Friday, September 21, 2007


I heard Sheila Chandra sing last night at Grace Cathedral. A British citizen of East Indian ancestry, she gained some fame during the Peter Gabriel Real World Records era. In fact, my friend Liz told me last night that she had danced a sixth grade dance solo to Chandra's 1982 hit "Ever So Lonely."

Shandra's voice is wonderful sweet and simple .. a very pure sound. The majestic shadowy cathedral provided a beautiful frame through which to experience her considerable gifts.

After a few songs, I found myself at once tuning out and tuning in - tuning out of her performance and tuning into my "experience" of her performance. It was as if the song somehow came alive in me - equally sweet and simple. This near seamless union of outer sense and inner imagination makes for a very compelling phenomenon. It's almost as if you can't tell the two things apart. It is also, in my experience, reminiscent of the type of ardent activation that occurs when a spiritual seeker comes upon their soul's teacher.

As she sang, it was as if she became a tree and I was the pool in which that tree found itself reflected. She splashed notes like a series of leaves and just so, the reflection of those note-like leaves rippled in me. It is simple, this back and forth - but at the same time, it happens so rarely - and usually it takes an especially gifted performer to effect such a transmission.

I experienced something similar many years ago, when I was invited by a friend to come hear a traveling "bard" who was in town just for that evening.  Beyond knowing that Shakespeare was called a bard, and that the phrase had certain ceremonial or shamanic connotations, I had no idea what to expect.

The audience of 25 or so gathered in a living room as this younger fellow welcomed us and began to tell stories. The stories were drawn from the native American Indian tradition... stories of coyote, of crow and of spider. I had heard most of the stories before. Their content was not new to me. What was new was the simple way that the young man told these tales. There was an ease and a steadiness - a very pure sound and rhythm to them. One thing he did that I found irresistible was to interject every so often a repeated phrase into his narrative. When he would reach the end of a movement in the story, he would mark it for us by gathering us in his gaze and saying... "and it was just so." I remember feeling surprisingly reassured and increasingly glad each time he repeated that phrase.

By the time he was into his third story, something changed for me. I remember feeling as if he was moving farther away from me, and that I was no longer able to pay close attention to what he was saying. At the same time, I remember feeling completely absorbed in the listening experience. The only thing was - I was listening to him as if he were "inside" me.

Afterwards, when he had finished, I went up to where he was standing by a table, next to some cassettes tapes he was selling. I thanked him for his stories and told him simply, that they had made a deep impression on me. His face lit up and he said, "You know my favorite part is when you stop hearing "my" story and start hearing your own story." I remember the cassette tape that I was holding at the time dropped from my hand. Yes, exactly, I said - that is what happened. The "bard," I left thinking, was the storyteller that lived outside of time and inside of me.

Listening last night to Sheila Chandra - I felt that here too, I was able to touch the bard-like spirit that had manifested itself once again as the singer inside of me - inside all of us, raising its voice in simple songs of praise.

Blessings to creation for that little gift.

I suppose not so curiously, her selection of songs were largely drawn from the Celtic and Scottish folk tradition.

Methinks there is more here than meets the eye and ear.

Imagined Village - An Interesting New Collaborative Music Project of which Sheila Chandra is a part.