Cambridge Buddhist Centre



'Singing is Being' RG Rilke

Our teacher and founder Sangharakshita has famously said that a choir is a Sangha (spiritual community) at least whilst it is singing. One could say Sangha is a community living out it's own nature or potential to grow and encourage growth. In a choir I see this happening in three spheres.

For the individual singing is itself enlivening which, depending on ones life situation can range from being a tonic to an essential need. The health and well being benefits of singing are well known. As well as this singing offers a path of growing confidence and ability as one moves from being a follower of stronger singers to a leader of weaker singers. One of the delights for me of working with a choir is to see people changing their view of themselves. They turn up reluctantly, saying they are not a singer and later find themselves, a brighter happier person, performing to an audience. This is part of a bigger process of opening up to being more truly and fully yourself with other people.

For one's relationships singing is a powerful agent. To sing asks a person to 'open up' – open the voice and the body, sharing what is in one's heart and listening to others do the same. Through this process (and chats during tea break), people mysteriously change their relationships with each other, social walls come down. I believe, music soc. snootiness aside, when one sings one is human first. Class distinctions, nationality, even ability to some extent are secondary to this. Singing therefore brings people together.

Given these two spheres of change mentioned choirs are clearly of benefit to people though it is through an audience that singing is brought to completion. Whether it's Fannie Lou Hamer singing her message of dignity and courage to the oppressors of her community in the face of racial violence, a concert choir being taken into the heart of an individual or a more personal celebration fondly spoken of for years to come. A choir has the power to speak to people.

Any of these spheres may be more important for a particular individual at a particular time but for a community choir to live out its potential, all three are important.

We of course have a lot of fun along the way, which is a major part of all of the above! At our best, when we become more truly alive and sing from that experience we are enriched, we share and we collectively communicate a glimmer of the deeper potentialities in consciousness, known by Buddhists as the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.

The process of learning in an encouraging and fun context, a small amount of regular practice at home with MP3’s, building into a final performance of a piece like Bohemian Rhapsody or Rutter’s Gaelic Blessing is often a magical experience making the small amount of commitment and challenge required thoroughly worthwhile. From ones first memorisation of notes to the collective creation of a rich harmonic texture, one can wonder at the transformation; what’s more singing beautiful music opens ones heart and can take one to an inner space which is also shared, a bit like a collective meditation with it’s own subtle, transformative power. Singing with like-minded people in this way is a real pleasure, dissolving barriers and building warm connections across a range of ages and nationalities in the Sangha. Having benefited ourselves from this weekly dosage, we then perform in a range of informal settings like Dharma Buns and on festival days bringing our enthusiasm and love of beauty out into the wider community.

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