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Monday, July 21, 2008

yogis do it in sanskrit

the day i realized i had become a committed yogi -- or perhaps a yogi who needed to be committed? -- was the day i realized sanskrit no longer sounded like gobbledygook to me.

by then, i had taken enough yoga classes to be able to discern the difference between uttanasana and utkatasana. and to remember that downward-facing dog was adho mukha svanasana, not adho mukha savasana (which probably translates to downward-facing corpse?).

i mean, who would have guessed that i'd end up attending concerts where the headliners sang in sanskrit? and that i'd be having the time of my life singing right along with them?

a note to my family: no, i have not been abducted by aliens. for one thing, they don't speak sanskrit. at least i don't think they do...

anyway, i've recently been spending a lot of time doing the yogi version of karaoke night, otherwise known as kirtan. the singing is done in a call-and-response fashion; the leader, or wallah, chants a sanskrit phrase and the audience chants the same phrase back. om namah shivaya is is chanted out to the crowd; om namah shivaya is chanted back. you learn the lyrics and the melody as you sing along. and if you forget one or the other, you can usually make it up and be just fine. if you can't belt out an american idol-worthy performance, no matter. there is no judgement, only acceptance. so very yogic, isn't it?

the musical accompaniment can range anywhere from a lone harmonium to an entire band consisting of keyboard, string, woodwind, and percussion instruments, including sitars, flutes, and tablas. i've seen performers pulling their stuff out of their cars; i've also spotted buses and vans parked outside venues while roadies are busy hauling equipment inside.

it's usually the wallahs who've achieved rock star status who fall into the latter category. krishna das, jai uttal, snatam kaur -- they all have their entourages when they go on tour. and yes, i've made it a point to be at their kirtans whenever they pass through town.

but the kirtan star i seem to resonate with most is LA-based dave stringer, who's become so popular that he spends most of his time touring not only around the country, but also around the world. maybe it's because of his contagious energy. or his ability to make devotional chanting seem like fun. or maybe it's just because he's an all-around nice guy. whatever it is, the word has gotten out and everyone wants to sing along with dave. including me.

which is why when i found out that dave stringer was scheduled to be in concert at yogaworks larchmont on saturday, july 12th, AND at exhale venice on friday, july 18th, i was torn. which one should i attend?

should i go to the one in larchmont that was billed as "A Kirtan Benefit Concert to Provide a Lifetime Supply of Clean Water to Ganeshpuri Families with Special Guests C.C. White + Sapphron Obois"?

or the one in venice where "Dave and Suzanne Sterling blend their powerful voices together to explore the realms where the spiritual meets the scientific, ancient songs meet joyful contemporary expression, and opposites meet to dance in divine Leela or play"?

i mean, how could i NOT do the fundraiser? on the other hand, how could i skip the event where i was likely to run into many of my kirtan cronies? but then again, did i really have to pick just one? after all, with the lusty c.c. at one and the sultry suzanne at the other, both nights were bound to be different experiences altogether, right?

just when i was on the verge of deciding to attend both concert nights, aaron reed announced that dave was going to make a guest appearance at his scheduled beach yoga class on wednesday, july 16th. so did i want to go to that, too? you bet i did! my mind was set -- i was going to attend all three!

so as planned, i showed up at yogaworks on saturday evening for the first evening of dave's week-long LA run. i had already spent the better part of the day driving around town to satisfy my yoga compulsion (see previous post), so in order to somehow assuage my guilt and offset my carbon footprint for the day, i opted to donate $40 at the door, $30 of which went to the third millennium awakening water purification project. once inside, i headed straight for the large classroom and found a seat right beside greg, a fellow yogi and reader of my blog (hi greg!).

many more continued to arrive after i did; by the time dave and his band showed up -- including c.c. white, sapphron obois, craig kohland, joey lugassy, michael mollura, and a host of others -- the room was full of eager chanters seated shoulder-to-shoulder, knee-to-knee. and as expected, the night was magical. i mean, how could it not be? all the performers were masters of their craft!

i managed to sneak off during one of the breaks to check out the silent auction items in a nearby classroom. and while i didn't find any items that i wanted to bid on, i ended up buying a copy of dave's latest CD, divas and devas, a compilation of duets pairing dave with the best female devotional singers in the business -- donna delory, dasi karnamrita, c.c. white, kim waters, sat-kartar, suzanne sterling, wah!, and joni allen. following along with my tradition of collecting autographed CDs, i approached dave and c.c. after the concert and they happily signed my CD :)

at the end of the night, dave announced a number of upcoming gigs, including joey lugassy in concert at true yoga in westlake village the next evening (which i'd hoped to get to but couldn't -- sorry, joey!), craig kohland and shaman's dream at micheline berry's class at exhale venice the next morning, and -- surprise! -- dave himself at shiva rea's class, also at exhale venice the next morning. since i'd already committed to going to all three of his three LA appearances, i figured i may as well make it four for four...

but wait... shiva rea doesn't teach on sunday mornings.

turns out that shiva was subbing for saul david raye while he was out of town. which explains why the lobby was packed with saul's groupies, shiva's trainees, and dave's fans while micheline and shaman's dream led the zen dancing inside the main classroom that morning. when the classroom doors finally opened, we all made a mad dash to claim the spots that micheline's students had relinquished. while we were busy getting settled down, dave set himself up on the stage at the front of the room. joining him were craig, micheline, and the sweet-voiced joni allen, another diva on his album. dave led a chant both at the start and the end of the class. when he wasn't singing, he gamely joined in the vinyasa flow while shiva played an eclectic assortment of music from her laptop, including a selection from one of his albums. naturally, the class sang along to dave's music, including dave, i'm sure!

and yes, i happened to bring along my copy of the diva CD. and yes, i got joni allen to sign it, too :)

on wednesday, it was beach yoga night with aaron reed and his guest instructors for the evening, denise kaufman and jo tastula. plus special musical guest dave stringer. the crowd assembled on the sand was so large that i couldn't quite tell at the time if dave was moving along with us, but it was clear when class was over who had the group's attention. dave brought along his harmonium, and with denise on guitar and a couple of others (it was hard to tell in the dark) on percussion, our combined voices rang out through the still night air. soon, other beachgoers started making their way towards us to join in the chorus under an almost-full moon...

and then came friday, once again at exhale venice. this time, dave played dueting harmoniums with another of his divas, suzanne sterling. they were accompanied by musicians josh brill, mark gorman, domonic dean breaux, and others (bhajan bliss has a way of obliterating one's memory, it seems). and i have to say that if you've never attended a kirtan before, exhale venice is THE place to get introduced to the practice. at one point, from my seat at the front of the room, i turned around and found almost half the room up on their feet, wildly swaying and gyrating to the music; the chanting and dancing regulars sure know how to turn a kirtan into a night of ecstasy!

and i scored one more diva's signature -- suzanne's -- on my CD. three down, a bunch more to go...

dave stringer is currently touring northern california, but will be back in LA early next month for more appearances: on august 1st at the grand opening of be love yoga, a brand new yoga studio in the loft district of downtown LA, and on august 2nd at black dog yoga in sherman oaks.

so am i planning to make that six for six? you betcha! hmmm... i should learn how to say that in sanskrit, shouldn't i? :)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had to share:
I'd always been amused at the idea of Adho Mukha Savasana...and then one time I went to a practice with John Friend...he had us do that! It was actually pretty uncomfortable.

So yes, Downward Facing Corpse! DFC! ;-)

Thanks as always...


9:20 AM  
Blogger joni said...

sounds like i'll be sticking to urdha mukha savasana for now :)

see you around, greg!

12:02 PM  

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