What’s kirtan? Duo to perform in Port Townsend on Wednesday

By Diane Urbani de la Paz
Peninsula Daily News

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PORT TOWNSEND — They’re in it for the bliss.

Shantala, the duo of Heather and Benjy Wertheimer, have seen it happen: that sweet, light feeling of being carried by music, lifted by the chanting of one’s neighbors. And this pair, who travel six to nine months of the year, is coming back to the Madrona MindBody Institute for another kirtan — a kind of concert-party-spiritual experience — Wednesday, June 19.

Having been to Port Townsend several times before, Shantala has a devoted following. And with this evening of music — Heather is a singer and Benjy a multi-instrumentalist — they also have hopes of bringing newcomers in, regardless of religion, politics or singing ability.

Kirtan is for anyone who likes to feel good. Technically, it’s call-and-response chanting of ancient mantras — which, Heather said, can have quite an effect here and now.

“The purpose of the mantras is to help the heart open up,” she says, “to create more joy,” for everyone who can hear it.

So this is an evening to relax into the rhythms, and to sing. It is not necessarily, Heather adds, about chanting while sitting still. She’s confident that on Wednesday night, “people will be singing and dancing. It’s a very fun and joyful experience.”

The mantras are in Sanskrit — India’s classical language — and the musicians provide lyric sheets and explanations of their meaning. But more important than translation to English, Benjy and Heather agree, is the vibration of people’s voices joined together.

“There’s something about [singing] with other people,” adds Heather. “The group support carries us along.”

In the wake of the yoga wave that has washed over the United States, she says, “there’s a huge rising” of interest in kirtan.

Wednesday’s kirtan will start at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Madrona institute at Fort Worden State Park, 200 Battery Way. Advance tickets are $20 at the Port Townsend Food Co-op, 414 Kearney St. At the door, adult tickets will go up to $25, while admission for children age 13 to 18 will be $10 and kids 12 and younger will get in free. Though chairs will be provided, pillows and blankets are welcome.

Heather and Benjy add, with pleasure, that they’re bringing musicians to the party with them: Steve Gorn, a player of the bansuri bamboo flute; bassist and singer Sean Frenette; and Port Townsend harpist David Michael.

Gorn “is one of the most exceptional Western players” of the bansuri, Benjy says.

While Heather sings and plays guitar, Benjy plays Eastern and Western instruments, from the tabla and esraj to the guitar, and keyboards. Shantala is an ancient word meaning the essence of peace, he notes. Benjy and Heather, who met some 14 years ago at a songwriting workshop, have since released six albums together, including “Ocean of Sound,” “The Love Window” and “Live in Love.”

As for their live kirtans, the couple don’t use the word “audience” much.

“We think of it as a co-creation,” Heather says.

Harpist Michael, whose Purnima Productions company is presenting Shantala, hailed his fellow musicians for their ability to put people at ease.

“Their style,” he said, “is very welcoming for beginners.”

While kirtan and Sanskrit come from the Hindu tradition, people of any or no religious background can enjoy this gathering, Heather emphasized.

Kirtan, she says, is simply “a great way to experience music and community.”

For more information about Wednesday’s event, phone 360-379-9732 or email harp@olympus.net.

Last modified: June 13. 2013 5:44PM
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