It’s not enough to learn the notes: now there’s meditation and… “downward dog”?

Lehigh University Choir does so much more than learn the notes when they prepare a concert. They dig deep into the cultures they sing about. Musical training, led by the director, can open up worlds of understanding; cultural context, history, even a new way to approach their own body.

In preparing for their upcoming concert, Choral Arts Music director Dr. Steven Sametz lined up guests presenters for a number of rehearsals. The first presenter arrived during Choir Camp; an intensive weekend rehearsal to welcome students back after winter break. Mark Moliterno, an accomplished bass-baritone has developed a practice known as “the yoga voice.” Mr. Moliterno’s approach explores the voice through the Classical application of yoga techniques. Through postures, breath and meditation practice, students were given the opportunity to discover connections between yoga and singing.

A short time after that, Arati Shah-Yukich presented information about chakras and meditation. Dr. Shah-Yukich is an Indian singer-soloist and tampura player.  She has co-written two large pieces with Dr. Sametz that have been done in the past by the Lehigh University Choral Arts:  “The Demon King” (with a 40-ft puppet of Krishna, dancers, Indian orchestra) and “Shamalyio” for women’s chorus, Indian orchestra and soloist.  Her current field of interest is Vedic healing through sound vibrations and the considerable literature on this subject in the Vedas.  During the rehearsal, she worked with the choir on vibrational energy in chakras.

At the rehearsals just before Spring break, two speakers were brought into rehearsals, Dakota Trout and Dr. Miguel Felipe. Mr. Trout demonstrated a unique vocal technique called “throat singing” which manipulates the vocal chords and oral cavity to produce overtones or multiple tones from one person. Mr. Trout’s expertise comes from years of Native American studies. According to Dr. Sametz, “The chanting tone in Native American culture seems remarkable similar to Tibetan tones, which is of course interesting since many elements of the cultures crossing the Bering Strait have commonalities.  So one can only begin to ponder the age of these connections.” Throat singing will be featured in the upcoming concert.

Separately, Dr. Miguel Felipe from the University of Hawaii spent about an hour working on pronunciation with one of the pieces on the program, “Luk Luk Lumbu.” One of the fields of Dr. Felipe’s research is Indonesian music and the transference of an instrumental form (gamelan) to “vocables” that are used to recreate the sounds of gamelan in a choir. He spoke about Indonesian tuning, the history of the area and worked with the choir on the Indonesian style.

A significant percentage of the singers in the Lehigh University Choral Arts program are not music majors. They participate in the choir for the love of singing. While they enjoy singing, they are learning so much more about other cultures. No matter their major or life ambition, their commitment to music led by a director who thoroughly understands the impact of physical awareness, will be life-long memories of their time at Lehigh University.

Those of us who are privileged to hear this concert either on March 23rd or March 24th can lean in a little closer to the sounds of the human voice and wonder, “what does that feel like?” Audiences can do a little bit of their own investigation into the cultural context of the program by attending the pre-concert lectures. Friday night, Professor Norman Girardot of Religion Studies will discuss aspects of Eastern Mysticism. Saturday night, Professor Gordon Bearn will discuss aspects of spiritual mysticism.

For more details on the concert, please link here.