There will be a Singing Meditation session at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Wakefield, MA on Sunday May 12, 2013. Simple songs and rounds will be sung. Contact the minister, Rev. Maddie Sifantus, for more information. This session is open to the public!
Playing an instrument in a band is a relatively new endeavor for me. I had played third clarinet with the Eau Claire Community Band a few years ago and started playing with the Hendersonville Community Band this year. The way it works is this: you show up at the first rehearsal where they hand out the music. You frantically try to sightread the music as the whole band plays through the music.
Then you go home and practice. Alone. Now, with choral music you get to see all the parts all the time, and usually the piano accompaniment as well. If you play the piano you can easily play all the other parts while you practice your own part at home by yourself. You have a good idea how all the pieces fit together before you go back for group practice.
But with band music all you get is your one part. And when you play third clarinet you are doing a lot of background harmony and not much of the melody. So if you didn’t know how the song sounded before you started you aren’t going to know how it sounds after you are done practicing at home either.
But then the magic happens. You go to the next practice. And your little part that just goes ‘dum dum deedle deedle pause pause DAHahhhhhhh’ is transformed into a beautiful flowering of sound with percussion pounding away and the lead trumpeter wailing away and a section of trombones glissando-ing this way and that. Your puny little contribution is suddenly gathered up into the whole glorious sound and somehow your own heart swells with the music of the entire band and for the few minutes that the music lasts you transcend your worries about your reed and your tone and lose yourself in the sound.
Until the conductor drops his arms and starts pointing out the mistakes that the tuba section made. And our general lack of adherence to the dynamics of loud and soft written on the score. That brings the euphoria down with a crash!
But playing with the band reminds me, each rehearsal, of the synergy when we make music together in a community. In Singing Meditation there is no need to practice your parts at home and alone. The facilitator of the group will never stop and chastise the singers for mistakes. When we are singing in community in Singing Meditation there are no mistakes — just musical improvisations. So we never ‘crash and burn’ as you might playing in a band or orchestra.
Singing in community, as we do in Singing Meditation, lets us experience the ephemeral feeling of connecting with Spirit as we contribute our one voice to the harmonic whole. May Joy Fill Your Heart today!
I facilitated Singing Meditation last month for the first time in two years. With ‘fresh eyes’ and a completely new venue for me (North Carolina), it gave me a chance to re-assess everything about singing meditation. I’d like to share with you my thoughts.
1) I think the name should be changed. The word ‘meditation’ means so many things to people. Although I always explain both orally and in all written materials that the silent periods between songs can be used to just
savor the sweetness of the song, or pray or meditate or contemplate — it
still remains the undeniable first impression that there will be ‘meditation’ involved. This is unfortunate in two ways — one because many people are turned off by meditation and will turn away from trying ‘singing meditation’ because of the meditation part, even though it is completely optional; and two because people who have serious meditation practices can be disappointed that the silent intervals are too short for them to sink deeply into meditation. I’m now thinking of calling it “Joy Singing” if I continue to offer it, since joy is the ultimate goal of this practice.
2) The social aspect — I have always stressed the importance of singing in community as opposed to just singing alone by yourself. It is obvious to me that there is an entirely different dynamic that arises when my voice is combined with the vibration of other voices who are right there in the same space with me, and I mean this in a more spiritual way than simply the fact that additional voices can result in harmony and/or polyphony. I revel in the ‘ephemeral sanctuary’ that is created when singing mindfully with others. But in the first six years I led singing meditation I made a deliberate choice to avoid having social activity immediately afterwards. I wanted people to have a chance to leave the singing meditation session holding their silence — or music — within their hearts. I was afraid these feelings might dissipate all too quickly in the banter of friends over muffins. But this time I was wondering — why not provide a social time to bond with the people you have just bonded with in a different way during the session? So my friend Nancy kindly baked muffins and most people stayed around to chat afterwards. The jury is still out on this one, and I’d be interested to hear thoughts from others on this topic.
3) The importance of ‘teaching’ a song first is something I remain convinced of. Attending the session last month were a graduate of Julliard, another who has played professionally with a symphony for 28 years — as well as two women who claimed they could not carry a tune in a bucket and did not read music. Playing the song through twice on the piano, and asking everyone to hold silence and NOT hum along with the piano during this time, levels the playing field and made it possible for the two who couldn’t read music to participate as fully as everyone else. This remains an aspect of Singing Meditation that I am committed to continuing.
4) Until last month the only instruments we had included in Singing Meditation were piano, percussion and very rarely the guitar. Since an accomplished cellist was part of our group I asked her to play a base line for us. This didn’t work out quite as I had planned, as it turned out to be a strong ‘pull’ to the novice singers and created confusion for them as to what they should be singing. There would be absolutely nothing wrong in people singing the melody line, or what the cello was playing, or improving a line of their own — but the feeling of ‘confusion’ while singing is not one that should be fostered in singing meditation. If I were to include an instrument again I’d have to think of a way to avoid this problem.
5) I did experience joy myself as I sang!!! I was curious to see whether I would or not, since my voice is still not fully restored, and as Facilitator one has several concerns in mind that sometimes overshadow the joy factor. I am delighted to say that JOY did fill my soul! Another good reason to contemplate a name change to “Joy Singing.”
I’d love to hear about your adventures and experimentation with Singing Meditation!
May joy fill your heart this day!
