Over the 4th of July, we traipsed the Berkshires, to experience all things American. In Summerland, in a small, hot room, off the side of the road, we happened upon a ‘Fa So La Sing’ where passionate voices rose in four and six part harmonies for no other reason than the beauty of their song wanted out. It was an ancient sound, part Southern spiritual, part primitive, part magical chant. It is called ‘shape note singing,’ or Fa So La. It is also known as ‘The Sacred Harp,’ (harp referring to the voice as instrument,) which is the universal song book used by everyone.
The sound is all things American: simple as a Shaker chair, complex as a California Bordeaux, invigorating as Niagra Falls. ‘Fa So La,’ refers to the fact that those are the only notes sung, giving the music a familiar feel of old, southern church hymns. But It is not a religious group. It is not exclusive, au contraire, inclusivity is key. It is not sophisticated, yet it is incredibly chic in its simplicity and verve. It is not a performance. There is no clapping, no audience, bar the stranger who wanders in. No one is a star. There are no microphones, no videos. There is no leader. Everyone takes a turn, standing in the center of a four-sided box of singers, each section facing off; altos facing sopranos, bass in opposition to contralto. It is a united community come together to create something of profound beauty.
Anyone who wished to lead might do so, and everyone wanted to because they could choose their favorite song. One after the other they leaped from chairs to move to the center and direct. Making simple, one-two arm motions, up and down, up and down, their flock followed, rising and falling, filling in, listening, holding a note, lifting up and over. I can only imagine the power each person felt while standing in the center of that force-field. Many appeared totally transported, drugged on joy-juice.
Over 80 bodies had been singing in that tiny, hot room since 9:00 AM that morning. We arrived at 4:00 PM, and still every face, of every age, leaned into each song, swept with the power of harmony, and shared Grace. For if ever there is Grace to be had, it was there. That small room of joyous community was the best that America is, or was, and with hope-will be again.
As a dear Astrological friend of mine has written…”It is a wacky week….with great potential for confusion.” What I say is, “we shall be fortunate if we’re only confused.” First instruction: Back up your computers! Second is-don’t buy a car, or anything electronic for the coming four weeks. Come the weekend Mercury, with Uranus are standing still to retrograde. They are shaking the sky, and we are all things eccentric, surprising, explosive, and insightful. These two planets have to do with thinking, communication, transportation, destruction, the great brotherhood, goals and futuristic visions. Take your pick. Which one do you want to work on? It is a time of review: pull out an old project, find an old friend, re-do your Practice, sing old songs again. Check all details on important papers. Take time out to chill, re-consider your journey.
Yoga Toolbox for Transformation
Play a favorite song while you stand your mat, and sing along as you create a simple flow of poses. Let everything flow through you.
Release old thinking patterns by finding new ways into a pose. If you’ve always entered Half Moon/Ardha Chandrasana from a side stretch, try ‘flying’ into it from Vira I- a simple spiral through Dekasana, or Vira III.
Sit in stillness holding the MATANGI mudra at the solar plexus. (Clasp the hands, and extend the middle finger, like a church steeple.) Matangi is the god of inner harmony. This mudra calms the heart and emotional body. Breathe deeply from the belly, in long slow breaths. Pay attention to a longer exhale
Chant, “OM HUM SO HUM” This simple chant has the capacity to alter our state of consciousness. It balances the masculine and feminine within, focusing on their unity. It also invokes Shiva, in a compassionate form.
If you are in need of a community, seek one through your Yoga classes, or look up, ‘The Sacred Harp’ on line and find the date and place of the next sing. Join in. The great thing about this is –you don’t need to carry a tune, know how to read music, or harmonize. It’s like Yoga, you simply show up and practice…soon something magical happens.