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This interview was first published in The Crazy Wisdom Calendar, a publication emanating from Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room, in downtown Ann Arbor. Copyright © 2001 by Crazy Wisdom, Inc. Crazy Wisdom is a bookstore specializing in psychology, spirituality and holistic health. Crazy Wisdom is located at 114 South Main Street, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48104. Its phone number is 734-665-2757, and it can be found on the web at crazywisdom.net.

Introducing Ann Arbor Kirtan

An Ancient Yoga Tradition Combines Satsang, Sacred Music and Chanting

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Glenn Burdic
The practices of working with mantras and
chanting are as powerful and effective today
as they were a thousand years ago... In my
experience, losing oneself in the mantras and
the beautiful melodies of kirtan can bring us to
into direct contact with our inner self. Once a
person has this experience they just can’t get
enough opportunities to chant!
By: Glenn Burdick
and Dennis Chernin
Photography by Linda Lawson
We are two longtime friends and
colleagues. About two years ago,
we decided it was time to share
our mutual passion for meditation,
mantra and Sanskrit chanting
with the local community. Out
of this vision, Ann Arbor Kirtan
was born. There have always been
wonderful local spiritual groups
who practice kirtan regularly. Our
vision moved us to create an opportunity
for the many people who
love chanting and want even more
opportunities to chant, or who may
not be affiliated with such a group
or who prefer to remain outside
of a formal religious organization
altogether.. We had hoped that experienced
chanters, as well as those new to these practices,
would feel welcome and participate wholeheartedly, and it
appears that this hope is coming to fruition.
……………………………………………………………
…………………………………
Kirtan (pronounced keer-tahn) comes to us from India.
An ancient yoga tradition, it is one of the oldest sacred
music traditions in the world.
Recently it has been popularized
by such notable people as
Krishna Das, Jai Uttal, Ragani, and Deva Premal. Kirtan
is a participatory, call-and-response, cross-cultural music
experience that incorporates the audience into the event.
Musically, Ann Arbor Kirtan combines Indian and western
instruments and melodies, including bass guitar, guitar,
dulcimer, keyboard, cello, tambura, harmonium, flute,
cymbals, tabla, and an assortment of other drums.
Kirtan is a participatory and cross-cultural music experience
in which the participants are of equal or greater
importance than the musicians and chant leaders. Kirtan
involves satsang, a Sanskrit term meaning where people
gather together as a community to remember, to turn inward
and to help each other find our own inner path. Using
ancient Sanskrit mantras and repeating them over and over,
kirtan calls upon universal energies which serve to quiet
the mind and bring us back to the center of our being.
Kirtan practiced over time can lead to a state of unity and
deeper connection with oneself, one’s community, and
more expanded states of consciousness. The chanting is
quieting, meditative, and at the same time moving and
exhilarating. Although the language of kirtan is often in
Sanskrit, the true language of kirtan is universal, because
it is a language of the heart. Thus, kirtan is part mantra and
nada yoga (yoga of vibratory frequency and sound) and
also bhakti yoga (yoga of devotion and the heart).
Chanting is a form of spiritual self-expression. The individual
chanter expresses who they are in that moment,
giving themselves wholeheartedly
to the chant, and in
turn opening their heart and
moving their personal process
forward in a significant and
powerful way. You don’t have
to be feeling blissful or be a
‘true believer’ to experience
this. One can simply participate
as an experiment and see
for oneself.
Ann Arbor Kirtan is a not-forprofit
organization of volunteer
musicians and singers,
coming from a variety of
yogic disciplines and professions,
who engage in chanting
as a spiritual practice. Each of
us has had some kind of direct
experience of the power
of mantra and chanting, and
through this became committed
to including chanting as
part of our regular spiritual
practice.
We started Ann Arbor Kirtan
simply because we love to
chant and wanted more opportunities to chant with dozens
of others on a regular basis. We have always felt supported
and inspired by the beautiful instrumental music of chanting
and wanted others to feel supported and honored in this
same way. For years, various of our members have been
profoundly moved by the authentic chanting offered within
such religious/spiritual organizations as the Siddha Yoga
Meditation Center of Ann Arbor and the Amma group. We
are in no way seeking to replace the great ongoing work of
these communities. We are simply sharing what inspires us
with as many people in our community as possible, including
those who would otherwise not know about or get to
experience Kirtan.
