Yes, It Was Worth It

+ One note overtone Blog Oct 15 38544176_sDuring my career as a musician, I was intrigued with eurhythmics, a modality that teaches musical rhythm and expression through movement. Simply put, it helps musicians embody music.

I first learned eurhythmics during my undergraduate years and it transformed my classically trained, intellectual approach to music into a more felt-sense, expressive one. Through its sometimes playful and unusual games and exercises, it also expanded my fairly conservative approach to life.

One summer, I attended an international eurhythmics seminar where a session was taught by a woman from the Netherlands. She explained that eurhythmics was used in her country in a less-specifically musical way than it was used in the States. Movement and musical elements were incorporated into the general school curriculum. The exercises she had prepared for us that day illustrated her work in the classroom, so we were pretending to be children.

Without a lot of explanation, this teacher soon had us running in long lines back and forth in the room while improvising smooth, legato vocal sounds. After exploring that for a while, we were told to contrast those first movements and sounds with short, explosive vocalizations and quick bursts of movement. Though mystified as to why we were doing this, we cooperated and had a good time exploring the movements and sounds while interacting with each other.

As the activity wound down, the teacher explained the context for our experience. “This lesson could be a part of a children’s history lesson. I designed it for you in the States. It being close to your July 4th national holiday, you have just enacted the long stripes and pointed stars of your flag and the traditional celebration of fireworks.”

It all made sense! In the exercise, we had learned about our national flag and July 4th celebration by embodying them!

Later that day, I called a friend and told him about the experience – how we’d run up and down the room, turned ourselves into stars and explosive fireworks, vocalized sounds with the movements.

There was a pause on the other end of the line as he reflected. He was a law student at the time, and I imagine this sounded pretty “out there” to him. In a quiet, gently teasing voice, he said, “And…you’re paying good money for this?”

Well, yes, I was. And, frankly, it was worth it.

I heard my friend’s challenging question re-emerge recently as I attended another workshop which was also a little “out there.” It focused on sound healing through the use of vocal chanting and overtone singing. Overtones are “extra” notes that are “hidden” within each note. Through a careful arrangement of the voice and tongue, these tones can be amplified and made audible. They enliven the sound and create a mystical effect.

I went to the workshop in pursuit of the overtones – I’d love to be able to bring those sounds out of my voice – and also to experiment with using voice in my healing work. Our teacher, Jill Purce, who was a pioneer in the resurgence of the sound healing movement back in the 70’s, was also a big draw.

Overtones, when done well, are beautiful – bell-like and pure. They soar over the fundamental note and sound angelic and otherworldly. (Jill Purce’s overtones can be heard in this interview with Deepak Chopra )

When one is in the overtone learning stages however, the effect can be rather guttural, harsh, and nasal. But it’s necessary to work through this stage in order to find the overtones.

So, the participants dove into the sound. We practiced a lot. While there were a variety of activities framing our practicing, I realized that, essentially, we were spending the whole weekend singing one note while trying to create the overtones. One note – and not a particularly pretty one at that!

I heard echoes of my friend’s question, “And…you’re paying good money for this?”

Ha! Yes, I was.

And, yet again, it was worth it.

That one-note workshop had drawn me like a siren’s song (maybe the sirens were singing overtones?) and it turned out to be worthwhile for several reasons.

For starters, it was simply good to get out of town. I really need to explore new places, to get myself out of my own zip code more often!

So, I drove a few hours west on Route 2 – a less travelled, modest road that goes through some real New England-y countryside. I marveled at the trees, the rivers, the stone walls. In contrast to my fairly urban life, the spacious land and open sky – and the quiet – expanded me, opened me up.

And, I will admit that finding my way there, by myself, was a small personal accomplishment too.

Another invaluable aspect to the trip was meeting and connecting with the thirty people who attended it. People had come from as far away as Arkansas, California, Washington state, England, and Colombia. I reconnected with some people I’d met elsewhere and made new friends. We had meaningful and satisfying conversations about our work and lives.

And, there was the value in the workshop itself, too. We were all joined together in that one note – humming, toning, exploring it for overtones. The unity of singing the one-note together was profound – even if its quality was a little nasal-y! It illustrated for me the spiritual lesson overtones offer. They are unlimited in number and all contained in the note itself. The feeling of connection we experienced through the unified vibration of that one note was a valuable spiritual experience worth the drive, the tuition, and the investment of energy and time it had taken me to get there.

I will probably always be willing to pay good money for experiences that are a little “out there.” Following what we are called to do sometimes requires that we step out of the bounds of what seems normal to others.

And, sometimes these “out there” experiences become some of our most memorable ones. I have never forgotten the lesson in which I enacted the stars and stripes and fireworks, and I am likely to remember my one note overtone workshop.

Traveling through the countryside, connecting with people from around the world, and being in resonance with them created a compelling experience that enriched my life.

A weekend singing one note? Yes, it was worth it.

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