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from a radio interview with John Pittman of KBPS
Portland, Oregon

(air date January 21, 2003)

How long have you been singing Hildegard's chants?

I began performing Hildegard's music in 1990. I have been specializing in her music, and tying it in with energy awareness, healing, and mysticism for over a decade.

Who was Hildegard of Bingen?

Hildegard lived 900 years ago. She was born in central Germany into a noble family. She was the tenth child of the family, and many believe that she became a nun as part of the system of tithing 10 percent to the Catholic Church.

In reality, by the time Hildegard decided to become a nun, one of her elder brothers was already pursuing a career in the priesthood.

By the age of six it was clear to her parents that Hildegard was not suited to run a noble household. She had a tendency to fall into trances, she had a weak constitution and fell ill easily, and suffered from what Oliver Sacks believes to have been prolonged migraine headaches.

Hildegard explained her experiences as being deeply in contact with God or Spirit, and from that she says her music evolved. She wrote down in words what she was hearing. during these times of deep communion. She described to others what she was seeing, and from these descriptions her illuminations were born. She said she heard a 'Cosmic Symphony,' during these times, and from that comes the seventy-seven songs we have of hers, as well as the morality play.

In this time period most people did not sign their names to their writings or music, unless a higher authority, such as a cardinal, empowered them to do so. Hildegard received such a blessing for her work from the pope himself. Taking into account all of her works that survive, she is the most representative figure of humanities that we have for the 12th century in northern Europe.

Towards the end of her life one of her assistants began to write her autobiography. Reading between the lines it seems that she was not satisfied with the effort and began to write it herself. She passed before she completed it, and it was finished by her assistant.

From this we have a description of her early childhood in her own words. At age 6 she entered into the local monastery with the daughter of a nearby family. Later in life, as a teenager, she decided to take the veil and become a nun of the Benedictine order.

She continued to experience God or Spirit in terms of music, words, and pictures internally. At age 42 she began to share with others what was going on. Up until that time she had kept her experiences to herself.


How does this relate to Gregorian Chant?

Hildegard's music is from the same time period, and her music was re-written into Gregorian style notation. But here the similarities to the Gregorian Chant (made popular by the Chant CD of the monks of Silos) end.

For me, Hildegard's music is a sensual feast of the heart. Hildegard uses melodies that are extremely florid. Where Gregorian chant uses one or two notes per syllable, Hildegard uses one or two or three or four or more notes. Her chants often run two octaves, where as the more familiar Gregorian chant tends to use an octave or less.

Hildegard wrote music as a means for people to come into communion with spirit. When she is setting words such as 'starlight', or 'power' she will color the text by using huge leaps of the voice moving an octave and a half in four notes, or having notes 'rub' against the central or tonic tone.

One of the more unusual aspects in my performances is that I incorporate Tibetan singing bowl as a tool to create a tonic drone. I also invite the audience to add specific notes (tonic and/or dominant) during some chants. In this fashion I create a harmonic underpinning for the chant. As I am singing there are overtones that ring in the room, so it seems as if many tones are sounding, and thereby it becomes the Symphony that Hildegard heard.

The Tibetan bowls that I am using are both antique seven metal bowls. They bear the marks of the monks who made them in Tibet, and were most likely used in a monastic setting. As I use them with Hildegard's chants it creates an 'east meets west' scenario. The sensuality and spirituality of Eastern meditation is drawn into the Western chants of Hildegard.


Most modern audiences attend concerts and listen passively. Your concerts seem to be much different.

Did you know that the word concert evolves out of the Old Italian word 'concertare'? We still use the original meaning in English when we speak of 'being in concert' or 'to work in concert'. So concert actually means 'to bring into agreement', or 'to come together'.

As people hum the notes they feel their voice literally meeting my voice as I'm singing. If anyone has sung in a choir it is that experience of being together, of having the sound being all through your body, all around you, and not knowing whether it is your voice or the person next to you that is sounding in your ears. It is as if you lose track of who is singing and when you are breathing and it becomes one big bubble of sound, and you are encased in that sound.


How does this relate to healing?

I love exploring how sound magnifies what we are thinking about. As I focus on well-being, gentleness, joy or just having fun, people in the audience pick this up. It is as if the emotion or sensation of my thoughts is carried on the music out to those listening. In the workshops I show people how they may already be doing this and transmitting unconscious information to others. I also demonstrate how to do this in their speaking as well as singing voice. You don't have to know how to sing to use this technique. It works in conversations with others, as well as chanting.


Why don't you teach chakra chant?

If you place your awareness somewhere in your body, and breath from that area and sound a tone, the energy of the tone goes back to wherever your focus is in your body. In terms of sound and healing I work with intention and how to set that intentionality so you can use sound to clear physical patterns as well as the related mental and emotional issues. I don't believe in adding energy to a pattern, but in releasing it.

Why do you use Hildegard's music?

I could be using Beethoven Lieder, or French Chanson, or atonal songs of the 20th century. All music carries intention and energy. The question for me is, to what do I want to give my attention?

Hildegard's chant is the first music I've run into where people had very strong reactions as I sang. In my first concert I saw people crying, and several people got up and left during the concert.

I've never had people have such strong reactions when I've sung other music. Audiences seem to enjoy my singing, and with Hildegard's music people have tangible responses. They become so relaxed that they release into gentle weeping, not out of sorrow, but out of a sense of being 'home'. People say that they have a sensation of feeling good afterwards, of feeling lighter in their bodies. From time to time I receive letters months after someone has attended a concert, and they recount how they received some sort of 'ah-ha' around an issue that they were entangled with in their life.

I find that Hildegard's music has just the right amount of structure to have beauty and form, and just the right amount of openness so that people can place their own experience in the music.

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