SingPeace! Pilgrimage for Peace & Global Harmony

SingPeace! Pilgrimage

SingPeace! backstory: Childhood Dramas & Traumas

SingPeace! A Pilgrimage for Peace and Global Harmony

Singing for Peace and Global Harmony off the end of a gypsy vardo - Romany for wagon or caravan - to my mind evokes a colorful, ever-resourceful community on wheels but also close to the earth, at the heart of which is the universal appeal of their life-sustaining music and dance.

This SingPeace! Pilgrimage was conceived at the intersection of our recent economic downturn and the simultaneous rise of the human spirit’s hopes for positive change evidenced by chanting, singing and dancing in the streets around the November elections. Such a heartfelt and joy-filled outpouring can, if we let it, serve to heal the aching soreness and open, suppurating wounds, strengthening the understanding and bonds among us.

I was a little girl, maybe 7 or 8, when I attended the Seattle Junior Programs production of “Once Upon a Clothesline by playwright, Aurand Harris, often described as "America's most produced children's playwright.". My childhood memory and visceral reaction to the play are far from “cute,” and “humorous” as it is described in several available online narratives.

In my version, the most vivid images are of two doll-like grown-up sized Raggedy Ann and Andy characters perched like clothespins on either end of a rope strung left to right across the stage. Between us - the audience - and the clothespin rag dolls was the bright light of a sunny day, warm and reassuring, filled with the promise of a new day. On the other side, that is, upstage of this demarcation line, was the darkened den of a clearly malevolent black widow spider, whose huge floor to rafters web the “clothespin dolls” would be caught in, if by chance they lost their balance and fell backwards from their precarious perch. She, Pinette, did and he, Pinno, went to rescue her.

We, the audience, squealed and squirmed, witness to the clothespins’ many tense and hair-raising encounters with the monstrous spider, before they made their way back to the light. Those frightening images have stayed with me for over 60 years, by the way. Here’s what one online source says about the play:
Cast: Pinno and Pinette, two clothes pins; Two Birds; Black Spider; Mrs. Ant and her little son, Junior; Mr. Cricket; Dr. Bettle; Mr. Grasshopper; and his Three Little Grasshoppers. Unit set. This play must be read to be appreciated. It's humor is contagious. The preparations for Pinette's rescue from the Black Spider are hilarious, and the actual accomplishment of the rescue is a superb bit of high showmanship.”

Okay, right. For the grown-ups, maybe.

In more recent years, I’ve come to appreciate the play’s universal theme in epics, traditional myths and everyday life of the darkness - that which is at best un-understood and at worst life-denying - in its triumphs and death throes with the life-affirming light. I’ve come to feel that it’s our choice as human beings to acknowledge and even embrace the dark side while upholding and living in the light.

The play I saw in 1948 was staged at the Seattle Repertory Playhouse, a theater whose founders and brilliant artistic directors, Burton (Pop) and Florence James, were my first drama teachers. Later, during that same year the two were named by the House Un-American Activities Committee in a scourge that damaged the lives, careers and families of many talented, esteemed and contributing members of the Seattle community.

The James were cited for contempt, fined and sentenced for refusing to tell the committee whether they were or had ever been members of the Communist Party. Pop James died before his name and reputation could be cleared, but Florence James emigrated to Canada. She was instrumental in the founding of the acclaimed Globe Theatre in Regina, Saskatchewan. She was much honored for her work in Canada, receiving, among other awards, the Legion of Honor Medal, the Queen’s Silver Medal, and the Diplome d’Honneur from the Canadian Conference of the Arts.

My family was one among many caught in McCarthy’s spider web. Ironically, I shared a dorm in India for a couple of years in the mid-1990s with Florence and Pop James’ granddaughter. Each of us, receptacles of the pain and confusion our families had suffered, had never breathed a word of it to each other. Upon learning years later about her family history, I told her, “My God, we’re related!”

In 1998, at the same Playhouse where I’d seen “Once Upon a Clothes Line,” our families gathered for the final performance of “All Powers Necessary and Convenient," a play about the impact McCarthy’s HUAC, as it was referred to, and of the treatment we’d suffered at the hands of the local interrogating body, the Canwell and Veldi committees.

The play was researched, written and directed by Mark Jenkins. Jenkins recounts that the run's final performance, "was dedicated to the family and friends of those called by the committee. Relatives of the fired professors and the Jameses were present. After the play, people stood up and told what it was like for them as children whose parents were tracked and questioned by the FBI. We also installed a plaque honoring the Jameses, recognizing their artistic accomplishments in Seattle over the years. It was a very cathartic event, very moving.” Additionally, the State of Washington apologized to the descendants of Pop and Florence James.

