the Well program and wanted to revisit the music again and again.

God fills in the empty spaces wherever we allow God to do so.  My hearing loss makes me realize that if I’m going to keep doing what I love, I need God to fill in those empty spaces.

This morning I was fixing my tea and thinking about Margaret’s comment, our “heavenly choir” and how God fills things out for us.  My eyes fell on a mail order catalog that my husband had left open on the kitchen table.  There was a teeshirt that simply said:

God greater than

God is greater than. Can I get an AMEN? God is greater than anything and will fill in the blank spaces when we allow it.

To learn more about the Women at the Well program, visit www.women-at-the-well.com. For information about the Living Water CD, visit www.cdbaby.com/cd/bbontherock The CD page has the latest recordings.