Local Flavor Story by lanyuehua


									                                             W       ay back in another
                                                     lifetime, I was an angry
                                             youth, always on the verge of
                                             exploding. My mom, in an
                                             effort to provide my brothers
                                             and me with some kind of a
                                             moral compass through all the
                                             tumult of the ‘60s, dragged
                                             us to church every Sunday,
                                             which we all (me dressed in
                                             black) gloweringly suffered
                                             through. But one particular
                                             morning, standing with the
                                             rest of the congregation as we
                                             sang a hymn, I experienced a
                                             completely unexpected grinch-
                                             like epiphany.
                                                  I don’t remember now what the hymn
                                             was, but I very clearly see myself, in one of
                                             the farthest-back pews, hulking beside some
                                             tiny anonymous old lady who I had to share
                                             the hymnal with, and we were barely even
                                             out of the first verse when suddenly, from
                                             nowhere, my throat was clogged with tears as
                                             I was filled with this overwhelming sense of
                                             joy. My voice inexplicably swelled, expanding
                                             way out beyond my body, beyond the church
                                             building itself, and I became the music —
                                             lyrics, organ, the unison of voices. Something
                                             inside me then, something hard and mean
                                             and prickly, allowed itself to be moved,
                                             powerfully moved, like a junkyard dog whose
                                             attack is halted, mid-air, and who finds itself
                                             mysteriously floating gently to the ground,
                                             landing on its back, instead, belly exposed.
                                             I didn’t understand what had just happened
                                             to me, only that I wanted that music to go
                                             on and on forever. With the last of the organ
                                             notes thrumming around us, the old lady
                                             handed back the hymnal. “My goodness,
                                             dear,” she smiled, “you certainly are an
                                             enthusiastic singer!” and I was so embarrassed
                                             I wanted to crawl underneath the wooden
                                             bench and die.
                                                      is experience — the exhilaration part
                                             of it, that is — came flooding back to me
|    Madi Sato                               one recent evening as I sat in on a class by
                                             the Santa Fe Women’s Sacred World Music
                                             Choir. Warmly invited into their midst, I was

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                                       immediately struck by the complete egolessness of these women. Comprised
                                       of all ages, types and backgrounds, it’s a passionate group, conceived of and led
                                       by world-renowned singer, songwriter and musician Madi Sato. eir focus
                                       is devotional singing, pure and simple. Madi gleans examples of sacred music
                                       from across the global community, including ancient Baltic polyphonic chants,
   story by GAIL SNYDER                Afro-Brazilian invocations, Japanese Nihon Minyo, Ainu indigeneous prayers
                                       and Native healing songs, American gospel hymns and medieval as well as
p h o t o s b y K AT E R U S S E L L
                                       modern liturgical music.
                                            When asked about this choice of focus and the fact that it’s a for-women-
                                       only choir, Madi is emphatic. “ e women are meant to sing right now, speak
                                       our truth, be heard,” she says. “We must sing, no questioning — we’re hearing
                                       the call. It’s a very intimate and vulnerable thing to sing, like warrior women
                                       willing to bare their souls, bringing everything inside of them into the light --
                                       embodying the light.”
                                            After initial hugs and greetings, the women assemble in a circle of chairs.
                                       Madi has them go around the circle and one by one sing their name. en she
                                       directs the choir’s attention to the big pad at the front of the room on which
                                       she’s written a centering prayer: Psalm 46, “Be Still and Know at I Am God.”
                                       Madi rhythmically chants the entire line. e women repeat it in traditional
                                       call-and-response style, a technique she will use throughout the rehearsal. en
                                       in succession, they go on to chant, “Be still and know,” “Be still,” and, finally,
                                       just “Be.”
                                               at last little syllable hovers in the air after they’ve finished. “ e pause is
                                       a space of honor,” Madi smiles approvingly. “Your breath and your voice is your
                                       spirit.” She tells them she’s starting to hear the opening of their voices. “You’re
                                       showing up. I commend everybody!” ey rustle in their seats, pleased.
                                            Next, in order to tune their bodies as instruments, she directs them to
                                       stand for a brief series of movements reminiscent of chi-gong. en, in quick
                                       succession, she launches them into a call-and-response prayer song, done by
                                       Benedictine monks at the end of their day. She then organizes the choir into
                                       four groups and has the women sing an ancient Lithuanian chant in a round.
                                          en the choir regroups in a circular formation and travels through sound to
                                       the island of Hokkaido with a traditional Ainu song often sung by indigeneous
                                       Japanese women. By this point, some are serious, studious and intent, others
                                       are swaying and impassioned, but every person is involved, each woman has
                                       thrown her whole self into it. As their audience of one, I feel moved to the edge
                                       of tears, again and again.
                                            As next she prepares them for “Amazing Grace” in Cherokee, Madi
                                       instructs them to let their breath do the work. “And if it takes you awhile to
                                       learn this song, don’t be impatient with yourself,” she tells them. “Because you
                                       only really know a song when you know it in your blood and in your bones.
                                       And, once you know it, you know it for life.”
                                            All the wisdom she imparts to her choir has been hard won. As a popular
                                       world beat performing and touring artist for 15 years, Madi assumed she’d
                                       found her lifetime career. “But it’s amazing how spirit comes in and moves
                                       things around,” she laughs. Feeling more and more dissatisfied by what she calls
                                       “the business of music,” she adds, “ e pressure in our society for music to be
                                       a business left me very cold. People telling me how to package my music felt
                                       like such a box, and I couldn’t stay in the box.” Seven years ago, while visiting
                                       relatives in Japan, she discovered the sacred traditional music of her ancestors,
                                       “and I realized here’s a path that will take me deeper and deeper for the rest of
                                       my life!”
                                            She describes herself as a “song carrier,” adding, “If you honor the lineage,
                                       you’ll continue to keep receiving these medicine songs.” Japanese on her father’s
                                       side, Irish and Native American on her mother’s, Madi says, “I was always
                                       asking, ‘Who am I? Where do I belong?’” is spiritual and musical quest to
                                       find a way to be more authentic has expanded her far beyond issues of race and
                                       nationality. “It’s led me to want to give it back, create a sacred choir so I can
                                       teach others who want to discover their authentic voice, to learn how sound
                                       and music can transform you.”
                                            Teaching through call and response creates a very safe, unpressured
                                       atmosphere. “It’s an ancient method, this mirroring — we’ve been doing it
                                       since our birth. Everybody’s on this same journey together, so there’s so much
                                       support. e ego falls away. We receive the sound first.” en, she goes on,
                                       “quiet within themselves, they reinforce an inner foundation of connection to

