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Five Paths to Leading Kirtan

An Interesting Discovery

During a intensive group training program with advanced students in 2016, some deeply held and unarticulated assumptions of several longtime students came to the surface. I was surprised to discover their core assumptions about Kirtan, chant writing, practice, rehearsal and performance were different from mine in very important ways. This conflict almost derailed the training and the Kirtan event we put on at the conclusion of the program! 

This experience took me by surprise. After some reflection I began to see how I had unconsciously projected assumptions from MY particular path to Kirtan (mainly as Musician) onto my students, all of whom (in this program) had a lot of history as Performers (musical theater, acting, etc.).

As an Enneagram teacher I have seen over and over that projecting one's personality on others was a common (and unconscious) move which caused no shortage of mischief. I began to think it would be helpful to have a typology (like the Enneagram) for Kirtan Leaders that would allow me to differentiate others core assumptions from mine. 

Over time I was able to identify five unique paths to Kirtan Leadership:

  1. Musician
  2. Singer
  3. Performer
  4. Yogi
  5. Devotee.

I could see how each has its own core assumptions/practices, which generated unique strengths, limitations, and path of transformation. 

Understanding this has allowed me to help students leverage their strengths, keep an eye out for their limitations, and guide students on a customized path of transformation. 

So, what are these five paths?

THE "FIVE PATHS TO LEADING KIRTAN" TYPOLOGY

Here's a quick and dirty description of each of these paths. 

  1. Musician Path - training/experience for playing a musical instrument as a soloist, or in a band. 
  2. Singer Path - training/experience for singing publicly, in choirs, as as soloist or in a band.
  3. Performer Path - training/experience for being on stage as a singer, actor, comedian, etc. 
  4. Yogi Path - training/experience for being in the world of yoga asana as a practitioner or teacher. 
  5. Devotee Path - training/experience with deep spiritual practice, perhaps  with time spent in an ashram or spiritual community.

My Path to Kirtan Leadership

In my teens and twenties I dove deep into the study of Western music (reading music, and learning theory, composition and improvisation) as a professional saxophonist. 

I fortunate to have grown up in a town (West Hartford, CT) with a high school that possessed one of the top jazz programs in the country. Music director Bill Stanley launched this program in 1958, turning William H. Hall high school one of the first high schools in the United States to integrate jazz into its daily curriculum. 

The Concert Jazz Band is a ten-time finalist at the prestigious Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition at Lincoln Center and has repeatedly taken first place honors at the esteemed Berklee High School Jazz Festival. Individual members of the band consistently took top honors at district, state and national music festivals and competitions. (From http://www.hallhighjazz.com)

Thanks to Bill Stanley, I was fortunate to have two periods of music during each of my four years in high school. My senior year (1984) our Concert Jazz Band took top honors at the Berklee High School Jazz Festival, and I won the top scholarship for outstanding musicianship. A few weeks later we departed on a life-changing three week European concert tour through Italy, France, Belgium, Germany and Switzerland.

As part of this storied program, I had role models I could look up to, and was encouraged to expand my skills and grow into leadership. My senior year I was section leader of our saxophone section. We honed our ability as I led the section through weekly Sunday evening rehearsals. One featured song, titled I’ve Got What?, was a musical tour de force. Several years later I played this song in one of the top jazz ensembles at the Eastman School of Music, and my fellow saxophonists complained about its difficulty! 

IDENTITY

I went so deep into music during my teens and twenties that being a musician became inextricably intertwined with my identity as a human being, and (later in life) as a Kirtan Leader. I unconsciously held many of the assumptions embedded within the Musician Path.

Over time, I began to observe that when one of these paths played an oversized role in a student’s formative years (teens and twenties), it too would be deeply embedded in their identity in ways both beneficial and challenging to their evolution into a Kirtan Leader. 

(Hopefully you are getting curious about your own path and identity!)

Later in life I participated in the Yogi and Devotee Paths through things like tai chi, qigong, yoga, Aikido and time spent in ashrams. However, prior to age 34 (when I discovered Kirtan) I had virtually zero experience on the Performer or Singer Paths. Prior to discovering Kirtan in 2000 I had not sung at all. My experience was limited to  the paths of music, yoga and spiritual practice. 

My Path to Kirtan Leadership - Transformation

As I began the work of evolving into true Kirtan Leadership I found myself supported by the strong practice orientation and deep understanding of chords, melodies and rhythm found on the Musician Path. I had high standards and knew how to communicate with fellow musicians. There are some of the strengths of this path. 

My path of transformation demanded that I escape the trap of trying to mash Kirtan into musicianship (rather than expand musicianship into Kirtan). This is a common problem... so many of us try to squeeze Kirtan into what we have known, rather than evolve and unfold into what is truly required to open hearts and shine Divine Light through sacred chant. 

Moving beyond my limited identity as a Musician and into the multi-faceted practice  Kirtan Leadership demanded that I overcome the specific limitations of the Musician path. I needed do things like:

  • Develop as a singer
  • Learn to hold space for events
  • Build skill in managing the overactive inner critic I had developed during my years as a saxophonist.
  • Learn how to establish a strong public identity,
  • Get comfortable being center stage.
  • Develop the qualities of a charismatic leader. 

Leaning on my strengths, acknowledging and addressing my limitations, walking my path of transformation and staying open to grace were key for growing beyond being a musician who was dabbling in Kirtan, into true Kirtan Leadership. Twenty years in, this path continues to unfold. 

Five Paths to Kirtan Leadership

Since 2010 I have worked with thousands of sacred chant students at all levels – from newbies to total pros (albums, tours, festivals). My job is to meet each student where they are and guide them forward. This typology has been very useful in identifying the deep assumptions held by students, and supporting them in their development. This is why the motto of Kirtan Leader Institute is "Come for the music, stay for the transformation." 

Your Path

Above I outlined MY path to Kirtan Leadership. As you reflect on YOUR path to Kirtan it may become clear that you have experienced one, more than one, or none of these paths! No matter your history, you can learn to chant at home and share with others. 

INQUIRY

For those of you who are already Kirtan Leaders, or aspire to be, here are a few good questions to explore:

  • Which of these five paths have you traversed during your life?
  • How does this shape how you approach Kirtan?
  • What strengths do you bring to your practice of leading Kirtan? 
  • What challenges or limitations are you now aware of as a result of entering through one or more of these particular paths?
  • What is your growth edge? What challenges/limitations do you need to overcome? What skills and capacity's do you need to step more fully into being the Kirtan Leader you long to be?

GOING DEEPER

If you are interested in going deeper, please email [email protected] so I can send you (i) an article that describes the strengths, limitations and transformation for each of the five paths and (ii) a worksheet for exploring your unique path to Kirtan Leadership,

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