On Sunday, October 21 at 7:00 PM at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Wakefield, located at 326 Main Street, Reverend Maddie Sifantus, will lead a contemplative hour which will combine singing with periods of silence. Before the hour begins on the occasion of the Bicentennial of the Church, she will give a short talk about Singing Meditation. It is not about performance for an audience but rather the blending of voices in simple song and chant interspersed with silence. Songs will be eclectic and come from a number of spiritual paths including Unitarian Universalist, Jewish, Christian, Taize, earth based, and world sources. It is an interfaith practice that can lead to the inner core of wisdom Join in this spiritual practice which is suitable for beginners as well as experienced singers and/or meditators. This group is open to all. There is no charge but a suggested $5 donation to the church is welcome to defray expenses. For more information about Singing Meditation you may wish to read the book, Singing Meditation, by Ruth Rosauer and Liz Hill. For more information, call Rev. Maddie, at her home office at 508-358-7091, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a message at the church office: 781-245-4632.
Maddie Sifantus has been the minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Wakefield since January 2009. In addition to her parish ministry, she has for many years been a community minister, most often using music to build community and with elder singers and audiences. She is the Founder and Director Emerita of the Golden Tones elders chorus which she directed for 20 years and under whose leadership the group became a Best Practices of the National Endowment for the Arts. She is the former Director of MUSE Inc. (Music Serving Elders). She is a founder of and continuing singer in TVS (The Vocal Section). She leads a Rise Up Singing group at the church on the third Friday of the month, with the next one scheduled for October 19 at 7:30 PM in the Social Hall of the church. She is former Music Director of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Reading. Rev. Sifantus has been leading meditation practice groups for many years.
Hello to the Unitarian Universalists interested in Singing Meditation who will be attending General Assembly in June 2012. If you would like to post notes to others similarly interested in the topic for a singing meditation session –and/or — to compare notes with each other, please feel free to use the Singing Meditation Facebook fan page or this blog for the purpose. — Ruthie
For those of you who have access to the quarterly journal of Spiritual Directors International, Presence, I’d like to draw your attention to the June 2012 issue. There is a beautiful piece on Singing Meditation by Liz Hill starting on page 54. It is titled, “Singing Meditation: A Centering Practice of Renewal.” http://www.sdiworld.org
Within the article Liz quotes Sue Monk Kidd: “Becoming the music is the height of beingness.” From my point of view, there is no surer way to ‘becoming the music’ than by using your own body as the musical instrument and SINGING! I play piano, clarinet, guitar and am currently smitten with the cello. And though each instrument has its delights and charms, none — for me — lets me ‘be’ the music in the way I simultaneously lose my “self” and feel most like my self as while I am singing.
In Singing Meditation songs are drawn from a variety of spiritual practices. This article highlights the interfaith aspect of Singing Meditation. “Sharing interfaith music as a spiritual expression builds a sense of respect and connection to other spiritual paths. When we explore other traditions, our religious landscape begins to soften and run together like the edges of a watercolor.” What a beautiful image!
Singing Meditation offers a safe setting to let your ‘edges’ blur as you merge your vocal vibrations with the other singers in your group, sink deeply into silence, and savor the song sung deeply into your soul.
I have moved a lot in this lifetime — 12 states so far — so I am well used to being a “stranger” and meeting new people. I just moved to my 12th state this past November so my “Hi, my name is Ruthie, and I’m new!” is well-rehearsed. And yet, this past month I found myself getting quite nervous as I drove to a gathering for Dances of Universal Peace. It isn’t that I’ve never been to Dances of Universal Peace before, or ever had a bad experience. But it was my first time with this particular group. I knew no one in the group. And I was feeling anxious about. I so rarely feel ‘shy’ that it took my awhile to identify what I was feeling! I actually had to ‘talk’ myself into going by promising that I could leave at any time if I didn’t feel comfortable!
By the second song I was completely relaxed and thoroughly enjoyed myself. But it was a good reminder to me of how difficult it can be for people to attend a group for the very first time. It made me think about all the people who make their way to Singing Meditation for the first time. Many of them by themselves. Most of them have no concrete idea of what will happen once they arrive. And then, when they walk in, there is no chance of sitting in a back row just to observe, all the singers are seated in a circle, semi-circles or at clustered together in a group to promote the feeling of community.
It can be as daunting a prospect as climbing a rope ladder would be to me!
So, to Singing Meditation Facilitators this is a reminder to verbally welcome new people as they arrive so as to put them at their ease. And I heartily recommend using a small hand-out, as I do, that tells people just what they can expect at a Singing Meditation session. Here is what appears on my hand-out, feel free to edit to suit your own group:
WELCOME TO SINGING MEDITATION
Singing Meditation is an interfaith spiritual practice in which sound and silence are alternated. This is not a rehearsal for a performance. This is singing for the purpose of facilitating your connection with God, the Divine, your own Inner Core of guidance, the Spirit of Life. You are encouraged to participate in, and not simply observe, this practice.
Singing Meditation includes toning, chanting, singing in rounds and singing in harmony. The repertoire is drawn from a variety of religious traditions. The facilitator introduces a song, usually by playing the vocal line on the piano, then the group sings the song repetitively. The facilitator will not specify how many times the song will be repeated – eventually the group will spontaneously dissolve into silence.
Silent periods will last 2 – 5 minutes and may be used for prayer, contemplation, or mediation. The end of silence periods will be indicated by a gong or bell. Please do not speak between songs or during the silence periods.
There may be short readings during the session, but no sermon. If you have any questions please see the facilitator after the session