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spirit, and what they give back is an offering rather than a performance.”
         is offering provides valuable healing for the singers as well. Madi
recalls times when the choir is singing and “I watch someone start to
shiver, and then tears start to pour out of her eyes. It’s the sound and the
voice that’s bringing this up as your teacher. e voice tells you everything
that’s going on inside you and all you’ve got to do is make time for it. All
of these hurts and blocks will begin to emerge.” Sometimes, as her own
past traumas surface, Madi says, “I find myself very angry, and I welcome
and embrace that anger. Because the sound helps transform any wound
on a very cellular level.” What she does for herself and for the members
of her choir as this happens is to help each one “maintain a balance of
body and spirit so one whole healing can occur. I guide people through
the catharsis so it’s not frightening, so they can stay conscious of holding
the music as a sacred, devotional art.”
     With this connection to her sacred voice, Madi says, “I become more
authentic daily. It’s the experience of developing fierce, heightened senses
— it’s liberating to hold bliss and deep sadness together.”
         e climax of the Santa Fe Women’s Sacred World Music Choir
class this night comes with the last song, “We Are the One,” which Madi
wrote for them as a tribute because “you guys inspire me so much!” She
plays it through for them on the piano first, singing the lyrics. en
she tells them to divide into three groups according to what harmonic
parts they want to sing: high, middle or low. As she goes from group to
group teaching them their parts, the women lean in together, listening
with warrior-like attention as they rehearse and hone their group’s
contribution, a thread that will weave into the collective whole. When
Madi has them sing it all together, the song becomes stronger, surer, more
and more complex each time through, until, by the end, this audience
of one is quivering like a tuning fork, tears flooding my eyes, and Madi
stands before them, exultant. “ is is what we want to cultivate! is
listening, this unity of all the voices creating harmony! is presence, and
beauty and authenticity when you’re singing. ank you!”

  e Santa Fe Women’s Sacred World Music Choir’s Fall session begins August
12 and runs every ursday evening at 5 p.m. through December 9. e
choir offers bi-annual concerts to the local Santa Fe community. See Madi’s
Web site for details on how to join the choir. www.madisato.com.

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