One: Songs and Chants to Nurture Joy, Cultivate Peace, and Honor the Earth is a songbook containing 111 songs and chants, as well as 13 arrangements, AND... Linda' suggestions on how to use the songs in a singing circle, and encouragement for everyone to write their own songs.
CG: So, Linda… I see in your description about this book that you talk about how these songs and chants are used in “Singing in Sacred Circles.” What does that mean… ? what is a Sacred Singing Circle? You lead the singing in a sacred circle group called Women with Wings in Bangor, Maine. How is a sacred circle group different from a chorus group?
LK: A traditional chorus stands or sits in rows facing the director and learns songs by reading sheet music. Their focus is usually on preparing for a performance. At Women With Wings we stand or sit in a circle with a candle-lit table in the center, lights off. We learn songs through listening, with no written music or lyric sheets. Our focus is on joining together in song and spirit. On an average Thursday night, you might not recognize that I am the music director because anyone can start a song. Our process is organic in that one song suggests the next. Every evening is different within a consistent flow.
Singing in Sacred Circle is a term we use when talking about a group that sings with the intention of simply singing songs that build ourselves into our strongest, most loving selves. We sing to lose ourselves in the music only to find ourselves connected as one voice and energy, individually renewed and inspired.
Our songs are mostly short, 4-8 lines each, so are easy to pick up by listening. They are affirmational; the lyrics express what we want to be true, in ourselves, in our relationships, in the world. We use the oral tradition rather than reading from sheet music. This allows us to move quickly from thinking about how to sing a song to singing from our hearts with eyes free to see each other or to close.
Women With Wings doesn’t gather to “rehearse,” we just sing. We spend two hours every Thursday singing these powerful affirmational songs. We are not a polished performance group, though we do share what we do in public on occasion, usually to support an organization or cause we agree with. We have sung for organizations that support women, equality, social justice, and the environment.
CG: How did you get into this kind of music? Did you come at it from other forms of music… folk music? Religious music? What was your first experience?
LK: I came to this kind of music through Kay Gardner. The women’s community of my church, Unitarian Universalist Society of Bangor, hired Kay to lead a workshop at our retreat. Someone asked her if she would start a women’s singing group in Bangor and she agreed. They put an ad in the paper and on our first night in October of 1993, 35 women showed up to sing. We’ve been singing every Thursday since, for more than 25 years!
LK: Absolutely! The messages we repeat to ourselves can have a powerful impact on our internal landscape. Choose those messages consciously. The songs we sing paint a picture of the world we want to live in, with peace and unity among people, care for our planet, strength, kindness, and beauty within ourselves. The songs help us feel empowered and connected, with a sturdiness that helps us face the world as it is and act to improve it for all. We know hundreds of songs so I often find myself saying, “We’ve got a song for that.”
LK: My process is organic; I don’t sit down to write a song. I’ll be thinking about a topic while walking in the woods, driving, or in the shower, and a line will come to me, words and tune together. I’ll play around with that, winnowing down the thoughts into their pithiest expression of what I want to say while fitting it to the tune that started with that first line. Sometimes this happens quickly, all in one day, but more often it takes a week or two, and occasionally it takes years. My subconscious mind is in charge. My conscious mind can help but I can’t force a song into being. I have to wait for it to clarify from of natural inspiration.
As an example, the song Awe started while I was camping at Baxter State Park in northern Maine in 2012. While gazing up at the night sky that was ablaze with every star that has ever burned, the first line popped into my mind, “Under the sky of a billion stars I am so small.” In the following days I got the next few lines but I couldn’t find the rest. Three years later while floating in the waves on Scarborough Beach in southern Maine, the rest of the song flowed in, ending with, “I am a voice of the universe singing back to itself in awe.”
LK: We’ve heard a lot lately about the benefits of singing. It calms the mind, reduces stress, lowers heart rate, improves cognition, boost the endocrine and immune systems. People in ancient times knew this as they chanted. Practitioners from many spiritual traditions throughout time have been chanting. The tunes vibrate through our cells, attune our beings with the universe and our highest selves. The chants in this book are in English so they hold the impact of knowing what you’re singing about.
To someone who says they’re not musical: Women With Wings and other circles I’ve sung with are full of women who had given up on singing around other people. They thought their voice wasn’t good enough or that they were tone deaf. True tone deafness is very rare; it’s more often a matter of learning. When these women join the circle, after a few months they find they can carry a tune, the range of notes they can match gets wider, and they are no longer afraid to sing in public. This empowerment has spread to using our voices to speak up for ourselves and others in all aspects of life.
While singing with a group is a powerful experience, singing these songs to yourself is also powerful. We need to be very selective in the songs we sing so we are filling our hearts and minds with messages that are positive, promote our well-being, and inspire us to make the world a better place for all beings. What you sing to yourself matters. The songs in this book are positive affirmations, calls to get up and do what you can to make things better, and celebrations of the Earth and all her beings. We can replace old messages with these positive, life-affirming, loving ones. These songs, and this kind of singing, color the lenses I view the world through with positivity and light.