Thursday, July 17, 2014

Here's an inventive selfie...this is a screen shot of the legendary kirtan vocalist CC White recording background vocals of my "Govinda Hare" track at her studio in LA...I'm Skyping into the session from my office in Woodstock, NY.  I love technology! 

I'm still pinching myself when I think that CC's phenomenal voice is going to be featured on this track.  This song is a variation on a very traditional Indian melody, which my beloved friend and teacher Shyamdas used to sing all the time.  The day after Shyamdas left his body (in January 2013), this alternative melody came to me, fully formed, accompanied by a toy piano and a harmonica. Slowly the full song took shape, along with the inspiration to finally go forward with my dream to release this first CD.  

And what a dream!  I know Shyamdas-ji is smiling from the heavens as he listens to his beloved CC singing the Names.  She sounds absolutely amazing. Of course. That's why she's the queen of kirtan.  I freely admit that my voice does not even come near hers in terms of power or perfection, but I also know that we each have our own strengths and gifts.  This whole process of recording a CD is helping me find some of my own.  Finally, those years and years of practice--of yoga, mantra, meditation, prayer, setting of intention, toning, and healing--are manifesting here and now, through this process.

Thank you, CC, for sharing your beauty, talent, voice, and huge MA heart! 

Thanks also to Lynne Earls (our LA engineer), Gaura Vani Buchwald and Anthony Molina. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

My dog-in-law is going blind....

Last night I visited my good friends Mindy Pickard, Gregory Lee Pickard and their son Clayton Pickard who were among the first people I met when I moved to Woodstock in 2005. I actually met them--like many dog people do--through our dogs. Their dog Rainbow is/was my dog Chloe's "husband" (Clayton having performed a quick wedding ceremony for them a few months before Chloe unexpectedly died.) Rainbow will always hold a special place in my heart--not just because Chloe loved him above all other dogs; or because he is an English Setter mix (and I secretly love setters above all other dogs); but because he is just so extraordinarily fun and smart and expressive and exuberant. He's one of those human dogs---dog lovers will know what I mean. Anyway, I was shocked and saddened to learn that Rainbow has gone blind. Apparently he has diabetes and his family didn't realize how quickly this illness would manifest.

Rainbow was sitting outside on the front steps when I arrived at their house, but he didn't get up. I immediately went up to him and hugged him, of course, and Rainbow whined in return--but it was not the whine of sorrow; he simply recognized my voice and my smell and was happy to see me. He looked so different with his filmy, non-seeing eyes. He looked both younger and older. Older because of the filmy eyes, and younger because of his lost, somewhat uncertain expression. Rainbow has always been a bold dog--pushing through doors; leaping over fences; jumping off decks and out of second-floor windows unscathed if he objected to being left inside. Indeed, Rainbow was the one who taught Chloe how to open doors and--if need be--push through screens. Rainbow did what he wanted, when he wanted, and he did it with such exuberance and single-pointedness that you couldn't get mad at him. He had a mission and his mission was to have fun and be with the ones he loves.

I started to cry, of course--A) because seeing my Rainy-bow makes me miss Chloe and B) because everything keeps changing, and everyone I love keeps growing old. Rainbow, sensing my distress, stood up to lick my face. Then Mindy opened the door and-- being a practical no-nonsense sort of person who doesn't want people crying at her house--told me to come inside. She also told Rainbow to go make his pee-pee so that he could come inside too. "And be careful on those steps," she told him in her motherly voice. "Go slooooow."

I watched Rainbow as he made his way down the steps and out into the yard. This new Rainbow moved slowly and cautiously, the way a mole might, pushing his snout along the ground to sniff his way through any potential obstacles. He lifted his leg, did his business and then quickly returned to us, bumping into our legs as we all walked into the house. He didn't seem to mind the fact that he couldn't see, as long as we were there with him. (Greg and Clayton were still out at the grocery store but were due back any minute.)

Anyway, I could go on and on about witnessing the gestures, movements and behaviors of a newly blind dog...and maybe I will in the future, if I have the opportunity to spend more time with Rainbow. Part of me is still sad that I didn't get to witness Chloe's golden years; and part of me is grateful that she passed so quickly, from great health to poor health to death, in a matter of days. But I do finally realize that there is no such thing as perfect--no perfect way to age, no perfect way to die, no perfect way to adjust to an illness.

When Greg and Clayton returned, I saw signs of the "real" Rainbow: he ran to the door, leaped in circles, and barked with joy. As soon as Greg walked into the door, Rainbow began nipping at his (that would be Greg's) crotch. This is one of Rainbow's signature moves, and Greg wears loose jeans specifically for this reason. I was impressed that Rainbow could still find his target despite his poor vision. What moved me most last night was the way the family handled Rainbow: so tenderly. So lovingly. Mindy coached Rainbow around the furniture. Greg took him out to play fetch in the yard, but this was a new version of fetch, which Greg called "hide and seek." Greg would toss a toy duck a few yards in front of Rainbow, and Rainbow's job would be to find it (by sniffing) and bring it back to Greg. A simple task, but joyous nevertheless. Gone are the days of launching tennis balls far, far into the woods from a rocket launcher and watching the dogs tear off at full speed into the trees. Gone are the days of dog youth, I guess. But life for a dog always just goes on. Until it doesn't. The attitude never changes.