We did not come together for the purpose of performing to
an audience. In fact, we’ve done everything we can think
of to minimize the separation of the chant leaders/musicians
and the participants, and still maintain enough structure
for it all to work well. Participants are offered chanting
sheets with the Sanskrit words and English translation,
We include a number of chants
that anybody can readily join in
on, though it can take a little while
for a newcomer to get comfortable
with the pronunciation of a chant
or two. However, one can always
just close their eyes and meditate
on the beautiful melodies, instruments
and voices in the room.
The bottom line is we are a group
of individuals from various professions
who felt, ‘if we build it they
will come’. Happily they have!
Recently after one of our monthly
Kirtan nights a young couple new
to chanting was overheard commenting,
‘this is such an amazing
way to spend a Friday night!’ Well
said! Chanting is a moving experience
that is easy to do, requires no
special equipment, is not weather
dependent, and it’s free! What’s
not to like?
……………………………………………………………
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Next events:
Fridays April 20, May 18, June 15, July 20, August 17,
2007
7:30-9:30 PM
Friends Meeting House 1420 Hill St. Ann Arbor, Mi,
48104
Call: 734-973-3030
www.kirtanannarbor.org
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Introducing Ann Arbor Kirtan ~
Ann Arbor Kirtan members (left to right): Atmaram, John Churchville, Judy Piazza,
Dennis Chernin, Madhavi Mai, Glenn Burdick, Rosanne Emanuele and Karen Levin.
Dennis Chernin
As a young physician
drawn towards Eastern
thought… and the art and
science of yogic breathing
and meditation… I felt
paradoxically somewhat
uncomfortable and a bit
embarrassed about chanting
out loud in ancient
Sanskrit. What was a nice
Jewish boy from Cleveland
doing, not only living
in a yoga ashram at the
Himalayan Institute in the
late 70’s and early 80’s,
with my wife, Jan, and my
children, but also chanting
in Sanskrit with fellow
meditation students at the
end of a long workday.
The Crazy Wisdom Community Journal • May - August 2006 • Page 14
An Ancient Yoga Tradition Combines Satsang, Sacred Music and Chanting
We interviewed our musicians and singers, asking each to
share experiences that brought them to the spiritual practice
of chanting. Some of their stories are quite intimate,
and we appreciate their rare degree of openness and authenticity.
It is quite clear in the reading why this practice
became such a central part of each individual’s journey.
Below are excerpts from the interviews with each member
of Ann Arbor Kirtan.
Dennis Chernin (Chant Leader):
My journey into the ancient world of yogic chanting actually
began a bit awkwardly. As a young physician drawn
towards Eastern thought, alternative methods of healing,
homeopathy, and art and science of yogic breathing and
meditation, I felt paradoxically somewhat uncomfortable
and a bit embarrassed about chanting out loud in ancient
Sanskrit. What was a nice Jewish boy from Cleveland
doing, not only living in a yoga ashram at the Himalayan
Institute in the late 70’s and early 80’s, with my wife, Jan,
and my children, but also chanting in Sanskrit with fellow
meditation students at the end of a long workday.
And to add to my self consciousness, I couldn’t quite
comprehend what the orange robed, shaved headed Hare
Krishna devotees were doing, who we’d see on the streets,
chanting loudly, dancing around, and clanging their cacophonous
symbols. Were they doing the same thing that I
was doing?
At the same time, however, I loved the Beatle’s early foray
into Indian music and especially George Harrison’s work.
I had always been fascinated by the wonderful tones and
rhythms of the Indian drum, the tabla. And I felt quite at
ease repeating and using Sanskrit mantras in my quiet sitting
meditation practice.
Over the years, I began to have some very powerful and
life transforming inner experiences of hearing and feeling
beautiful inner sounds in my meditation. One early experience
that was exhilarating occurred when I was meditating
with my spiritual teacher, Swami Rama. After the meditation
ended, I continued to hear/experience the seed of all
sound vibrations, the mantra OM, deep within my mind
for a long time. I felt great ecstasy and total immersion in
something much larger than my small self. It was then that
I realized the great power of mantra and sound vibration
and this has been a guide for me ever since. This experience
continues to the present time, when, at times, that
same universal and beautiful OM sound spontaneously
arises and permeates my consciousness.
I began to feel more and more at peace with sharing these
experiences with others. Teaching meditation and participating
with kirtan became wonderful vehicles for this. And
ironically, while I still dress in western style jeans, sweaters,
and corduroys, I find myself enjoying and chanting in
large groups, and singing the same kind of Hare Krishna
chants I heard on the streets many years ago…
Today, there are three parts of
my spiritual practice: meditation
through specific sitting
meditative and breathing
practices, meditation through
the flowing movements of tai
chi and bagua, and meditation
through the sounds, chants,
and vibratory frequency of kirtan
and mantra. My hope is to
continue to offer the wonderful
group experience of kirtan
to the community so we can
chant and meditate together.
