From the Heart, Blog!
From the village through the ghettos : Zimbabwe 2015
Hearing a prayer answered, I received a call from my first Mbira (African thumb piano) teacher, Pete Dumas who orignally showed me Mbira music in the mountains of Northern California years earlier. Love at first listen I continued to seek Mbira teachings and found my way to Hawaii to eventually study & receive my first Mbira from grammy award winner & my personal friend Chris Berry of Panjea. Humble beginings brought a deep love for an instrument I held close as a means to pray, found at a time I was working through some deep personal healings. Fast forward to the skype call from my homey Pete Dumas from Zimbabwe around Thanksgiving 2015," Come to Zimbabwe Gretchen! The family I live with is of the Shona lion tribe in Nyamweda, Mhondoro traditional Mbira players and teachers, spirit mediums, herbalists & the Mother is a midwife! There daughter will have her baby soon! The family has invited to Come!" This call came like a thunder bolt of lightning, struck by the power of the perfection of the timing, the teachings I would have an opportunity to receive & the open door--I walked through.
I arrived in Zimbabwe early January 2015 beginning the new year in a new country, new culture, new language & a willingness to learn everything I could about the Shona tribes & modern day culture including Shona language, Mbira music, dance, and ways of mystic life. Mbira music is traditionally used for two main reasons of which a central cord remains--connection to ancestoral lineage through spirit mediumship invoked through Mbira music. One reason Mbira music is played is for celebration (to give thanks) the other is to ask for guidance. Of central importance in traditional Shona culture is the recognition, respect & spiritual communication with ancestors of which assistance is possible through spirit mediums, those with a special connection to the Spirits. Three weeks of my time was spent in the traditional manner among the Nyamweda Mhondoro village of Lion clan family with Caution & Mama Love Shonai & their four children, one of which was pregnant and gave birth while I was staying with them, a great blessing :) I was later asked to name the baby boy of which I chose the name "Blessings Our Brother" as all children are, his Shona name is, "Zvipo Kumwanakomana Wedu.Thats Blessings Our Brother.Promise thats Vimbiso." An honor I was told is extended to those who show special loving care & bring offereings for a new born baby.
Life in traditional living is by hand & foot, what I mean by that is if you want to visit someone, you walk, if you want something (water, fire, a game to play, music to hear etc) you do it with your own hands, very little modern day amenities exist in Shona villages. Water is fetched from the well with a bucket and pulled up with a rope (see video of my Mama in Zimbabwe) , food is cooked over fire lovingly tended by the frequent all day runs to fetch sticks from the bush to feed the fire, if you don't have chickens and your fortunate to have a neighbor who does, a walk (often a long walk) to get the eggs or live chicken is an activity for the day, by night stories and music are shared around the round hut house kitchen & fire before sleeping under a big blanket of stars in a shared small house (commonly). Family life is central to the everyday activities in Zimbabwe, cooking, cleaning, caring for kids & celebrating as often as possible! The smiles & laughter, the spontaneous dance parties anywhere and everywhere will forever live in my mind & heart. Maitabasa Zimbabwe (thank you)!
On the other side of things, three weeks of my time in Zimbabwe were spent traveling through the city, ghettos surrounding the capitol city Harare. Mbira music in these places includes more dance style, up beat & yet traditionally respectful of the roots in ancestoral connection through music. With my ukulele, voice & Mbira in hand I was able to travel with urban Shamans (spirit mediums) to the homes of more Mbira players, schools with delighted children & wild combi (local bus) rides throughout the region. Music has a created a bridge of peace from culture to culture, land to land, language to language that meets at the heart through rhythm, sound & breath--I am forever grateful for the connections I made and continue to cultivate with high vision for the continuation of this rich culture that makes the Shona people who they are!
I pray to return one day sharing more music, more care for our children & families & love for Mama Africa! Please stay tuned as projects are forming to support the continuation of Zimbabwe arts & culture & the creation of a orphanage to care for the many children without families today due to many factors, including an extremely high level of HIV/AIDS spread throughout Zimbabwe. Forever in my Heart--Maitabasa Zimbabwe!
To Support, contact & or study with my teachers in Zimbabwe:
Tichakunda Mbira (Formal Mbira group name-albums available)
For Purchasing Mbiras Non-Profit (funds directly benefit local community-Hungwe) please contact Pete Dumas on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pete.dumas.9
A Classic Experience:
Those who know me well know my deepest Love lives in the world of sound-music & 6 years of Bel Canto formal training led me this experience I share as a means to inspire, connect & align with like minded musicians--this is not just music, this is a path of deep reflection marking growth, development and praying for positive social change & upliftment through cultivating the gift of Song.
This is an email conversation I had before being selected as a guest opening speaker Times Square NYC at the Classical Singer Convention & sits deep in the heart of my musical & spiritual turning points. This is why I Sing:
Dear Professional Track Attendees,
The Classical Singer Convention is fast approaching and we have two
questions for you.
1. Why do you sing? What makes you endure all the challenges of this
career and keep going?
2. Success is defined in many ways, not just with the capture of that
elusive leading role at the Met. Please share one story of a success
you have found.
Thoughtfully reply to this e-mail with an answer to one or both of
these questions and you may be one of the few selected to share their
proclamation of purpose or story of success during this year's
Convention. In addition, selected stories will be featured in future
issues of Classical Singer magazine.
