Finding a New Meaning in Music
One of the greatest teachings from my journey with the Naked Voice and different healing modalities through sound has been my discovery of new meaning within the world of music. Moving away from the role of performer and into the realm of being a music maker has marked a big shift in my own musical life. I discovered the power of different sounds to help and to heal both myself and others, be it physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually. These resonances we create within our voices and instruments have a power to transform and to transmute, helping us let go of old hurt and old stories, and create something new and wonderful. Through singing we get to access a new part of ourselves, or the original part of ourselves, a journey of reconnection and rediscovery of our hearts.
So Who is Singing
One of the big questions within the Naked Voice is ‘who is singing’. It is this question that remains with me all the time. I have performed music in many different styles and in many different contexts. From my classical recitals during my Masters in Classical Piano Performance at DIT, to jazz singing at the Cork Jazz Festival, these moments of performance are of course exciting – the preparation and hard work on technique and phrasing, on expression and versatility, on tone and balance – all of these things have their own magic, but they are nothing compared to letting go into music and seeing what comes through. I love just being with that music, the music of the moment, the voice pouring out sounds and the observer just witnessing. And this process has been both terrifying and liberating at once. I can recall during one of the retreats with Chloe where we had to sing for 15 minutes – after the first couple of minutes the performance monkey within me was dying! And I didn’t know what to sing next. The mind was looking for clever patterns to vocalise but what came out was words – ‘I just want to be free, and not to have to sound like you want me to be’. And what came next was a wild music – low and gravely, and working its way up the body without worry or care – the sound was what mattered.
The Magic of Mantra – A Personal Journey of Discovery
I always found it difficult to meditate. My mind is ever active and I have found it hard to observe and just let it be. When I discovered the power of mantra to settle my system it was a revelation. After a few years of training with Chloe, I was asked to come and facilitate weekly sessions near Baltinglass in Wicklow by a dear friend of mine. I held sessions for 3 hours each week for about 2 years. My friend sat across from me the whole time and was very silently holding the space for me to experiment and find my own way within the music medicine, moving out of the mind and listening to my heart. I heard myself saying one day that even if the mind is active while we are singing, the sounds we are singing are still doing their work! The body, mind and spirit is benefiting from the resonance of the sounds. This was a revelation for myself! Until that point, I had been disappointed when I couldn’t switch off, and this letting go of whether or not the mind was active or quiet allowed me to do these practices and to allow the benefits to manifest.
The mantras brought me into my heart and one by one they taught me different things. For me each mantra is like a key to the heart – some are keys of compassion, some of joy. Some connect me with my more feminine side, others with my masculine side. Some contain a vibration that is so beautiful that I can barely sing them out loud! They open up parts of my heart, like petals unfurling in the sunshine. They help me become stronger, and they help me to know myself more deeply.
Gifts of Songs
Some of the most beautiful gifts I have received these past few years are the songs that have arrived in my heart. They come in the most obscure of moments, as though trying to catch me unaware so that I won’t interfere with their arrival! These songs are so simple and so beautiful. Some have arrived in the midst of chanting sessions – perfect jewels for that moment. Others have come whilst I am driving, so I need to pull over and record them before they pass me by and come through the heart of another. I have learnt not to judge them, but just to accept them, nurture them and share them with the world.
What do the words mean anyway…
I’m often asked what the Sanskrit mantras mean and I find it difficult to translate them into English because it doesn’t translate the feeling. The AUM, one of the oldest mantras in the world, feels different to me every time. But I know that I feel better after I sing it. I feel more present, my heart opens more and the silence that it connects me to is beyond anything words can explain. I worked for a few years with a fellow Naked Voice facilitator, working primarily with children in inner city Dublin. She would say ‘can you feel the difference in the room’ after we would sing the AUM and people would get it! A shift would occur within the space and in that silence new things could be heard, new possibilities for transformation within the world. That is the power of these sacred words for me – the space that opens that allows us to move beyond our mind and the stories that keep us trapped into a world where new things are possible. As Krishna Das says, ‘they are all just different names for God’.
The 7 Sounds of Love – Working with the Indian Scale
When in UCC, I studied quite a lot about the tradition of Indian classical music. Their version of the scales of the West is the raga, but a whole world of musical expression is contained within that word. There are ragas for everything – for the morning, for the evening, for rain, for sunshine, for expressing happiness, sadness, joy, celebration. Ragas have different flavours and colour, with some having a different sequence of notes ascending and descending. Encountering this ancient culture of music brought me into engagement with a new perspective of music and pitch. Indian classical musicians study for years and years to learn how to be present with the expression of these ragas, and their improvisations are borne out of this understanding. Although I didn’t want to leave Ireland and go become an Indian classical musician, this new interaction with another musical culture inspired my own creative journey. When I let go into sounding or free singing, I feel connected with the music in a way that is different to how I have been taught to engage with performance in my own education.
The sounds of the Indian scale – Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, Pa Dha Ni and the top Sa, correspond to our Western scale of Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, Ti and top Do. During my training within the Naked Voice, I met with Misashi Minagawa. He has worked closely with Chloe for the past 20 years, helping to ground the different Indian mantras by creating contemplative movements out of his practice with the marshal art of Shintaido. These movements open a whole new world of meaning to the mantras, and with the Indian scale, they become new ways to explore the different ways with which we love and engage in the world. This journey with the scale, in collaboration with my own musical training has allowed me to experience song in a whole new way. I listen now to songs and I navigate the musical notes through the body as they correspond with the different movements of the Shintaido practice. The music becomes alive in a new way within the body and heart, deepening my connection with song.
Continue reading Part 3