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photo by Garin Horner

reprinted from the March 2001 issue of




In the pink binding of a book of sacred, medieval chant, soprano Norma Gentile's interest in early music met her budding fascination with mystical healing energies.

Color led Gentile to Hildegard von Bingen's music. The U-M Master's graduate in voice was preparing for a 1990 trip to a spiritual community in the California desert. As she browsed drab, brown and black book spines at U-M looking for sheet music to accompany her visit, the vibrant salmon binding of Latin chants by the 12th-century German Catholic nun caught her eye. "I noticed there was a reference to nature, to earth...to the feminine side of God," she says.

Powerful reactions evoked by the chants hinted at healing power. "When I sang Hildegard's music the energy in the room shifted," she anotes, "Music or sound magnifies things that are already going on in people," she says. This resonated with her study of attunement, a form of energy healing similar to Reiki that works with the energy of change in people. "It looks at a habit pattern, a belief system that they're right at the verge of shifting," she explains. Guided by cues, it uses tones to magnify the meaning of inner energy, addressing causes rather than symptoms.

Voice has guided the Detroit-area native. Although Gentile studied music composition at U-M, a professor insisted she pursue voice. In 1982, she traveled to Zaragoza in northeastern Spain to teach voice. Spared from the destruction of war, Zaragoza's early music instruments and archives remained intact, attracting many famous European music scholars. Gentile assisted then with her understanding of Spanish, English and music, bringing her wealth of experience back to Ann Arbor in 1985 to form Oriana, a baroque ensemble that included members of the popular Ars Musica [Baroque Orchestra].

Drawing on a lifetime of love for the power of the voice, Gentile explores the healing energy of sound through the music of Hildegard von Bingen. "Some part of me knew that I needed to integrate the music into some aspect of helping people," she muses.