My desire is that our kirtan
gatherings will continue to
grow and attract people from
very diverse backgrounds.
Glenn Burdick (Guitar):
A living mantra has the power
to put us directly in contact
with our deepest nature. My
first experience of this came
shortly after I met my spiritual
teacher, an Indian holy
man named Swami Muktananda, in 1976 and received his
initiation. He had the rare ability to initiate a seeker rather
immediately into the mysteries of the Inner Self. Chanting
took place several hours each day in his ashram.
One morning I rushed into the noon chant, and took a seat.
The holiness of the chant struck me immediately, and in
a few seconds an extraordinary energy began moving up
my back and spine and up through my head, to the exact
rhythm of the chanting and drumming. My whole body
was vibrating with this gorgeous chant. The chant was
inside of me, vibrating me and it opened my spiritual heart.
I felt ecstatic, yet humble
and profoundly grateful. This
same experience of chanting
continued for quite some
time, and chanting or simply
repeating the mantra effortlessly
brought me into a
state of complete relaxation,
inner stillness and gratitude.
Meditation as a technique
gave way to meditation as the
experience of simply resting
in my true nature.
Over time my experience of
mantra and chanting became
more subtle, yet to this day it
remains the most direct route
to my spiritual heart. I have
met many people over the
years that have had similar
experiences.
Recently I was on vacation
at a wonderful yoga retreat
center in the Caribbean.
Some uncomfortable feelings
from my childhood began
surfacing and were dominating
my experience…not at all what
I had planned for my vacation!
At each of the twice daily
meditation periods I would
have the same experience. I
would sit down with a very
turbulent mind, and a body
that wanted anything but that. I
would expect meditation to be
very difficult.
Since I learned long ago to
relate to such feelings in a mindful and friendly manner, I
was able to release my resistance to them to a great extent,
becoming calmly present to the agitation. I would then
begin repeating the mantra, and within a minute or two
my mind would be completely still, conscious and alert,
with not a single thought or fluctuation of mind. The sense
of suffering was replaced by peace and gratitude. This is
the power of mantra and meditation, and it is something
I regularly teach clients in my work as a psychotherapist
and in the mindfulness-based stress reduction program I
conduct.
The practices of working with mantras and chanting are as
powerful and effective today as they were a thousand years
ago.. In my experience, losing oneself in the mantras and
the beautiful melodies of kirtan can bring us to into direct
contact with our inner self. Once a person has this experience
they just can’t get enough opportunities to chant!
.
Madhavi Mai (Chant leader; cymbals):
As a classical Indian dancer (in the Bharatanayam style
of Tamil Nadu), currently teaching at Oakland University
in Rochester, and at my studio in Ann Arbor, I perform
solo and with my ensemble, Sadhana Dancers. I’m also a
singer songwriter, collaborating with local musicians; and
a real estate broker. .
I’ve been singing kirtan as a spiritual practice since I
discovered it in the late seventies, when I lived in Chennai,
India. I loved how easy/accessible it was - I could participate
at some level, the first time! Kirtan was something
I could enjoy and benefit from immediately, that served
me well as I trained for five years in Bharatanayam dance
- that is complex and difficult.
Kirtan is a form of prayer for me, a direct means for connecting
with our higher Self/God. When we sing the divine
names, the vibrations are expansive, healing and joyful.
Kirtan is a practice that opens our hearts, deepens our devotion
and connection with spirit. Like all prayer, it’s most
powerful when shared in a group.
As a devotee of satguru Amrithanandamayi (affectionately
known as Amma), kirtan, yoga and meditation
are prescribed daily spiritual practices for me. Our
weekly satsangs (spiritual
gatherings) are predominantly
singing devotional songs in
six languages!
The devotional element is
not exclusive to kirtan, but
kirtan is definitely a form of
devotional singing. In this
way it’s different from popular
or classical music, as it’s’
purpose is not entertainment,
but “inner-attainment”, as our
friend Muruga says. I also
sing and compose English devotional
songs that are no less
transformative for me.
The goal always is to heal
and celebrate! It would be
synchronistic if we could
also, through this collective
spiritual practice -donate the
love offerings to charities
that help those most in need.
Kirtan is an easy, transformative
practice that I hope will
benefit all who come to our
public kirtans.
