Meditative tunes: Breathe, lean back, drift away

John Wubbenhorst and Facing East

at the Prism
Saturday, October 2

I regret to say that my college experience wasn't the best. I spent most of the four years attempting to sleep my way to graduation. I despised waking up at any time of the day to go to class. There was an exception, however. On a whim I enrolled in a 200 level religion class called Intro to Buddhism, which soon became the highlight of my week.

That class was my first encounter with the practice of meditation. I remember clearly being in meditation workshop, sitting with legs crossed, taking long, deep breaths while focusing on a single color. The object was to focus on that color until the entire room became that color.

Sounds like a crock until the first time it happens. The room begins to change, you start losing feeling in your lower body, each breath feels as if it's lifting the weight of the world from you. The experience changed me.

When I left school, I left the dates, formulas, tests, and scores along with it. One of the few things I carried with me was meditation. For a few years I practiced on my own, clearing my head of unnecessary thoughts. Even though the discipline to meditate regularly soon faded, I found that various everyday occurrences would trigger my mind back in that meditative state.

Saturday evening at the Prism I found myself in the company of four musicians, John Wubbenhorst and Facing East, who used their music to meditate. I wasn't listening to them for very long before I too was being drawn into that same meditative state.

Wubbenhorst is a master of the bansuri, a type of Indian flute that looks like a decorated, hollowed-out piece of wood with holes drilled into it. He was accompanied by a man named Ganesh who played an Indian instrument called a kanjira, a small hand-held drum that produces tones dependent on how wet the drum skin is.

Although the instruments sound simple, mastering them takes decades of practice. Wubbenhorst and Ganesh were accompanied by Steve Zerlin on bass and Tom Canning on keys. All four men had an academic as well as spiritual grasp of their instruments.

The music they played combines contemporary jazz with the traditional music of south India in a fashion that's as mystical as it is complex. Throughout the performance, Wubbenhorst adjusted the tones coming from a little box that produced a sound similar to dijeridoo. Its vibrating hum reverberated even through the breaks in the performance. Over top of the hum, the quartet performed odd-time compositions (very close to raga music) the last of which employed eight and a half beats per measure.

The performance lasted almost two hours with no break, but at the end, I felt as if I had been sitting for no longer than 45 minutes. I could not tell how long each individual song was because with the first few notes I was caught in a trance created by the steady swinging drum of the kanjira and the relaxing sounds of the bansuri.

Entering the Prism I was scatterbrained and distracted. By the end of the performance of John Wubbenhorst and Facing East, I felt as if I were back in that old meditation workshop. Their music allowed me to clear my mind and breathe deeply. Their spirit seemed to fill every person in the room.

I left all smiles because not only had I reconnected with a bit of myself, hearing their music changed my perception of how music can be made.

John Wubbenhorst and Facing East