Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Kirtan Courtesies:How It Works

A few nights ago I went to an amazing concert with an artist who includes kirtan style chanting. Kirtan is a style of devotional chanting that includes singing along and call and response. There is a kind of "kirtan courtesy" that you learn after attending even just a few of these events. While I am not an expert in this area of yoga I do think that I can share a few things that might help newbies attending a kirtan or sing-along style of spiritual event to keep the energy clear, strong, and so as to not annoy the people around you. Here it goes:

1. It's not all about you. When we attend a spiritual event like a kirtan it is like entering a place of worship. We are there to join together and to create a harmonious space with our voices so the subtle energy of spirit can enter. It is about blending your voice with those other voices in the room to create a divine harmony. It is not a place to show off your loudness or to evangelize your own thoughts or throw out random words that you feel are important. Think about kirtan as creating a complicated spiritual soup. Too much sage is overpowering and can ruin the experience for everyone.

2. Call and response. There are some songs where it is clear that the leaders of the music are chanting first and then the audience chants in response. If no one else is singing but the leaders, that is not the time for you to sing. We all sometimes get swept into the music and chant both parts unknowingly but the kirtan courtesy of call and response is there for a good reason. First, you practice LISTENING. Yes, listening. Something that is very important for obvious reasons. Then you respond to what you hear along with the voices of the group. This flow of listening and then responding creates a very sacred current that has far reaching benefits if you follow the pattern.

3. Harmony, okay, complex vocal flailing, not okay. So you think you sound like Mariah Carey? Good for you. A kirtan event is not the time or place to show off your vocal dexterity or to play around with harmonies that you are not comfortable with hearing yourself. If you are like most of us you have a pretty decent voice that can hold simple notes and you have the ability to find the same note everyone else is singing. This is called being modest. Sure, we could all try to fling our voices around and maybe find one note that kinda works but that would be obnoxious and annoying. Right?

So, I know my tone is a bit snarky but seriously people, if you are going to go to a spiritual event and not a rock concert you should be aware of some common niceties and shared values. Many of us go a kirtan to connect with something bigger then ourselves, to chant the many names of the divine, to feel a part of a community of harmonious and mindful people. I offer this with love and respect for the millions of people across the world who take this practice very seriously and to the two women behind me at the concert who I wish would have read this post before they added their wavy gravy to a perfectly beautiful kirtan soup.