NEXT KIRTAN FLIGHT SCHOOL:
Kirtan East West Academy
April 22-28, 2024
The Yoga Barn Ubud, Bali
”If you can't teach me to fly, then teach me to sing.
Sir James Barrie(Peter Pan)
It’s designed as an instrument to discover the transcendental in yourself. The mantra chanting practice of Kirtan is simultaneously calming and thrilling, an ecstatic technology designed to modify consciousness.
Singing, drumming and dancing lift us into a jet stream of consciousness. This unitary state is the flow and the zone that athletes and artists speak of. It’s where you feel and perform your best and are one with what you are expressing. Action feels effortless, time ceases to be important, and focus becomes so complete that everything else falls away.
We put you in a band with four or five other people. You bring whatever instruments you have, or play instruments we provide, like harmonium, cajon or finger cymbals. If you don’t know how to play an instrument, we teach you. Simple, interlocking parts combine to produce surprisingly sophisticated music. No previous musical experience is necessary.
I lived in an ashram in India as part of a job I had editing videos for a spiritual organization. That’s how I first became immersed in the culture and experience of kirtan. In the ashram, I received instruction about the history and philosophy of the practice. I was also taught how to play instruments that are traditionally used in India, such as harmonium, mridangam, tamboura and kartals, and how to develop the rhythms. Most importantly, I learned the importance of serving the chant and not my ego.
Later, when I was asked to start leading kirtans at yoga studios in Los Angeles in the late 1990’s, I started to apply the composition and arrangement skills I had learned in Western classical music school. I had played in many different rock bands and jazz ensembles before I was exposed to Indian music, and after India I started to see kirtan as an emerging art form that could incorporate Western musical ideas in service of Eastern objectives. I started inviting professional LA session musicians to join me, and they found the consciousness-altering aspects of kirtan to be very compelling.
As kirtan became more and more popular, people started approaching me and asking how they could start their own kirtan bands. There were already many trainings you could take if you wanted to become a yoga teacher, but unless you could go to India to live in an ashram for many months, there weren’t many ways for people to study kirtan. Most of what was available focused on the devotional aspects. Nobody was teaching you how to jump in and actually play and lead kirtan.
It’s good to have love in your heart, of course, but if you want to be able to confidently lead a kirtan or organize a band, it’s helpful to also develop some musical skills. The great thing is that the musical building blocks of kirtan are quite simple, and four or five people each playing simple interlocking parts creates something pleasingly complex, something much greater than the sum of the parts. Plus, you can learn a lot about yourself and others, have a lot of fun while doing it, and touch something genuinely ecstatic in yourself.
It turns out playing music in an ensemble can also enhance creativity in ways that can be applied to many different professions that don’t seem to have anything to do with music. Many business people have told me that drumming and singing for a weekend has helped them to find solutions to problems they had been working on, or create a space for new ideas to emerge. People struggling with different obstacles in their lives have told me that playing in a band has helped them re-wire their brains in ways that helped them break through. There’s an artist in everyone, but most people don’t know it yet. It’s my joy to help people make this discovery.