Judy Piazza (Chant leader;
dulcimer; percussion):
My life is my work, my play,
my being. I am now living at
the Ojai Foundation, in Ojai,
CA. where I participate in
community who lives close
to the land, off the grid, and
with a deep vision of indigenous
wisdom traditions
pertaining to respect for life of every kind. My work as
musician revolves around education, healing, performance,
and more, with rhythm and voice being key elements. For
some time I have offered Evenings of Devotional Song in
Michigan, California and other locations, both solo and
with other musicians.
Judy Piazza
I would hope those who join with us in kirtan
get a sense of devotion, an opening of the
heart, a swelling of love as we fall away from
the predominant mind influence ... a chance to
sing together ... an experience of the power of
mantra for personal and planetary change.
Madhavi Mai
Kirtan is a form of
prayer for me, a direct
means for connecting
with our higher Self/God.
When we sing the divine
names, the vibrations are
expansive, healing and
joyful. Kirtan is a practice
that opens our hearts,
deepens our devotion and
connection with spirit. Like
all prayer, it’s most powerful
when shared in a group.
The Crazy Wisdom Community Journal • May - August 2006 • Page 15
About ten years ago I became consistently involved in
learning the Yoga of Sound, of which kirtan is a part. I
have traveled to India with Russill Paul to be infused by
the sense of devotion that Mother India breathes.
Kirtan is a spiritual practice for me. The call and response
allows us to enter a state of devotion. Because kirtan is
sung in Sanskrit, or in Sanskrit influenced dialects, the
sounds emanate from an energetic language that has power
and can make magic. The influence then is direct, affected
by the shape of the sound, the action of the lips, mouth,
and tongue, the raga or scale used. The transmission goes
beyond our thinking mind, directly into the heart, which
can swell in love and devotion. By chanting the divine
names, syllables, and phrases, we can change the state of
being, we can change the world.
I would hope those who join with us in kirtan get a sense
of devotion, an opening of the heart, a swelling of love as
we fall away from the predominant mind influence ... a
chance to sing together ... an experience of the power of
mantra for personal and planetary change.
Rosanne Emanuele (Response singer)
While singing in children’s choir I was surprised by
physical sensations of the sung notes vibrating within and
wondered, rather embarrassedly, if the Presbyterian kid to
the left and right of me was feeling the same thrill. It was
deeply personal and enveloping, and so delicious. This was
my initial experience of sound drawing me to spirit. And
to me this is the value and charm of chanting that sacred
sound can draw us to an expanding spirit.
I was blessed to have a father and grandfather with deep
rich singing voices. Beautiful music and singing was a
valued mode of celebration in our home. Special occasions
at our house meant guitar and mandolin playing in the
kitchen and several singers opening their throats and souls
to Italian ballads and beloved folksongs late into the night.
My parents, as newlyweds, sang on the radio and with the
Florentine Opera Company chorus in Milwaukee which
our cousin founded.
In the 70’s while studying yoga and meditation I was again
touched by the beautiful rich Sanskrit sounds and was
lucky to receive semi- private Indian chanting training for
the summer of 1976. Here was another invitation to connect
the opening of the throat with the heart and spirit.
Even my profession as an acupuncturist specializes in
stimulating that good and toasty vibration within. This
is considered the starting point toward improved healthy
functioning. I regularly invite my patients, already primed
to respond to their own silent vibration, to participate in
the soothing outward sounds
of sung Sanskrit as the
A2K assembles to collectively
chant. I feel chanting
has great possibility of connecting
us to that opening
and calm that we all seek.
Since there are a number of
spiritual groups in Ann Arbor,
I feel Ann Arbor Kirtan
can provide a unifying situation
for us to join voices in
chant and bless one another
and our town with monthly
healing gatherings.
Atmaram (Harmonium):
My mother tells a story
about how before I could
talk I would wake up every
morning singing unintelligibly,
and when I became a teenager she
signed me up for the Youth Choir at our church. I had
always loved music and
particularly enjoyed how gospel
music lifted my spirits. Around this
same time I had fallen from our tree
house and fractured some vertebra
in my lower back. It was taking too
long to heal, so in 1969 I signed-up
for a hatha yoga class that was being
offered by our local community
center. My first yoga instructor was
a student of Swami Satchidananda
and I was soon going to the Integral
Yoga Institute in Detroit for further
instruction. It was there that I first
experienced the power of kirtan
chanting.
When the Om Namah Shivaya
mantra rolled off the kirtan leader’s
tongue it felt like a deja vu, but
this was deeper and more satisfying,
like a deja vu of the soul. I was
overwhelmed by the feeling of contentment
and joy and spontaneously
began meditating on the mantra.
