Living the Benefits of Omega's Ecstatic Chant

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The Ecstatic Chant Labor Day weekend event is one of the most popular at Omega. For more than 15 years, it has helped open the hearts—and even advanced careers—for those who have attended. Here are a few of their stories. 

Angel Hu: Reconnecting With Devotion Through Music

Angel Hu became curious about kirtan after going through a divorce and taking time to study consciousness.

“I studied organizational psychology and felt surprised to know people like us don’t know how to define the mind,” she said. “I went down this rabbit hole of consciousness, looking at religion, philosophy, and more. I discovered a few shared truths across disciplines, and one of them was meditation.”

She started to explore different methods of meditation and read books on philosophy, and eventually stumbled on a kirtan session at the Bhakti Center in New York City, where she lives.

“After feeling the vibrations and good energy, and seeing people devoting themselves to music, meditation, and chanting, I started listening to more of this kind of music.”

It reminded her of being in the choir of the Christian church she grew up in.

“Singing and devotion was always something I enjoyed practicing and resonate with,” Angel said.

She was thrilled to receive a scholarship to attend Omega's Ecstatic Chant for the first time in 2018. 

On the second day, she was chanting and felt something unlock inside of her.

“I held my hands up and let the tears come,” she said. “I was deeply moved by the resonance of the music and the vibrations. I couldn’t put words to describe it. Normally, I would want to run away from tears.”

She also felt very welcomed by the community. While at the dining hall, she met veteran participants of the weekend who suggested other artists to check out and resources to help her continue the practice at home. She continues to keep in touch with many friends made throughout the weekend.

She said the weekend also helped her to explore the creative musical side of herself that she had abandoned.

“I grew up in Hong Kong, where every child has to learn an instrument for educational, not creative reasons." Now, she says her relationship with music has changed.

“Music is a way of channeling this universal language of love and beauty,” she said.

It also helped her redefine what meditation looks like in her life.

“Meditation doesn’t have to be silent, sitting all day,” Angel said. “It can be fluid, movement, joy, sound, voice, and community."

Marianne & Randy Sutin: Inspired to Go Pro With Their Music

Marianne and Randy Sutin were both musicians with day jobs when they first attended an Esctatic Chant weekend at Omega in 2007. 

"When we first started going, I was still teaching public school music full time, but not playing flute or performing at all," Marianne recalls. "Randy was working for tech support at the NJ Department of Environmental Protection, playing jazz gigs on the weekend."

Marianne said it was a last-minute decision to attend the workshop that first year. The couple had been to an R&R weekend at Omega with their kids the year before and loved it, and Marianne had been to a couple of kirtan sessions at local studios where she practiced yoga.

Marianne and Randy had never heard of Deva Premal and Miten, Manose, or many of the other performers before that weekend, but something clicked during one of the first sets for Marianne, who has played the silver flute since she was 12.

I said to my husband, “That’s what I want to do! I want to play that kind of flute, and I want to play that kind of music!"

Randy is a jazz percussionist and after talking with Steve Gorn, they became friends and started playing other gigs together. 

"Steve was super nice and encouraging, and has become a great friend and inspiration to us," Marianne said.

Both Marianne and Randy were embraced by this community of musicians. 

"At some point, I can’t remember when, Randy started to play with Gaura Vani," she said. "When some of the other people heard him play, they invited him to join in too, which is how he started playing at Ecstatic Chant with Jai Uttal, The Hanumen, CC White, Donna De Lory, and Ricki Byers Beckwith, and we both played with Dave Stringer for the first time at the 2019 festival. Randy has also sometimes sat in with Deva Premal and Miten."

"We retired from the day gigs two years ago. Ecstatic Chant totally changed both of our lives so much!" said Marianne.

Of course like many performers, the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted their professional lives. Marianne teaches private lessons for piano, flute, and voice for two different music schools, remotely from their home studio. Randy has continued to play some jazz, mostly livestream events, and also is doing production and movie scoring. He recently worked with Jai Uttal on a piece called Searching: A Corona Collaboration. You can listen here.

Both Marianne and Randy are so grateful for their time at Omega and excited for Ecstatic Chant Labor Day weekend to return in the future. 

"We made lifelong friends at chant and have had more fun than anyone we know as part of this community of musicians and yogis." said Marianne.

Musicians Marianne (left), Manose (middle), and Randy (right) after an all-night session at Ecstatic Chant.

Aziza Reid: Bringing Kirtan to Youth

Aziza Reid's spiritual practice has included attending kirtans and chanting for some time, but it made a huge impact on her when she introduced it to the youth at her nonprofit. Originally from Harlem, Reid created and ran an international nonprofit for 25 years called the Def Dance Jam Workshop, an intergenerational program for people with and without different abilities, providing performing arts, academic, and social services. The organization consisted of a school in New York City and four satellite programs abroad in Greece, Italy, Turkey, and Senegal.

"Many of my youth were deaf, autistic, and had physical and developmental different-abilities,” Reid said. “They all seemed to connect with the chanting and opened their hearts in ways I had not experienced before.”

She invited renowned kirtan artist Krishna Das to chant with the kids and said it was life-changing for everyone.

“The tangible spiritual development and social growth we were able to observe with the youth was astounding,” she said. “From that moment I began to use chanting with movement to assist in opening hearts in my ‘Spirit Dance’ workshops.”

Her love of chanting brought her to Omega's Ecstatic Chant on scholarship in 2018. In 2016, she had stepped away from her nonprofit to serve in the Peace Corps, where she was stationed in Moldova, one of Europe's poorest countries.

“Moldova is covered with large sunflowers in the summer,” she said. “The sunflowers always made me feel that God was smiling at me for following my ministry.”

While at Omega she was reminded that she was on the right path when she visited the garden.

“When I walked past the garden at Omega and decided to sit and meditate on the beautiful sunflowers that were planted there, it reinforced a feeling in me that all was in divine order and I was exactly where I was supposed to be,” Reid said. "My main reason for attending was to help me solidify my ministry, which was propelled by a profound experience that I had in Moldova incorporating dance, chanting, and prayer."

She says the retreat helped to reinforce the power of community and humanity, and strengthened her direct connection to a higher power.

“It’s a process that allows you to visit your own heart,” she said.