Sunday, September 14, 2008

In Review---Gyuto Monks Choir

Tibetan Chants for World Peace
The Gyuto Monks Tantric Choir
White Swan Records

The first time I heard, more or less, experienced a Tibetan monk choir was back in the 90s when I attended an event at the University of Washington's Kane Hall. Tibetan consciousness had surfaced among the Buddhists and New Agers. At the time, I did not equate the choir with a musical experience, but a religious experience and a cultural exchange. My friends and I attended the concert out of curiosity, but did not know what to expect. And even though some of us had been exposed to Tuvan throat-singing, the guttural vocals of the monks came off as startling.

Fast forward to several years of having been exposed to the music of Yungchen Lhamo, Nawang Khechog, various types of throat singing and various types of spiritual chants, I still find the Gyuto Monks Tantric Choir startling. Here I am at a loss to describe the sound and the experience. Even the producer of Tibetan Chants for World Peace, former Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart thought he was listening to electronic music when he first came across a recording of these monks. And his first experience eventually led him to produce Tibetan Chants for Peace with members of Gyuto Monks Tantric Choir.

In practice, a hundred monks or so sing in bass guttural tones--amazing polyphony. These chants which date back to the medieval era when the Gyuto Tantric Monastery University was inaugurated. In 1959, when the 14th Dalai Lama was forced into exile, the monastery included 900 monks.

According to the liner notes, "Every monk, no matter what the range of his 'natural' voice, learns over many years to chant in the extraordinary low bass tones needed to produce the multiphonic sounds heard only at Gyuto. Chants and practices are to this day handed down from elder monks to young initiates, as has been the way of Tibetan Buddhist teachings for centuries." The liner notes also mention why it is so important to preserve traditions of a "highly endangered culture."

I am not sure that these chants will appeal to everyone, however, I do find them transcendental and deeply spiritual. Proceeds from the sale of the CD go to support Gyuto Tantric University and White Swan Records will donate additional funds to the preservation efforts of Tibet House in New York City. If you are both curious and compassionate, you would do well to pick up this recording and share it with your friends.

White Swan Records, Mickey Hart, gyuto Center

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