Ancient Traditions Buddhist Chanting Buddhist Music Chanting Eastern Tibet Indigenous Cultures Mantra One Voice Chord Orphanage preserving culture Preserving the arts Ray Mack Sacred Music Sacred Sound Sound Healing The Heart of Tibet Throat Singing Tibet Tibetan Tibetan Art Tibetan Buddhist Mantra Tibetan Plateau Traditional Tibetan Folk Singing
In 2012, I had the good fortune of being invited on a pilgrimage to Tibet by a friend of mine. I was given no other information other than that we would be going to Tibet. I graciously accepted and began to prepare for the trip.
On the off chance that I might see some monks I bought a cheap $50 handheld field recorder. If I had not made this one random intuitive purchase there would be no album. I am always amazed how the smallest actions can lead to the most life changing experiences.
In August of 2012, I departed for the capitol of Qinghai Province, Xining in China. We spent one day and night in Xining and then set off on our 3400km journey across the Eastern Tibetan Plateau. The destination of this 2 day trek was a small Tibetan village located deep in a private national forest preserve that only certain Tibetans can visit. The only reason we were permitted to visit is because of our escort and the permission of the well known Tibetan Buddhist Lama that was to be our host. At the time, none of this information was known to me. All I knew was that we were being driven across a completely different world reaching heights of 15,000ft on our way to a destination unknown. At times the air was so low in oxygen that we needed to breath from oxygen tanks that we had bought in Xining.
Upon arriving at our destination we were greeted by the most humbling and unforgettable reception I have ever experienced. These wonderful people greeting us were the students, teachers and orphans of the local orphanage that my friend and his family were patrons of. This orphanage turned out to be a very special school that is one of the last places on Earth that is preserving traditional Tibetan Art forms by training the children in various arts and crafts. These art forms include; Thangka painting, woodcarving, prayer flag creation, embroidery, incense making, as well as traditional Tibetan folk singing and dancing. We were given a tour of the facilities after the grand reception.
After the tour of the orphanage we drove another hour further up into the mountains and then hiked an hour up a windy muddy path in the pitch black to reach our final destination. This destination was the private mountain cabin retreat of our generous Tibetan Lama host. By the end of the hike we all had to sit and catch our breath for about half an hour because we were so oxygen deprived. My lungs felt like they were on fire. After this we quickly settled in for the night. I was given a single man tent that immediately forced me to face one of my biggest fears… spiders, lots and lots of spiders. A friend helped me get cups and we removed the spiders without harming them one by one.
After a great night sleep next to a few new spider friends that had refused to be evicted, I woke to a spectacularly beautiful panoramic view of the pristine forest preserve. Then we sat down to a delicious breakfast in the Lama’s private cabin. The breakfast consisted of fresh tibetan bread, yak meat, raw yak butter, raw yak milk, tea, and eggs that had been baked on the top of a metal wood stove that took up a portion of the cabin. The food was amazing. At the time I had not had any dairy or gluten products for more than 6 years due to intolerances of both. The tibetan dairy and bread had no negative effects on me whatsoever. Later I decided that this was due to the respect and love with which they are harvested and the untainted beyond organic quality.
Shortly after breakfast I was sitting and talking with the Lama who I called Shifu (which means Master in Mandarin, Chinese). I had my friend with me who was translating into Mandarin Chinese for me as Shifu did not speak English and I am not yet fluent in Mandarin Chinese. I eagerly showed him something that I had discovered at a Tibetan Monastery on the road to the village. At the monastery I had seen a large mandala of the wheel of Dharma which was a familiar shape to me. I had seen it in a video while studying cymatics (sound vibrating sand into sacred geometric patterns) (pic). I showed the monk this video and some music and we discussed the power of sound to create form. He was amazed by the correlation between sound and the sacred wheel of dharma. So impressed that he asked me to record an album for him on the spot. Humbled I agreed and thus began a new chapter in my life.
The Lama did not waste time, later that same day he had several of the orphans from the local orphanage come and sing for me. They were extremely shy but they were obviously talented singers.
Over the next few days we recorded several orphan children & teenagers as well as the Lama himself and his Master who lived in seclusion further up the mountain. The girls were so shy with me holding the recorder in front of them that I had to stack several stools so that I could hide while holding the recorder. This turned out to solve the shyness problem and we got several great recordings. (Later I would find out that they were extremely shy because this village had never had any white people visit them).
These recordings were all recorded accapella with my handheld recorder. This made the creation of the album extremely challenging. For each recorded song I had to figure out the timing and musical structures. I read many PHD doctoral research papers by Music Theorists on music from Tibet but the music I had recorded in Eastern Tibet was not like anything I could find documentation on. So I had to figure out the musical structure from scratch. After much experimentation I discovered that the musical tuning was very similar to a specific form of Mongolian singing. However, from song to song the timing was completely different. I worked with strange timings like 5/2, 7/4 and 11/4.
Due to the songs being recorded by vocalists without instruments or drums the timing was not rhythmic enough to work with untreated - also the pitch from note to note was not equivalent to western tunings. I was working completely digitally (on a computer) so I had to create a unique system that would smooth out the timing of their vocals syllable by syllable. Also, in order to preserve their traditional raw tuning as accurately as possible I utilized a combination of changing the tuning of the digital instruments on my computer and slightly altering the pitches of their vocals when absolutely necessary.
This whole process took months to figure out and was the most challenging thing I have ever accomplished in my long musical career. It changed the way I view music forever. It forced me to break away from the familiar formulaic structure of western music which has 7 notes in each scale and is generally 4/4 time signature. This was just one of many hard earned blessings that the creation of this album gifted to me over the last 4 years since I began working on it.
I finished the first version of the album in 2013 but was asked to make more songs. In August 2013 I returned to Tibet with my wife and recorded more. After my second trip to Tibet I finished a few more songs and then the album was put on hold until now. Over the last 3 years since shelving the first version of the album my health has declined drastically and my ability to create music eventually became completely blocked over the last year.
A few months ago while studying alternative forms of healing I made the discovery that my physical issues were linked to the emotional blockage that had been created when I did not release the album. When I made this discovery my health immediately began to improve which was all the verification that I needed in order to move forward with the release of the album. Now is the time. The album must see the light of day so that I can finally play my part in preserving the beautiful culture of Tibet.
I wish nothing more than to be of service to the world. Music and sound has always been the vehicle in which I offer service. I hope this gift brings awareness to not only the rapidly disappearing culture of Tibetans… but also to the hundreds of ancient traditions and cultures around the world that are fading away under the shadow of our modern civilization.
Ironically as we take steps into a brighter future we are relying on the ancient traditions more and more to find our way back to health personally, socially and globally in our relationship with mother earth. If there is one thing that I have learned through my studies in nutrition, healing and maintaining good health, it is that the old ways have far more truth and potency to them then we ever realized. Modern science and medicine are verifying the validity of more and more of these ancient traditions everyday.
Please spread this music and this message so we can inspire people all over the world to invest in and become patrons of indigenous cultures to help preserve their ancient traditions. These people need our help, our attention and our love before it is too late and we lose the ancient knowledge of living in harmony with Mother Earth forever.