A Findhorn Foundation special event 30 March – 5 April 2013
Barbara Swetina introduces her long-term friend Sheila Pettitt, “This is my co-minstrel with a Celtic voice who brings nature into her music.” They hold the session together each contributing their own special focus. As an invocation, Sheila plucks her harp and Barbara joins in seamlessly with her recorder. The sounds of the two instruments merge to create magical tones and we all join in with the soft ethereal song ‘The wings of my heart carry me on’.
Sheila asks us to develop our awareness of listening, forming a close-knit group as we sing so we can experience our combined sounds as a meditative massage. I become aware of where the sound is being made in my body and the silence we come into as we complete the sounds. She then leads us in a range of exercises for toning, breathing and sculpting sound, including one where we bark like a dog to see how we're using our muscles! I wonder how these warm ups will relate to our singing but my mind is put to rest as soon as we are singing again. I can feel how this new body sound awareness inspires my voice.
Together we sing ‘Bismillah’, a familiar song within the community as part of Findhorn sacred singing. Barbara explains how sometimes when we know a song well we sing it automatically and these exercises create a more conscious journey with the sounds. As we begin to sing in rounds, a meditative and spiritual sense to the song shines through. I feel that we could not sing slowly enough; the newly heightened sense of awareness makes me want to savour every note and is increased as we add simple gestures and movements to the words.
Barbara suggests we feel the universe inside us and connect with the universe outside as we move. The movements spread our blessings out into the world as we imagine stepping into our greater universal self. The rounds of song and movement become like waves of a prayer washing over us and rippling out, finishing in a motionless hum and the renewal of silence of collective beings. The session completes with a slideshow of images depicting the effects of prayerful sound on auras and sound waves. I can see what I have physically felt and heard, which grounds the experience within the musical universe even more deeply.
As we filtered back into the Universal Hall after the tea break, David and Vera had us gather together and led us in a fresh rendition of a song we sang during our 50th birthday week celebrations, "Let the beauty we love be what we do, There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground". The altos begin the round, with the soprano, tenor and bass voices joining in as the singing prayer unfolded. What a beautiful way to start our last conference group session together before tonight's grand finale celebration.
Peter Vallance and conference co-focaliser John Willoner whisked through the obligatory closing announcements, a necessary but seemingly brief interruption before they handed over to Ali to guide us in a 'thank you' song to recognise, name and thank all the community workers who helped behind the scenes to support this delightful event — from office team members to those who made the teas and cleaned the facilities. Styled on the famed 60s video version of Bob Dylan's Subterranean Homesick Blues, Peter and David held up and discarded prompt cards with various titles and names on them as Ali cajoled us with an impromptu "Yeah oh yeah, yeah yeah yeah, hey (read name off card), we thank you for your…."
Returning to a more sober mood, Peter then took the opportunity to invite the presenters into our midst to receive a gift as a personal thank you for their individual and collective contributions. Not missing a beat, Peter was invited into the centre of the floor to receive all our appreciation and thanks, by way of a prolonged standing ovation, for his vision and dedication in bringing this event together.
To close the afternoon, we gently danced and sang the same song Barbara had led us in at the beginning of the event, "Ancestors, sky people…" segueing into choir leaders Bill and Kate leading us in a song written by Ali Burns:
Think of me, forget me not
Remember me wherever you go
I am yours and you are mine
Remember me wherever you go
What a wonderful blessing to offer fellow participants. We walk together, individuals becoming pairs, pairs becoming foursomes, until we intertwine into one tight knot of humanity.
Every seat in the Hall was filled for the grand finale of the EarthSings conference as our host, Kate O’Connell, introduced the evening. “Let us bless ourselves, bless this place and relax as we enjoy the performances. You are all encouraged to join in towards the end!”
With Kathy Bullock opening the show there was no way we were going to wait until then to join in. I recognised the familiar tones of a song Kathy had shared with us earlier in the week, “You are welcome, you are welcome, you are welcome to this place.” As I write, I sing the melody to myself and wish for the warmth of this song to jump into your heart as you read the words. I felt a great sense of belonging and also excitement at the thought of Kathy coming back for a week-long workshop next year.
The four main presenters of the conference shared the beauty and inspiration of the songs they’d be teaching during the week, beginning with the calm energy of Sr Fionntulach. “These are ancient Gaelic chants that reach back over 1,500 years. It's a bit like Celtic Tai Chi,” she explained, “Feel the elements of wind, waves, rocks and mud.”
