Photo by Krystal Marie Collins

In Concert: Kirtan

Those who circulate in a yogi crowd have likely heard of Kirtan. Literally, it’s a group call and response reciting of sanskrit hymns and mantras. Emotionally, it is much more. Breyn Marr Hibbs, founder of Sol Alchemy Temple where Kirtan is hosted says, “It’s devotional singing from the heart. It’s the path of Bhakti in yogic tradition, the path of devotion.”
Sol Alchemy first began hosting Kirtan, or song circles, in 2014. Hibbs explains, “I had a number of people in the Sol Alchemy community asking me to please pull together a chanting and/or song circle, and I said yes to the call of the community, but I didn’t know how the heck I was going to make it happen. I’m not personally a trained musician or singer, so I wasn’t sure how to lead the circle.”
When Hibbs met musician Katrina Rose Kniest at a Winter Solstice weekend Kirtan retreat, Hibbs found her answer, and her future partner.
The nature of Kirtan is inclusive and fluid. Sitting in a circle means everyone is equally heard and seen. Call and response and a song sheet with lyrics removes pressure for memorization. To boot, finding harmony with the rhythm and melody is quite predictable and comfortable for the novice.
Some participants bring their own Indian instruments while others barrow from a pile in the center of the circle. Accompaniment is improvisational. Kniest starts most chants leading with her guitar and April Nakini Groom, music teacher, compliments with the harmonium, which to the unfamiliar would be comparable to a cross between an accordion and Linus’s small piano. Julie Southwell, director of Ashtanga Yoga and a tenure string musician, often plays violin or guitar. Josh Williams, founder of Cascadian Massage Therapy, provides a rare treat with tabla, a Northern Indian drum with a timbre or metal disk in the center of the stretched hyde.
Kniest speaks to the concept of all skill levels being welcome saying, “Some people have a wound around singing. Maybe they were told by someone they weren’t a good singer. Kirtan is a great way to clear away any of the blockages we might have around feeling self-conscious about singing. Everyone can sing, and all sound directed through the heart is sacred. Singing in this context is an expression of our soul and our song circles are built on a foundation of non-judgment and total acceptance. Self expression is encouraged.”
Hibbs says, “One of the things I love most about Kirtan is that no musical or instrumental training is necessary! I bring my voice and my heart and that’s enough!”
Song circles are held the first Sunday of each month from 7-8:30pm at Sol Alchemy and all are welcome. Larger Kirtan events or concerts are also held at Sol Alchemy., 541-285-4972

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