MYSTICAL ARTS OF TIBET
Saturday, June 11
MacEwan Hall (U of C)
There arent many artists or groups in the world that can say theyve performed with Paul Simon, Patti Smith, Michael Stipe, Phillip Glass and the Beastie Boys. However, the musical monks of the Drepung Loseling monastery can proudly describe these well-known western musicians as supporters, collaborators and friends.
Draped in traditional mustard-coloured Tibetan robes and wearing hats that slightly resemble mohawks, the monks have performed their sacred brand of music, chanting and dancing for sold-out crowds all over North America. In 1998, they acted as the opening act for Beck, Radiohead and Sonic Youth at Beastie Boy Adam Yauchs third annual Tibetan Freedom Festival.
"Part of our purpose is to bring these sacred performances to as many different places as we can, as a way to promote world peace and healing," says Geshe Lobsang, the director of the monastery. "They are very ancient ceremonies that the Tibetans have designed and relied upon for many centuries."
The monks dance numbers (such as "The Snow Lion Dance" or "The Dance of the Skeleton Lords") integrate vibrant, colourful costumes with traditional routines and rituals. The instruments they use include the dung-chen (an eight-to-nine-foot long horn), a high-pitched melodic trumpet and many different cymbals and drums.
"All of these have a certain purpose, which invoke certain spiritual experiences," says Lobsang. "For example, they use a small drum called a damaru and a little bell to symbolize the primordial state of mind, which is in a state of bliss or clarity. To play them is to somehow embody that."
However, it is the monks chanting that may be most interesting to audiences. Utilizing an ancient Tibetan technique known as multiphonic singing, they individually produce three notes simultaneously, with each singer creating a complete chord. This astounding skill has gained the monks much renown in the western world, but to them it just comes naturally with the spiritual messages they are trying to convey.
"The purpose is not to produce the three different notes simultaneously, but to bring a deep focus of body, speech and mind, and express that in what we are chanting," says Lobsang. "But it is true that in this style of chanting, apparently a first, third and fifth note are produced simultaneously. I dont know anything about notes because they are not emphasized in the Tibetan tradition, but this is what other people tell us."
Although the monks do hope their performances will be entertaining to North American audiences, they do not view them purely as a theatrical event, but more as a means to spread the holy messages of the Dalai Lama. They also hope to progress in their own spiritual development by playing for varied audiences.
"Its not like they get onstage and perform, and then the rest of the day they do something entirely different. This is the way they try to live day by day, to train themselves to maintain a positive state of mind. The ceremonies are a way to express that," says Lobsang.
Nonetheless, the monks have found much success with their performances around the world, receiving critical acclaim from The New York Times and The San Francisco Chronicle.
"We have been very blessed with the overwhelming reception from audiences," says Lobsang. "Usually the people who come to see the event hope to witness a tradition that is very old and steeped in love and compassion, so we have often received positive feedback.
"There are many different layers of the performance that different people may appreciate. In a way they are very mystical, they are very colourful and can be very entertaining. We try to do things without watering down the traditions, to bring something that is really meaningful to the audience."
If any readers would like to attend the event, they can take advantage of a $10 discount by using code CG631 when they order their tickets. To do so, they can simply call 1-877-277-1240 toll free or visit www.learningannex.ca for more information. Tickets are also available at the door.