Meditate on it
“It’s an energetic meditation,” Cathy O’Neill of Tahoe Yoga and Wellness Center says of Kirtan, a form of call-and-response chanting practiced by Bhakti yogis, in which Sanskrit mantras are sung to musical accompaniment.
“The leader of the Kirtan opens the session with the music and the chanting, and the audience responds,” explains O’Neill.
Tahoe Yoga and Wellness Center, in Truckee, is hosting its second Kirtan on April 24. The first Kirtan Tahoe Yoga hosted was led by Shantala, a husband and wife duo that plays “very melodic, beautiful chanting,” says O’Neill.
If you’re less than fluent in Sanskrit, have no fear. Transliterated versions of the lyrics are projected for the audience’s convenience and, as O’Neill explains, “It’s not the case that someone wouldn’t understand what a Sanskrit mantra is. … They have a power to them, so it’s the emotional understanding of it, not the intellectual understanding [that is important].”
Since there isn’t a large number of musicians who perform this style of music (Shanti Shanti being the only local group O’Neill is aware of), the Kirtans at Tahoe Yoga have to be scheduled around the itineraries of a handful of national touring musicians. The studio is hoping to host a Kirtan event every three to six months.
“We just have to catch these guys as they come on tour,” says O’Neill.
The upcoming Kirtan will be led by singer/multi-instrumentalist Dave Stringer, who played in Reno last year at Yoga Loka. He has released three CDs combining Indian and African instruments, such as sitar and djembe and tabla drums, with Western instruments, such as guitar, banjo and lap steel.
While working in the film industry, an editing assignment took Stringer to India. When he completed the assignment, he remained in India, teaching at an elementary school while learning about Indian music. When he returned to the United States, he taught yoga and meditation on a volunteer basis while continuing to work in the film industry. Eventually he was asked to lead a regular Kirtan night. Invitations began coming in from cities all over the country, and Stringer turned chanting into his full-time job.
“Dave adds more jazz/gospel/rock type of influence to the chanting,” says O’Neill.
Though O’Neill says the popularity of Kirtan (and yoga in general) is growing as more people “become interested in things that are less an assault on the senses and more of an immersion in something beautiful and serene,” she explains that “it’s not any boring, fuddy-duddy stuff.”
“Young people and old people alike could come along to this and get something from it.”