Participants who had been following her workshops during the week came down to the centre of the Hall. Several singers stood in the middle as others formed a circle around them, walking slowly as they sang and made gentle hand movements that emphasised the words. I listened to these love songs to God, inviting us to come closer, and felt their resonance with our community. Heartfelt prayer followed one after another and I was struck by the joyful expression on Sr Fionn’s face as she sang with her eyes closed, leading those around her into the soul of Scotland.
Frank Kane and the participants from his workshops followed with songs from the Republic of Georgia. “This is one of the oldest documented traditions in the world,” Frank said. “May every soul be blessed, may every soul rejoice.” The Georgian culture is strongly rooted in nature as we are here and grows out of the land in a similar way to the Celtic tradition. The deep contrast was powerful between the more gentle Celtic sounds and the stronger Georgian sounds, both with inherent beauty, and the richness filled the Hall.
Contemporary Scotland came to the stage next with the voice of Ali Burns and I was struck by the familiar words of Amazing Grace sung to a very different tune. I’d heard this modern version taking shape during the week and was amazed at the incredible change in just a few days and the maturity of sound.
I remember standing in the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostella after the forty days of my Camino pilgrimage a few years ago, moved to tears by a soloist singing the traditional Amazing Grace. Ali’s melody, with Kathy Bullock accompanying on the piano, somehow touched me even more deeply, perhaps the dance between familiar/unfamiliar heightening my senses. It was touching to witness the support the presenters offered each other, sharing their musical gifts beyond ego.
Ali’s songs were deeply personal. “After my father died in 2004 I felt stuck in clichés and decided to give myself space for a year to take the pressure off,” she shared. “Eventually my partner said to me just go and write a song! It's how I process my feelings.”
“The Vow” was written to celebrate love, with the wonderful chorus, Say yes, say yes repeated a few times. “When love needed a road we built it. We shouldered the stones and the dirt and built it. We set aside our hurts and built it, when love needed a road.” Practising this song earlier in the week the words had felt like an important reminder and this evening to hear the community choir in full song was immensely powerful. I imagine even more so for the singers at the heart of the sound. Their connection with Ali was tangible and I felt blessed to be living in a community that so often experiences the heart-opening potential of song.
The entertainment of the evening changed as Sr Fionn announced, “I'm surprised there were no April Fool’s Day jokes here at Findhorn.” Kathy moved around the Hall singing the Holy Fool chant with ominous tones and after some searching through the audience found him – in the form of Peter Vallance! She presented Peter with a yellow crown decorated with snowdrops and feathers that bounced around joyfully on his head.
Peter then proceeded to share about the revolutions that had taken place during the week. “This is a vegetarian community and yet on Thursday people ate lamb during the Supra dinner.” Gasps of shock from the audience! “Would you like to eat meat more often?” Peter asked. A resounding and reassuring, “No” came back.
"We eat at 6 in the evenings," Peter continued, "have seconds at 6:30, KP begins at 6:45, the bus to The Park leaves at 7:15." He gently mocked our well-established community rhythms and rituals. "But on Thursday, food was served at 6:20 and we had dessert normally reserved for Fridays!" Peter's great contribution as events organiser was widely recognised by everyone in the Hall and there was a huge round of applause before the interval began.
The second half of the evening began with Kathy Bullock invoking the powerful energy of the gospel movement through the song Vow to the Lord followed by a jaunty Hallelujah. "This is the way we sing praises to our Lord," we sang in unison, the audience soon on their feet and moving to the music, smiling and clapping to the rhythm. The next song included a duet between Kathy and Nadasree Gadas, the Park hostess throughout the week. I'd never heard Nadasree sing before. Wow, it was a stunning performance of the song, "I feel seasons everywhere" with the lyrics "Those seeds that you've sown are going to come into their own" sung with both tenderness and passion.
I imagined Eileen Caddy enjoying the next song, which resonated deeply with her belief that she instilled in the community, "All is very, very well." The large choir gathered even more closely around Kathy playing the piano and launched into singing "Everything will be all right … After the storm the cloud passes over." Every song was imbued with soul-stirring inspiration that I found impossible to ignore. Everyone in the Hall seemed to delight in song after song and the powerful voice of the collective was clear as Gospel came to Findhorn in full force!
The next song "I'm looking for a miracle" seemed almost written for the community and inspired by our 'Expect a Miracle' cards – it just had the gospel attitude instead! "I expect the impossible, I feel the intangible, I see the invisible," we sang together, Martin Barker joining in with a drumbeat.
Kathy's star power lit up the Hall and the energy continued to lift even more after an evening of song so powerful I expected the roof to lift from the Hall any moment. Amidst cheers of celebration Peter Vallance thanked the many people involved in making this wonderful event happen and left us with these inspiring words, "Let's take the fire into our hearts and carry the light out into the world, to light new fires of hope, peace, unity and wellbeing in the world."