composition for ancestral healing

In this mournful period when the pandemic has taken hold of us all, one of our great sources of expression and comfort, singing together in public, was silenced. At the same time, finding myself at loose ends, I finally tackled some ancestral mysteries that had been popping up regularly in my life. 

It began as many other projects do, with the determination to just focus on this one thing for a week. Let me see if I can unravel some mysteries in the genealogy in our family. Anyone else who has ever done genealogy can tell you what an addictive rabbit hole that can be. Despite my determination, help from an excellent historian and family members, and much searching, I did still arrive at a dead end with some confusing questions.

In Grabag in the Purworejo Regency, Central Java

So I took an unusual approach, opting to try out some mystic detective work instead of just grinding on search engines. I asked my psychic dreaming friends to dream on it. The results were overwhelming as they rapidly answered many things. And the floodgates had opened so now I found friends who knew nothing of the project were sending me helpful information from their dreams. I had started out with a small puzzle and ended up with a kaleidoscope.

How to honour this remarkable experience? And how do people in different cultures honour their ancestors and encourage ancestral healing? In Toraja in Sulawesi I had witnessed grand funeral ceremonies firsthand, in that remarkable living megalithic culture. And there is also the nearly lost tradition of keening in Celtic culture, usually three women singing together, that interests me. The juxtaposition of these traditions from East and West rattles together and shows me universal patterns of expression.

So this is my current quest, composing and developing a vocal ritual for mourning, inspired by rituals on both sides of the globe and combined with my own understanding from a tradition in free jazz. It is a work I will perform and that can also be performed by others for their own ancestors.

My version begins with singing and recording on significant days based on ancestral astrology. It is fascinating to find patterns of dates that recur within families. I’m sure my friends who have children born on the same day in different years can relate. That is a first step. Follow along here if you are interested in what happens next.