“To me, all the stellar moments are connected to “letting go.” Letting go of all inhibitions and ego and just singing with wild abandon. And that can happen in a large or small group, in a live setting or even singing along with a Kirtan CD in your car!”
First of all, Thanks for taking the time to sit down with us and tell us about your work! We are so very excited to have recently welcomed you to the YogiTunes community. You have a diverse musical background – from Jazz to Klezmer to composing music for film and tv… what was it that introduced you to Kirtan? When and where where did this introduction occur?
In 1996 I went to live on an ashram for a month to deepen my practice. I chose the Sivananda Ashram Yoga Retreat in Paradise Island, Bahamas. There I experienced Kirtan twice a day, every morning and every evening during Satsang. I was hooked.
For the benefit of those who are not overly familiar with Kirtan, wherein lies its magic?
Whole books have been written about this, so it’s hard to summarize in a few sentences! First, there is inherent magic in singing — even on one’s own. It slows down the breathing and releases endorphins, while focusing and thereby quieting the mind. Singing in a group is even more powerful. It invokes an ancient tribal consciousness that we have lost touch with in the modern age. Add to this the sacred and mystical vibrations of ancient Sanskrit mantras, and you have an intoxicating elixir indeed.
Is it the case that some of the best Kirtan never actually makes it to recordings, but happens in the moment when all the various elements and participants combine? Can you recall a particularly stellar moment for us?
You are right, there is something special about live Kirtan. I can recall some beautiful moments both as a leader and a participant with hundreds of voices singing together. But I also have some sweet memories of when it was just me and one or two other people. To me all the stellar moments are connected to “letting go.” Letting go of all inhibitions and ego and just singing with wild abandon. And that can happen in a large or small group, in a live setting or even singing along with a Kirtan CD in your car.
How does music feature in the Sivananda tradition, and as a yoga teacher how do you use music in your classes?
Sivananda was big on music. He understood the power of Nada Yoga (the yoga of sound), and in particular, Kirtan. He wrote that Kirtan is the best form of yoga and the fastest path to Samadhi. Every day in every Sivananda ashram around the world begins and ends with Kirtan. For me, anything that helps quiet the mind during yoga practice is useful, and I find listening to music while practicing does that. I look for music whose vibe and tempo complements the corresponding asanas. Kirtan inherently works well. While on my Kirtan tours I’m often asked by yoga studios to provide live accompaniment to yoga classes, and I’ve even sequenced some of my albums to follow the flow of a typical yoga class.
You’ve worked with producer Ben Leinbach on your album Bhakti Groove Machine – what did he bring to the process that helped you create something even better ? How did you work together ?
When Ben and I played together at Bhakti Fest in 2011, we instantly connected on many levels. Like me, he’s a drummer, and has a background in jazz and R&B, which made it easy for us to communicate ideas back and forth. He’s also super supportive as a producer and focussed on helping me achieve my artistic goals for the album. He pushed me instrumentally and vocally. The two of us worked intensely for a few weeks, tracking at his studio in San Anselmo, and then we sent mixes back and forth until we were both satisfied.
You’re the musical director for Shri Fest – please tell us about it and what you have planned.
Shri Fest is a yoga, music, and art festival in Blue Mountain, Canada, that I’ve had the pleasure of music directing for the past five years. Thanks to the many amazing yoga teachers, there is really something for everyone — from intense Ashtanga, to Yoga Nidra, and everything in between. Many classes are accompanied by live music. Other musical offerings include Kirtan, an R&B dance night, drum circles, and a farm to table dinner accompanied by live jazz. I’m blessed to have some of the country’s finest musicians join me each year to make this an event not to be missed. This year is our sixth, and we’re going to change it up big time. So mark November 10-12 on your calendar, and stay tuned to shrifest.com for some big announcements.
Imagine you’re on a remote island for 3 months – you can bring one musical instrument, one book and one creature comfort with you… what are they and why ?
My Martin travel guitar is small and portable (fits easily in the overhead on a plane), and has a powerful and rich sound. I’m not even a guitar player but it usually goes with me wherever I go. For a book I’d take The Radiance Sutras, by Lorin Roche. It’s a translation of the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra, ancient Sanskrit love sutras. Beautiful poetry that would serve as inspiration on a daily basis. Creature comfort… hmm… I’m a yogi, so I’m used to making do with whatever I have, and we’re supposed to practice non-attachment, but I do love my new running shoes.
Finish the sentence: The magic of music is…
Its power to transport the listener to another time and place with only sound vibrations, effecting psychological, physiological, and spiritual transformation.
What do you have coming up release wise?
Two albums in the works! One is a jazz recording of Beethoven-inspired music, called Going For The Gould. Long-time collaborator, pianist Paul Hoffert, and I listened to all the Beethoven piano repertoire recorded by Glenn Gould, and are creating new jazz pieces based on some of our favourites. I have also started on my third Kirtan recording, with the brilliant Matt Pszonak (Shiva Rea, C.C. White, Govindas & Radha, and many others) in the producer’s chair. Matt is a gifted producer, engineer, and musician, and I’m thrilled that we’re finally working together. As well, this summer I’ll be performing and leading a retreat at the Sivananda Ashram Yoga Retreat in the Bahamas, as well as accompanying Lorin Roche’s Radiance Sutras meditation workshop at Kripalu. Check my website (gelcer.com) or email me (email@example.com) for details.
Please offer a word of advice or encouragement for any yoga teachers starting out on their path…
You’re on a beautiful path. Walk it with an open heart, open mind, and with passion. Thank you.
Check out Jim’s works on YogiTunes:
About Jim Gelcer:
Jim Gelcer is an internationally acclaimed musician, composer, and producer. Originally from Cape Town, and based in Toronto, Jim has recorded and performed around the world with artists as diverse as Lee Aaron, The Flying Bulgar Klezmer Band, Reg Schwager, and Dave Young. He is at home in a wide range of genres — from rock, pop, and r&b, to jazz, classical, and world music. One of the few Canadian artists invited to perform at Bhakti Fest, Jim’s debut recording “Bhagavan” was hailed as one of the year’s best by American radio shows In The Spirit and Full Lotus Kirtan. Yoga Chicago magazine called him “the perfect bhakti singer”. His style has been called “welcoming, inviting, and contagious”, and mashes up traditional Sanskrit chants with r&b, jazz, and rock. Jim’s second album, “Bhakti Groove Machine”, was co-produced by Grammy-nominated producer Ben Leinbach (Jai Uttal, Deva Premal, Snatam Kaur). David Newman (aka Durga Das) called it “sweet, soulful, smooth and sublime.”