The Gyuto Monks Tantric Choir
Tibetan Chants for World Peace
Douglas Heselgrave's #9 album for 2008
First Appeared in The Music Box, October 2008, Volume 15, #10
Written by Douglas Heselgrave
Mon October 6, 2008, 06:30 AM CDT
Once a forgotten country where cultural and political problems typically have played out beneath the radar of most Westerners, Tibet and its exiled leader ó the fourteenth Dalai Lama ó are now established firmly in the worldís collective consciousness. Because of the efforts of actors like Richard Gere as well as musicians like The Beastie Boys and Mickey Hart, the atrocities that China has wrought upon the sparsely populated mountain kingdom and its citizens no longer can be ignored. The travesty of this past summerís Beijing Olympic games has come and gone, but the images and testimonials that could be seen on the internet and television during the clampdown that occurred prior to the sporting event are reminders that the most populated country on Earth has a long way to go in terms of embracing human rights and political openness.
When China invaded Tibet in 1950, it wasnít content simply with controlling Tibetís people. Instead, the government under Chairman Mao was determined to dismantle thousands of years of history and innovation by destroying priceless artwork, libraries, monasteries, and institutes of higher learning. The language, religion, and culture that had been allowed to develop over several millennia as a result of Tibetís isolated location were all but demolished under the ruthless zealotry of the Red Army. Surely, when the Dalai Lama fled from his homeland and ventured to India in 1959, he realized that he and his entourage bore the weight of responsibility to preserve what remained of Tibetan knowledge and spiritual tradition.
One of the first things that the Dalai Lama did after he had arrived in India was to re-establish some of the abbeys that had been decimated by the Chinese army. The Gyuto Monastery, which had been founded in 1474, had been one of Tibetís most established centers of learning, and not surprisingly, it became one of the first institutions to be rebuilt in exile. The chanting of sutras to create a zone of peace and tranquility is central to the monksí practice and over the last 40 years, several recordings have been made of The Gyuto Monks Tantric Choir's ritualistic singing. Tibetan Chants for World Peace was originally issued in 2001 from a session that was produced by Mickey Hart. The decision to re-release the outing was spurred by Robert Thurmanís new book Why the Dalai Lama Matters. After reading it, Hart was convinced that the tale that Thurman tells contains lessons that extend beyond Tibet.
Nevertheless, it isnít unusual for those who are exposed to Tibetan plainsong for the first time express disappointment at what they hear. Over the years, the Dalai Lama has become a profound messenger of peace, and he now is as media savvy as any world leader. Subsequently, many people have formed preconceptions of what Tibetan chanting ought to sound like, and anyone who expects Tibetan Chants for World Peace to provide a soothing experience probably will be disappointed by the endeavor.
There are no flutes or sounds of running water featured on Tibetan Chants for World Peace. There also are no gentle strings to lull the listener into a sense of ease and repose. Rather, the music is spare, deep, and intense. With little in the way of accompaniment ó outside of bone-frame drums, sparse hand percussions, bells, and piercing horns ó the monksí chanting can be a profoundly rattling experience. As unsettling as a mind-melting rendition of the Grateful Deadís Dark Star circa 1973, each of these chants takes the listener through a variety of states of consciousness. With nothing but the human voice to lead the way, an aural field is created by the monks that is as intensely transcendental as any of the sacred music that came from Europe during the Middle Ages. There are similarities between Gregorian and Tibetan chanting, but any attempt to equate western Christian music with these Buddhist scores is ultimately misleading. Tibetan Chants for World Peace is an evocation of the dark places in the human soul, and the chants serve as a guide for escaping from suffering and pain. The road isnít always easy, and the four chants contained on the disc attest to this.
Tibetan Chants for World Peace might not reveal its depth immediately. In fact, it takes tremendous patience and resolve to delve into its complex textures. The rewards, however, are more than worth it. The album communicates profound messages from a world that has vanished, and the work done by Hart to preserve these chants and bring them to a larger audience is commendable. Tibetan Chants for World Peace is a bold and essential endeavor, one that not only offers a window to a new world but also changes the way in which music is experienced.
Of Further Interest...
Tibetan Chants for World Peace is available from Amazon.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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