A night of contemplation: Music at the Dairy and Naropa University team up for a show of Buddhist music

Courtesy of Jay Keister

Courtesy of Jay Keister

Boulder Weekly
Thursday, October 15,2015
By Peter Alexander

There will be ancient chants. There will be jazz and contemporary compositions. There will be Taiko drumming and masked dancers.

“All of this and more!” as the ads might say, are on the program for “Contemplation,” an evening of music inspired by, or related to, Buddhism, presented by Music at the Dairy and Naropa University on Monday, Oct. 19, at the Dairy Center for the Arts.

The program is intentionally something of a potpourri. Music producer for the Dairy, James Bailey says the event was planned to be “a broad look at music and how it has been influenced by Buddhism, as opposed to a particular style of music, or a particular country, or a particular sect of Buddhism.”

If the program seems bewilderingly eclectic, that’s OK. “It’s designed to be music that keeps the audience off balance, which is one of my favorite things to do,” Bailey says. “Like a lot of productions I do, you’ll never hear anything like this again.”

Very likely not. The program features, a variety of acts, all of which will come together to provide a unique look at various aspects of Buddhism and music.

Although it sounds very different, music in Buddhist ceremonies often has a function similar to the role of music in Christian traditions. “It functions as an offering in any ceremony,” explains Buddhist Priest Mason Brown. He will be performing, “Bombai,” an ancient chant, along with another Buddhist Priest Martin Mosko. “It also functions to create karmic merit that is dedicated to all beings, and it serves to inspire people with religious feelings.”

Brown and Mosko, who were ordained Buddhist priests at the same Zen Temple in Japan, will perform the only Buddhist ceremonial music on the program. “This is a Japanese Buddhist chant from the Soto- Zen school,” Brown says. “It’s the longest melodic chant that we have, so it’s very rarely used, for very special ceremonies.

“It takes about 10 minutes to do. It’s just a long melisma (an ornamental phrase of music sung on a single syllable of text) on the character ‘Myo,’ which means wondrous and is the first word in the title of the Lotus Sutra. So basically it is invoking that sutra just by chanting the first word of the title.”

Although not ceremonial in character, other music on the program comes from Buddhist cultures. The Jay and Mami Keister Ensemble and Boulder Taiko Hibiki drummers will perform music that originates in the Chinese and Japanese Lion Dance, which is done today at Shinto and Buddhist festivals. Jay Keister, explains that this performance will feature masked characters representing gods and goddesses from Japan.

“They look really silly,” Keister says. “When they appear, the gods look comic because they’re sacred clowns. They are sort of reminding us of our human-ness.”

Another piece Keister and his ensemble will perform deals with common Buddhist principles. “This piece refers to three worlds of Buddhism: A world of desires, that’s the world we live in; a world free from desires; and a world beyond our existence, which would be a Buddhist paradise.”

Also in the show is music written by long-time Boulder resident and Naropa faculty member Bill Douglas, who converted to Buddhism 46 years ago. “Paul Fowler will be singing songs of mine, and I’ll be accompanying him on piano and singing a little bit of harmony with him,” he says.

Some of the songs have texts by the Buddha, revered teachers from Buddhist history, and Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, current head of Shambhala Buddhist lineage.

“In addition, we’ll do a couple of songs that use classic English [language] poems that resonate with the Buddhist teachings,” Douglas adds. “We’ll also do my most performed choral piece, ‘Deep Peace.’ It uses an ancient Gaelic blessing as its text, which definitely has a Buddhist quality to it.”

There is of course much more, music by composers and performers who have been touched and shaped in various ways by Buddhism.

“I think it will be interesting for people to hear how different styles of music have been influenced by Buddhists, from the most profound to something that’s maybe more superficial,” Bailey concludes. “There’s music for Buddhist services, there’s music for jazz clubs, there’s music for concert halls.

“There’s not a button you can push anywhere to hear this music, especially in it’s entirety as a concert.”

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