My first experience of a pilgrimage organised by the Gatekeeper Trust was in 1990, when Peter and Sarah Dawkins led a group of us to some of the cathedrals of northern France, as well as the palaces of Fontainebleu and Versailles. We sang in the wonderful acoustics of the gothic cathedrals of Amiens, Beauvais and Senlis.
Up until that time, I had sung a lot in choirs, but the singing we did together on this pilgrimage felt so authentically holy and beautiful. I had a deep sense that pilgrimage, and especially singing together on pilgrimage, was what I was born to do.
A couple of years later, a few of us led by Caroline McCausland, got together to record a collection of chants which became the Gatekeeper Chants cassette tape and later CD. (https://gatekeeper.org.uk/product/gatekeeper-chants-cd/) We recorded the chants over a weekend, and I remember feeling that whole experience was like a version of heaven. I am reminded now of the words of Beinsa Douno (the Bulgarian mystic who developed Paneurhythmy) who said that “Singing is a memory of Paradise”.
Since those years in the early 1990s, music, particularly singing, have continued to be central in my life. On pilgrimages and retreats, I have noticed how singing together has had a noticeable impact both on the participants and on the place in which we sing. Singers are often touched, especially if we really sing from our hearts. Singing helps us connect with our heart centre. If we sing something beautiful, then this beauty helps the heart to open further. As the heart opens, we may experience tears, or we may experience joy or both… I sometimes feel a deep inner freedom.
One of the beauties of chants is that they are designed to be sung repeatedly like a mantra. This then opens the gate to a state of consciousness in which we do not have to think about what comes next, but rather the music sings through us. This is what I call heart consciousness (also known as unitive or non-dual consciousness). As far as I understand it, this is the state of consciousness that Jesus referred to when he spoke of the kingdom of heaven being within us. (Photo – The Choir at Wells Cathedral)
Singing also has an impact on the place in which we sing. On pilgrimages, many of us have noticed how singing can have a healing or cleansing impact. It is important to connect with the presence of the place to sense what sort of singing or sounding would be appropriate (if any). Sometimes it is best to just be silent and to listen. Singing can help us connect with the angelic presences of a place and there have been times when it seems as if the angels respond with a gift.
An example of this was the stunningly beautiful sunset on Lake Constance which occurred after we had sung to the angel of the landscape on a pilgrimage in 2019. (Photo)
Over the last few years, I have noticed how singing in harmony can add another layer of beauty to some (not all) songs and chants. Since retiring from the NHS, I have recently started to offer “Singing from the Heart” workshops around the country. The idea of these workshops is to give participants an experience of singing as spiritual practice. We sing sacred songs and chants and learn some simple harmonies. We do this by ear so there is no need to read music.
For the last hour of each workshop we offer a singing prayer in which we sing all the songs we have learnt as a prayerful offering. So far, the singing days have been in Wells, Warwick, Mellor (near Stockport), Lake Constance and North Germany. My intention is to revisit each workshop venue once a year and add some more venues in time.
Sarah Dawkins and I have also been offering weekends of dancing Paneurhythmy and singing together in North Yorkshire and Sussex, which have been a joy.
Unfortunately, most of the events planned for this year have had to be cancelled because of the pandemic. So, it will be all the sweeter when we can get together to sing again.
(Photo – Fan Vaulting, Wells Cathedral.)
If you are interested in joining one of these events in the future, then please do get in touch with me by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Past Chair of GK Trustees.