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The World Festival Of Sacred Music: Global Quest for Unison has been happening on five continents in countries such as Brazil, Japan, South Africa, England, Korea, India and the United States. It is a celebration of the deepest reflections of humankind as expressed through the worlds heritage of sacred music - not only major religious traditions but indigenous forms as well. The festival is neither political nor commercial in nature, nor is it intended to promote or reflect any one religion or spiritual practice over another. Rather, it reflects the vision of a more humane and compassionate world in the new millennium.
The most recent festival took place in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, on Dec. 8-10. Amidst mingled aromas of plumeria, Thai spices and incense, the sounds of Tibetan monks mix with Korean Flute, Bhutanese strings, Japanese drums and numerous languages.
The three days of music moved from Buddhist temple to Christian university to a rural forest setting. The artists included Burmese dancers, Israeli folk singers, Arabic dancers, Thai instrumentalists, Colombian guitar and pipes, Okinawan drummers, Italian opera singers, Indonesian dancers and musicians, the Dharma Bums from Woodstock, New York, and myself and Dixie Belcher from Juneau.
I think the expectation for Dixie and me (since we were from Alaska) was some Eskimo dancing and chanting. However, they were very happy with our set of "Amazing Grace" and other gospel sing-a-longs. We got everyone singing "Rock My Soul" and clapping. We performed at Payap University to a packed auditorium and those who could not squeeze into the hall watched outside on a large video screen.
Many of the performers were from countries where there exists oppression and great suffering. A translation of one song is as follows: "Facing tragedy the untrained person weeps, the trained person is silent ... but the one who understands, sings .... And that is what the many facing tragedy in their homeland came together to do ... sing and dance and drum."
A group from Nagaland in northeastern India shared a song written by the wife of one of the singers for this festival. The translation was "your lusty voice fills the valley ... do not tarry on your journey home." Such a simple and beautiful love song for her husband.
I felt very privileged to be a part of this festival. I have a beautiful memory of the final evening under a full moon, the stage built around a huge ancient tree trunk, lanterns hanging from her branches, everyone sitting on the grass sharing food, laughing, swaying to the music. A monk from Korea came over to me and took his rosary bracelet off and put it on my wrist lots of silent gifting at the close of our three days together.
In the words of the Dalai Lama, whose vision led to this festival, "among the many forces in which the human spirit has tried to express its innermost yearnings and perceptions, music is perhaps the most universal. It symbolizes humanity's search for harmony with oneself and others, with nature and with the spiritual and sacred within and around us. There is something in music that transcends and unites. It is in this spirit that the World Festival of Sacred Music is being initiated a coming together of people of diverse backgrounds and traditions to share and nurture the most profound expression of the human spirit that is part of each one of us."