My journey into the ancient world of yogic chanting actually began a bit awkwardly. As a young physician drawn towards Eastern thought, alternative methods of healing, homeopathy, and art and science of yogic breathing and meditation, I felt paradoxically somewhat uncomfortable and a bit embarrassed about chanting out loud in ancient Sanskrit. What was a nice Jewish boy from Cleveland doing, not only living in a yoga ashram at the Himalayan Institute in the late 70’s and early 80’s, with my wife, Jan, and my children, but also chanting in Sanskrit with fellow meditation students at the end of a long workday. And to add to my self consciousness, I couldn’t quite comprehend what the orange robed, shaved headed Hare Krishna devotees were doing, who we’d see on the streets, chanting loudly, dancing around, and clanging their cacophonous symbols. Were they doing the same thing that I was doing?
At the same time, however, I loved the Beatle’s early foray into Indian music and especially George Harrison’s work. I had always been fascinated by the wonderful tones and rhythms of the Indian drum, the tabla. And I felt quite at ease repeating and using Sanskrit mantras in my quiet sitting meditation practice. Over the years, I began to have some very powerful and life transforming inner experiences of hearing and feeling beautiful inner sounds in my meditation. One early experience that was exhilarating occurred when I was meditating with my spiritual teacher, Swami Rama. After the meditation ended, I continued to hear/experience the seed of all sound vibrations, the mantra OM, deep within my mind for a long time. I felt great ecstasy and total immersion in something much larger than my small self. It was then that I realized the great power of mantra and sound vibration and this has been a guide for me ever since. This experience continues to the present time, when, at times, that same universal and beautiful OM sound spontaneously arises and permeates my consciousness. I began to feel more and more at peace with sharing these experiences with others. Teaching meditation and participating with kirtan became wonderful vehicles for this. And ironically, while I still dress in western style jeans, sweaters, and corduroys, I find myself enjoying and chanting in large groups, and singing the same kind of Hare Krishna chants I heard on the streets many years ago…
Glenn Burdick and I are two longtime friends and colleagues. About four years ago, we decided it was time to share our mutual passion for meditation, mantra and Sanskrit chanting with the local community. Out of this vision, Ann Arbor Kirtan was born. There have always been wonderful local spiritual groups who practice kirtan regularly. Our vision moved us to create an opportunity for the many people who love chanting and want even more opportunities to chant, or who may not be affiliated with such a group or who prefer to remain outside of a formal religious organization altogether.. We had hoped that experienced chanters, as well as those new to these practices, would feel welcome and participate wholeheartedly, and it appears that this hope is coming to fruition.
Glenn and I started Ann Arbor Kirtan simply because we love to chant and wanted more opportunities to chant with dozens of others on a regular basis. We have always felt supported and inspired by the beautiful instrumental music of chanting and wanted others to feel supported and honored in this same way. For years, various of our members have been profoundly moved by the authentic chanting offered within such religious/spiritual organizations as the Siddha Yoga Meditation Center of Ann Arbor and the Amma group. We are in no way seeking to replace the great ongoing work of these communities. We are simply sharing what inspires us with as many people in our community as possible, including those who would otherwise not know about or get to experience Kirtan.
We did not come together for the purpose of performing to an audience. In fact, we’ve done everything we can think of to minimize the separation of the chant leaders/musicians and the participants, and still maintain enough structure for it all to work well. Participants are offered chanting sheets with the Sanskrit words and English translation, We include a number of chants that anybody can readily join in on, though it can take a little while for a newcomer to get comfortable with the pronunciation of a chant or two. However, one can always just close their eyes and meditate on the beautiful melodies, instruments and voices in the room. The bottom line is we are a group of individuals from various professions who felt, ‘if we build it they will come’. Happily they have! Recently after one of our monthly Kirtan nights a young couple new to chanting was overheard commenting, ‘this is such an amazing way to spend a Friday night!’ Well said! Chanting is a moving experience that is easy to do, requires no special equipment, is not weather dependent, and it’s free! What’s not to like?