Rainbow receives his veterinary medical care from the same vet that Chloe used to see--the marvelous Dr. Rothstein at Saugerties Animal Hospital. And apparently there's a chance that they could perform cataract surgery on one or both of Rainbow's eyes. The catch is, the procedure is expensive and the family might not be able to afford to repair both eyes. They're in the process of debating all this right now. Rainbow is ten years old. First they want to get more information on the root causes of the blindness and the diabetes and then make a decision based on that. I'll keep you posted, because if they decide to go ahead with eye surgery, I said I'd help promote their Kickstarter campaign. It would be an honor to help my beloved dog-in-law and his family, in Chloe's honor. It's what she would have wanted.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

It's a wrap! We had an extraordinary and long recording session down in New York City this past Thursday.  I found a great little studio in the Flatiron District called VRCL Entertainment, which was recommended by my friend and soul sister Karen Blood.  Karen always has good instincts, and she is very tapped into the universe and the stars, so I knew this was a good lead.  Anyway, once I saw the studio and felt its energy, and then met the super-sweet and talented engineer Terry Derkach, I knew we had found a home.  Plus, there was a painting of a giant Buddha on the wall.  
The goal was to record backup vocals on two tracks: "Shiva Shakti" (which has a disco groove) and the Prajnaparamita Mantra (which has a gospel sound). For the Shiva track I really wanted to work with Kirtan Soul Revival--a group of young singers consisting of Calia Marshall, Helen Tocci and Todd Keller.  The Reverend Kim Lesley---who is a staple at Ananda Ashram and who has sung on the CDs of many of my friends, including Sruti Ram and Ishwarm Lynn Keller of Sri Kirtan and Kamaniya Devi and Keshavacharya of Prema Hara-- also joined them on this track. 
It turned out that Todd could not make it to the session because, sadly, his cat Monkey died.  We sent healing energy to Todd and Monkey before the session began.  I always like to start my vocals sessions with some group toning, so as we toned the sounds OM and NG, we sent the energy to our friends.  Have a gentle journey, Monkey!  
Anyway, it was a truly magical day.  The Shiva Shakti session was seamless (sorry for the alliteration) because these singers are such pros. I can't wait to hear the final track! We still have a lot of work to do on that one, including creating a pre-track and adding some Bollywood strings.  
A few additional singers (John James, Keith Fluitt and Rashmi Pierce) came for the second session, which was a gospel rendition of the Prajnaparamita Mantra.  I am so honored to have had this opportunity to meet and work with these singers, especially John James and Keith Fluitt. John sings with Stevie Wonder!  Ahhh!  I can't express how talented they are. They literally blew me out of my seat.  John arrived just in time to add a perfect, perfect, chilling and Shiva-esque solo to the "Shiva Shakti" chant and then we got started on Prajnaparamita.  
I began with the session with a quick talk on the meaning of the mantra and I also played a recording of the Karmapa chanting it with his sangha. (I also offered the caveat that the Dalai Lama has given three full day talks on this mantra and the Heart Sutra and that my explanation was not the be-all-end-all. By far). But I figured that, given that I was the only Buddhist practitioner in the room, it would be helpful to explain to the singers how this mantra works energetically, and how I envisioned it helping other people who happen to hear our recording.  There were seven singers in the room at that point--some were lovers of Christ, some of us were devotees of Amma, some were interfaith ministers (Kim) and interfaith practitioners, and others simply loved to sing mantras.  It was such a blessing to be with them all.
 What a day this was! We spent seven hours recording layers and layers and layers of backup vocals on this track (and honestly we did not even finish. This is a vocal-rich track)... and if you've ever chanted Gate Gate Paragate Parasamgate Bodhi Soha for even seven minutes, you can imagine how charged we all were with the power of this mantra. I'll never forgot the looks on their faces as they sang.  I was watching the choir from the control room, viewing them through a glass panel. Everyone had their eyes closed, faces lifted, hearts open, palms held toward the heavens, and everyone was positively glowing with love and joy. I knew it was the mantra working through them, for them, with them. I can't describe how moved I was and still am.  Even though each one of us present came from different traditions and studied with different masters, we all felt the power of the mantra, which is the power of transcendence, of moving beyond our minds and, yes, into our hearts.  That's not quite a "strictly Buddhist" interpretation, but energetically that's how it feels.  This mantra brings us out of our mind-space and into what I call a heart-space.  Where pure love reins.  Where the Christ energy reins.  All these devotional practices lead us to the same place--we just have different words to describe it, I guess.
Anyway, I am so grateful to each and everyo one of these singers, and to engineers Terry Derkart and Anthony Molina, and producer Gaura Vani Buchwald, and to Lama Karma Drodul and Lama Karma Thendup (the other backup singers on Gate) and all the others who have supported this project along the way.  May all beings benefit from this gorgeous music we created together as one. 
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