A unique offering may be presented to the sacred hill Giri Govardhana upon the October 24th festival of Govardhana Puja this year.
Renowned UK musician and singer Jayadeva Das (John Richardson) will put together a virtual version of his Mantra Choir project in which over 108 – and possibly as many as 300 or 400 – singers will harmonize through their webcams on a mantra in praise of Govardhana.
The resulting track will then be posted to Youtube on Govardhana Puja with an accompanying video featuring all the singers.
It’s the next ambitious step in the Mantra Choir project, started by Jayadeva in 2010. A former drummer with pop group The Rubettes, who sold twenty million records in the 1970s, Jayadeva wanted a way to attract the mainstream to the Holy Names of Krishna.
“So I devised pop-type tunes with different names of the Lord and multi-level harmonies that would have the audience singing and driving the process forward, rather than me,” he says. “I wanted to involve them, to make it their baby.”
At each Mantra Choir event, Jayadeva splits the audience into two to four groups depending on its size. He then gives each group a different mantra in the same theme – for instance, names of Lord Krishna’s avatar Vamanadeva like Trivikrama and Upendra. And he teaches them each a different counterpoint harmony to sing the mantras in.
“Once I have one section singing, I get the next section of the audience to sing their counterpoint, and so on, and we build the whole thing up like that,” he says.
Several mantras are performed by the audience at each event, including Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya, songs about the Lord’s different avatars, a song incorporating all the followers of Lord Chaitanya with the refrain “Gaura Bhakta Vrinda,” and of course the Hare Krishna mantra.
In between the songs, Jayadeva takes the opportunity to explain the power of sound and the importance of mantras, introduce Lord Chaitanya as the founder of kirtan, talk about the importance of gratitude, and tell stories about the Lord’s avatars.
Jayadeva usually appears with his full band comprising of himself with an accordion, a bass player, keyboardist, cello player and drummer, and has played in a variety of venues including community centers, yoga clubs, hotels, and even a cruise ship.
So far, he has held Mantra Choir events in 15 countries and 107 different cities.
And now, his Virtual Mantra Choir will be the 108th.
To everyone who responds quickly enough to his call, Jayadeva is sending a recording of the music for his track “Giri Govardhan!” with only his voice on it. Along with it are recorded instructions for participants on how to sing their part.
Participants will then turn on their webcam or digital camera and film their head and shoulders singing their part, while wearing headphones so that the backing track doesn’t interfere with their voice.
Finally, they’ll send the video to Jayadeva’s production team, who will edit all the submissions together to create an attractive eight-minute music video that will begin with mantras in praise of Govardhana hill and continue with the Hare Krishna mantra as it builds into a lush pop soundscape.
The video, which will be posted to Youtube and shared on Facebook, will feature the “singing heads” of many of the likely hundreds of Mantra Choir singers from all over the world, and will credit them all at the end of the film.
Jayadeva is asking everyone he knows who can hold a tune to take a couple of hours to record their bit. Singers featured will be from both the Hare Krishna and mainstream communities, and most will be from the general populace rather than already-known recording artists.
There will, however, be a few voices you might have heard before: kirtan singers Vaiyasaki Das from the US, Ananda Monet from the UK, Gitanjali from Australia, and Jayadeva’s own daughter Gaurangi (also known as Pia) will all contribute, as will Colin Chisolm, who previously performed with the 1970s group Bilbo Baggins and appeared on The Voice UK in 2013.
Jayadeva has extremely ambitious hopes that the Virtual Mantra Choir will bring his Mantra Choir project to a new level.
“Eventually, within about five years, we want to build up to big gigs and then stadiums with 20,000 plus people,” he says. “I want to create a new genre where the Holy Names can be sung and heard by everyone in a really fun way with no expectations attached.”
This, he feels, will have a transformational effect.
“The great thing about the Mantra Choir is, you have to concentrate to be able to get the harmonies, so it immerses people in the Holy Names,” he says. “And at the end of each Mantra Choir experience, you see people feeling healed, ecstatic and very happy.”
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To participate in Jayadeva’s Virtual Mantra Choir, please write to him at email@example.com. Participants must be able to keep time and sing in tune. All submissions are due by the end of September.
The Mantra Choir album “Jayadev & Friends: You Are The Music” is available on iTunes.
Jan 22, 2022
Sunanda Das, tovp.org