A Findhorn Foundation special event 30 March – 5 April 2013
This morning I arrive at the Universal Hall eagerly anticipating the first session. It’s Harmonic Temple, another of the regular opportunities we have here at Findhorn for healing and transformation through singing. Community members David Harrison and Vera Bohlen offer their love in action throughout the year by leading these Harmonic Temple sessions. Created by a man named Nickomo Clarke, these four-part harmonies bathe the singers in an absolutely delicious energy that leaves one feeling completely whole.
David starts us off this morning with a series of movements to wake every cell in our bodies and bring ourselves fully present to release the voice that comes from deep within. We shake, wobble, jiggle, flap and tap various body parts and give our faces a massage while making a sound. But the best bit is the exercise to clear our throats. With our mouths open and our tongues stuck out as far as possible, we say our full name and address. I heartily recommend you try this at home, especially in the company of friends. Not only will you and your friends have cleared your throats, but you’ll all have a good laugh as well!
Like all the songs I’ve learned in the conference so far, the four-part harmonies are taught by ear, slowly building them up so that everyone feels confident in singing their part. Acknowledging that our natural state of being is compassion, we sing the Tibetan mantra Om Mani Padme Hum, creating a prayer wheel with the four voice parts. To focus our intention, David reads these words:
With every turn of the wheel, we send our prayers to liberate all beings from suffering,
With each turn of the wheel, we become more our authentic loving selves.
From the Tibetan tradition we move to the Christian tradition, singing a Benedictus in Latin, the English translation of which is: Blessed are those who come in the name of God/Spirit/Creator. While the Tibetan chant was a steady rhythm, the Benedictus builds to a crescendo, then flows back into a quiet prayer. We finish by sending the blessing out into the world, perhaps to someone in particular, speaking that person’s name into the circle.
Next this morning is an opportunity to once again sing with Ali Burns. An introductory session to the more focused sessions later in the week, we get a taste of the songs that will be performed on Friday night.
Ali invites us to arrange ourselves in three voice parts – low, middle and high – easily done as the seating in the Hall is in three sections facing the centre. Using her snapping fingers and tapping feet to help us keep the rhythm, and her tuning fork to help us find our starting note, we very quickly learn and then sing a few lines from a beautiful love song Ali has written using words inspired by the Gaelic poet, Angus McNicol. I am amazed at the ease with which we achieve such harmony together.
Ali then shares with us a song she wrote for a friend of hers who died suddenly in a car accident. Titled In Green by Day, this song is a tribute to a woman who poured her love into creating a house and home for herself and her family, to tending the land upon which that house was located and to walking the hills of the area in which she lived. One woman in our group expresses that the song feels as much a love song to the land as it is a tribute to a dear friend. It is indeed. As I sing my part and feel what the words and melody invoke, the tears well up from within, both in joy and in sorrow. I feel connected to that of which we are all a part, and know without knowing, that we are all, in Ali’s words, forever turning in the dance.
The last offering for this session is a song Ali wrote after her father died. She apologises, thinking we might find it morbid that two of the songs she’s brought this morning were written as a result of losing a loved one. Not morbid at all, Ali. I am deeply touched by your sharing of your life with us.
This song is called Charm, the words are from the Carmina Gadelica, and I am reminded once again of the Gaels of Scotland who saw the divine as being all around them – in the heavens, in the land, in the seas, in the home, in the everyday. Reflecting on this, it comes as no surprise to me that the Findhorn community was born here.
After enjoying lunch in blissful spring sunshine, a group of 40 of us gathered in the Universal Hall for a practical workshop in Gaelic chants held by Fionntulach, a sister in the Ceilé De order. Speaking about the close relationship between the singing of these ancient words and nature, she explains how the reverent essence of the chants or Fuinn translated nature back into music. Reflecting the dynamic events of the natural world in spring we create sounds to represent the unfurling of fronds and buds. The workshop flows into an awareness of the experiential sense of the sounds within our bodies, feeling where tones resonate most strongly within each of us leading to a sense of heart-warming connection. As we begin to chant prayers, we use sound to encourage movement in our bodies on an individual basis at first, and then as a spiral-walking collective whilst still maintaining any personal movements we feel flowing with our words and sounds.
Sith agus sonas nam Flath — Peace and bliss of Heaven
This introduction to the Fuinn brought to our awareness the way in which the Celts consciously used their chants as a powerful tool to transcend the concept of ‘just singing’ and develop a soul medicine to transform their inner and outer energies.
On Monday evening I felt incredibly blessed to be in the powerful presence of Kathy Bullock, teacher of African-American sacred music, for my first experience of gospel and spiritual sung live!
The combination of a grand piano, a gifted musician, a willing audience and the energy of this musical genre created a rousing atmosphere that moved every soul in the Hall.
Kathy brings such a deep understanding and appreciation of music that I felt immediately inspired and engaged by her joy and enthusiasm. Here is an artist who moved effortlessly between the parts of soprano, alto, tenor and bass, demonstrating each one to the audience as she taught us song after song, with great encouragement, explaining a little bit of history each time.
“This is one of my favourite songs,” she said, “There is a balm in Giliad to make the wounded whole. It is a song filled with hope that our children’s children will see a better future.” Kathy was invited to sing this in a service after the events of 9/11 and the lyrics captured the healing power of hope and the knowledge that from great sorrow great power can emerge.
Inherent in each song I could feel the depth of spiritual potential woven into the words and music, written to inspire people to rise above challenging conditions, recognise the beauty in life and praise our very existence! There were about 200 people in the Hall and together we created a lively atmosphere, following Kathy’s expert lead. Her background merged with the energy of Findhorn, which she recognised as a place of healing and light.
The power of song as a spiritual practice was evident and I marvelled at her ability to be the song, to express the soul of her being through the most incredible voice that seemed to have a range free of limitation. Kathy’s love of music shone through to all of us. At the beginning of the night she asked for the lights to shine on the audience and it was very much an evening of participation and yet performance too.
Martin Barker, a drummer who lives in the community and has his own passion for African music, joined Kathy on stage to share the beat of the djembe, as the audience moved and clapped to the rhythm. Rory O’Connell, another local musician, accompanied Kathy with his saxophone after listening for just a few moments having never heard the song before!
During the evening I closed my eyes and felt the layers of sound melting into each other. The energy and tempo was a powerful force and I would happily have kept singing into the night blending my voice with the audience of many, merging into oneness and celebration of life.