Later I met Swami Muktananda
who gave me the spiritual name
Atmaram. I moved into the Ann
Arbor Siddha Yoga Dham ashram
in 1974 and learned to play the harmonium and tambura,
and became immersed in the practice of meditation, mantra
repetition, and chanting.
Over the years, as I incorporated these practices into my
daily life, I gradually began to feel less like a human being
having spiritual experiences and more like a spiritual being
having human experiences. Kirtan and chanting scripture
became a form of prayer and a recourse for spiritual and
emotional healing for me. After my wife was diagnosed
with multiple sclerosis I had a profound need for deeper
communion with the God and I began to pray to the divine
mother on a daily basis. I was re-acquainted with my ‘deja
vu of the soul’ but missed the company of other yogis on
the path. With Ann Arbor Kirtan, not only had I found a
venue to support my personal practice, but an opportunity
to serve to the local yoga community.
John Churchville (Tabla drums):
I have been playing the tabla drums in AA Kirtan since its
first gathering in 2005. Musically speaking, Kirtan at its
best is a beautiful blend of Indian light classical and folk
with Western new age meditation music. The sound of the
Indian instruments like tabla, harmonium, and the instruments
is what makes this style of Kirtan so inviting. The
music provides the support for the singers and helps to lift
the chanting to very powerful levels.
I personally love to be involved with kirtan for the sense
of community it creates and also the ability to play very
intense, soothing music for 2 hours straight. As the tabla
John Churchville
Musically speaking, Kirtan at its best is a
beautiful blend of Indian light classical and
folk with Western new age meditation music.
The sound of the Indian instruments like tabla,
harmonium, and the instruments is what makes
this style of Kirtan so inviting. The music
provides the support for the singers and helps
to lift the chanting to very powerful levels.
player I feel a strong sense of responsibility as the heartbeat
of each chant. When the chants pick up momentum,
the music must follow and help to push it forward. When
this is done successfully, there is an energy that fills the
room like no other I have experienced.
Karen Levin (Response singer):
My first experience with kirtan was at a kundalini yoga
class in the early 1970s, when I was in college, and we did
alot of chanting sacred sanskrit sounds, following the yoga
postures. I was amazed at how joyful and yet calm it would
make me feel, and I was very drawn to this practice. About
5 years later I was introduced to siddha yoga and Swami
Muktananda, and chanting took on a whole new meaning.
I experienced it as a way to connect with the Divine, or
inner Self. I started chanting with a group in Ann Arbor
several times a week, and also spent time with the Siddha
community in upper state New York, chanting together
with up to a 1000 people. It was a very powerful experience
for me. Chanting was also helpful at that time, as it
Atmaram
I gradually began to feel
less like a human being
having spiritual experiences
and more like a spiritual
being having human experiences.
Kirtan and chanting
scripture became a form
of prayer and a recourse
for spiritual and emotional
healing for me. After my
wife was diagnosed with
multiple sclerosis, I had a
profound need for deeper
communion with the God
and I began to pray to the
divine mother on a daily
basis.
The Crazy Wisdom Community Journal • May - August 2006 • Page 16
Introducing Ann Arbor Kirtan ~
Satsang, Sacred Music and Chanting (continued)
Karen Levin
In my practice as an individual and family
psychotherapist, I find that it is even more important
for me to create balance and harmony
in my life, through chanting, meditation, and
yoga… Ann Arbor Kirtan is an opportunity for
others to experience an opening/ expansion
of their heart, and feel the joy from chanting
together.
was during that period that my father died suddenly. I was
able to throw myself into this practice as a way to release
the sadness and grieving.
I continue to chant as often as I can, in groups, and also on
my own. I find that chanting at any time is good, as well as
very helpful when dealing with difficult emotions such as
sadness, anxiety or an agitated mind. In my practice as an
individual and family psychotherapist, I find that it is even
more important for me to create balance and harmony in
my life, through chanting, meditation, and yoga. Sometimes
chanting can be easier than meditation, to focus on
the sound, open the heart, and drop into the experience. It
can also be helpful to do before meditation, in calming the
mind.
Ann Arbor Kirtan is an opportunity for others to experience
an opening/ expansion of their heart, and feel the joy
from chanting together. No matter what spiritual or religious
tradition one is from, anyone can come and reap the
benefit from it. I hope that as many people as possible find
out about what we’re doing and can come and experience
it.
###
The Crazy Wisdom Community Journal • May - August 2006 • Page 17

Review by Yoga International Journal