Please send all submissions by this coming Monday, May 10th.
We'll see you in 3 weeks!
Editor in Chief
Classical Singer Corp. P.O. Box 1710 Draper, UT 84020 T:877-515-9800
QA #1: I sing because I breathe :) Breathing and singing are hand in hand, I inhale and I sing, inhale and sing. I'm always singing wherever I go, it's my passion. It's a gift that I choose to share with as many people as I can. I endure the challenges because I love it and not in the sense of romanticised love but in the form of pure and spiritual love. I've been blessed to have learned from some powerful teachers, some I've only read about. For instance, Maria Callas said, "Vowels are the sounds the heart makes (the soul) consonants give meaning." Singing is powerful and draws on more than just words but luckily singers are given the gift of poetry with our instrument to tell stories-to engage our listeners even more.
I once heard about love described in terms of a relationship: When two lovers first meet they are wild, attracted to one another, passionate, all full of kissing and lust "IN love" and crazy! But once (to put it plainly)the period of insanity wears off, the two people are forced to look at what is left and decide whether or not it's worth it to continue. After it all, if you couldn't even imagine going through the rest of your life without that person then you know. That's true love.
I feel this way about singing. At first it was crazy childhood facination, singing everywhere I went, entertaining the family and friends but without any formal training just crazy about music. Later, after having some let downs reality sets in and then I had to ask myself...do I love singing this much? I know I can't go the rest of my life without singing, having found a love like this, so I stay, I endure whatever comes happiness and heartbreak and I grow. My life is forever changed because I love so deep, I didn't ask for this voice but I've chosen to cultivate it because I can't imagine another way.
(end of email)
Later, this became a published article in the Classical Singer Magazine & the dream lives on...may your's Live on too! Follow your Bliss, Heart & 'SIng' in the ways you do! Passionate & True.
Devotional Practice: Yoga Breath be thy Guide
As I kneel down to the ground touching my forehead ajna chakra third eye intuitive center to the Mother Earth on my mat this morning I inhale gratitude & exhaling even deeper gratitude. The mat, she is my friend, my companion, my teacher, space holder, magic carpet & prayer rug. I have cried, sweat, bled (moon time) on this mat, held in the space I have allowed myself to enter to heal, grow & further support the high frequency living, the loving perception of Life yoga promotes. Teachers have come to my mat physically, energetically, spiritually gracefully to teach me & in deep gratitude and in daily prostrations I remember each one sending them respectful gracious blessings. Through my breath today I remember where I have been, some places darker than others, I remember who I want to be--lighter brighter & more supportive to the birthing Mamas I work with, more supportive to the students I will share yoga with, more supportive to myself--loving myself to share the gift of Song in a good way.
I breathe and almost cry realizing what yoga has brought to my life, practice, devotion, a way to move a prayer through my physical body, a way to heal to nourish, strengthen and connect with Mother Life to name only a few gifts. Yoga is my practice, for Life, literally to increase the Life Force moving through my being--yoga gives me Life & the breath moves Life into the spaces I didn't realize Life was missing or I didn't allow Life force to flow. Activating my whole being in preparation for the upcoming Baron Baptiste Power Yoga Vinyasa Flow teacher training in Sedona, AZ has led me to the roots of Vinyasa flow (Ashtanga Yoga) "a system of yoga transmitted to the modern world by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (1915-2009). This method of yoga involves synchronizing the breath with a progressive series of postures—a process producing intense internal heat and a profuse, purifying sweat that detoxifies muscles and organs. The result is improved circulation, a light and strong body, and a calm mind." (This excerpt from Ashtanga.com) I have been studying with my dear friend, Colee G--my teacher at her family owned yoga studio (husband & kids) at the Hilo Shala. Hilo, Big Island, Hawaii.
Colee is the real deal, arriving with Loving energetic and hands on support for the development of our personal practice 4 mornings a week leading three more group led classes on top of that weekly. As a Mother the yoga continues in her practice of positve loving communication with her two young boys and constantly inspires my practice to arrive to Life with a Heart held high, a smile and deep breaths. Bowing to Colee G!
In personal reflection, sometimes I flow with ease, other times I need a stronger prayer to make it through, no matter where I am, no matter where I am going I have a yoga practice to support the positive empowerment of my well being & a means to reflect on my experiences, motivations & intentions and activate those intentions I choose consciously.
As I move today, breathe today, I move gratitude for practice through my breath, blood & bones knowing myself without this practice, the struggle, the wandering mind, the physical misalignments the attraction of darker energies--we all have it...we all have the light body and the shadow side and I value the teachings, however, yoga has helped me connect to a clear path, a practice a daily prayer and choose how I will show up to Life off the mat.
Today I bow in gratitude to all ascended Masters, realized beings, bodhisattvas & all those who arrive to their mats as they are willing to transform our own baggage into compost to nourish the flowers of our Heart, all those who have been through challenges, heart breaks, loss & struggle who have made it through to the other side choosing Life--these are my teachers!
As for my tears, my Sis, Veronica Webb (Yoga instructor & water woman) tells me, "Tears water the seeds of the Heart". Today I tear for gratitude & pray more and more people find their way. Grateful to be on Yogic sabbatical at this time and eager to begin sharing yoga teachings again soon. Please stay tuned for location & details when the time of teaching begins again :) With Love,