Sacred Harmonizing with the Subway

This morning on my way to work, I caught a story on NPR about the Tibetan Gyuto monks: Gyuto Monks: Ancient Practice, Modern Sound. The excuse for the story was that there is a new CD being released of their chants that more accurately reproduces the sound of what a full choir would have been like. Really, though, most of the story was about how these monks and their overtone (or throat) singing came to the attention of the outside world. The part I particularly liked was near the end, when they interviewed another monk who has already become famous as a singer in the US:

One of the first Tibetan monks to make his name in the West as a musician was Nawang Khechog, who was nominated for a Grammy in 2001. He says these chants are among the most secret and sacred of Tibetan Buddhism — that’s why they’re so heavily layered and deliberately hard to understand.

“Very secret practice,” Khechog says. “Secret as well as sacred … So, therefore, to hide the words, in the general public, it’s disguised in that kind of multitonic sound.”

[…] Khechog says that when he used to live in New York, he would get funny looks when he tried to harmonize with the subway trains.

“I start the chant, and then suddenly the train’s gone,” Khechog says, “and I’m still chanting that, and suddenly, few people standing there, and they think, ‘What’s going on,’ you know?”

I think it would be awesome to run across someone trying to harmonize with a subway train. Too bad there really isn’t any public transportation where I live.

Anyway, if you want to hear some of the singing, there’s a bit in the audio version of the NPR story, and also some longer pieces in the sidebar links on the article page, one of which I’m listening to right now. So there you go, my cool thing of the day.

-posted by Dana

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2 Responses to Sacred Harmonizing with the Subway

  1. I discovered throat singing while living in Russia — a group from Tuva (another region well-known for their throat singers) performed at the summer City Day celebration. Absolutely amazing and chilling, and even better live!

    • Dana says:

      I did wonder if you had ever heard any when I saw in the Wikipedia article that throat singing was so widely practiced in Russia. Very cool that you got to hear it live!

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