I recall that post play event as an emotionally trying discussion that revealed painful schisms among my family members and others similarly impacted. We were spaced as distantly as we could get in the theater. In my case, the distance eventually gave way to considerable healing and forgiveness, though I’m still aware of the absence of a sense of belonging, with a subtle, persistent underlying expectation of the proverbial rug being ripped out from under me. I mention it, here, because I think we are very often too quick to judge, attack and bruise those with whom we don’t see eye to eye.

I’ve included a biography of the James at and a report from the Seattle PI and Times archives regarding productions in 1998 and 2002 of the play, “All Powers Necessary and Convenient.”

"All Powers Necessary & Convenient"

Today, time is speeding up. No, time has collapsed. We are in a period of accelerated activity; that is, many, many more events are compressed into the space of a single moment in time. I’m fast approaching my 70th birthday (2010). I have to ask for the hundredth time, “What will I be when I grow up? What is my part and role in the epic dramas of our day? And what is left undone?” After all, I’m still here.

A “singing telegram,” a melodic message, accompanied awakening from a dream. My Soul Voice sings: “You will live in other people’s houses, and the work you do will be known long after your name is forgotten.” It repeats several times, at least three, so that I can retain the words and tune in my waking state. So, there’s work to be done and I’m not the “doer.” It’s not about me, per se.

Gathering up the sum total and essence of my life, it seems to come down to a only a few constants: singing - coming together in community to share music and dance; the quest for inner and outer peace and healing and the odyssey that has taken me around the world already half a dozen times or more; and an abiding yearning for liberation in love - the bond within a spiritual partnership that signifies ease, transparency and unity of purpose in pursuit of the highest goals of human consciousness. That’s all.

Ah, we would be traveling troubadours - peace pilgrims - greeting and joining together in song with communities around the globe. Gypsies. A “singing revolution.” It’s not a big leap from that vision to the concept of a gypsy wagon. This would be a “green machine:, communicating with much forethought in the construction but with few words the intention of a smaller/ softer carbon footprint, incorporating old and new technologies for a greener, more sustainable and affordable lifestyle.

I could imagine visiting inner city parks and community centers, attending festivals, camps and retreats, meeting school children and seniors, college students, corporate and factory employees, the troops, showing up at intentional communities, churches and demonstrations to SingPeace! Not a performance, per se, as the point is participation and inclusion, making music together with a few lead voices in the universal language of peace and global harmony.

In the words of 13th century Sufi poet, Rumi, set to music and sung by Laurence Cole:

Out beyond ideas there is a field.
There is a field, I will meet you there.
Out beyond ideas
of wrongdoing and rightdoing
there is a field. I will meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
The world is twofold and thought-bound.
Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other,”
Just don’t make any sense.
--Jelaluddin Rumi

I’ve noticed that the closer we come to the light, the darker and longer shadows become. But in that light, we’ve begun to understand how rigid ideologies have divided and set us apart. We’ve fought and died for nothing, in a sense, because conflict and wars don’t change the fact that we’re all on this earthship together. We come here, expressly, to learn how to get along - to treat each other and this creation with utmost dignity, respect and love.

It’s a messy business, at times, as learning and lessons are a very individual thing, involving multiple modalities, intelligences and timings. In other words, we don’t all arrive together and in sync at the door of paradise, though wholesale positive change is in evidence at critical mass: when enough of us align our thoughts and intentions for the common good.

Since its beginnings, this country has relied on war to establish its primacy. Cyclic economic downturns have been followed by war. Ours is a war mentality and a war-dependent economy. We're always “gearing up” for the next one. When ideologies that have become institutionalized also have a vested economic interest in the outcome of a conflict, we forget about learning to get along, justifying ruthless and wanton acts of violence: collateral damage, ethnic cleansing, atomic, chemical and bioweapons, or the even more insidious and dehumanizing forms of power grabbing, manipulation and control exerted by the deceitful power-hungry few against unsuspecting masses.

J.D. Martin sings:

There’s another way
Beyond the blue and gray
Where we all can lay
Our weapons down
There’s a brighter light
Beyond the wrong and right
And if we let it shine tonight
I know we’ll live to love again another day
There’s another way.

The documentary film, “Singing Revolution” by James and Maureen Tusty chronicles the peaceful uprising by the Estonian population after years of repression by the USSR. “Most people don’t think about singing when they think about revolution. But song was the weapon of choice when Estonians sought to free themselves from decades of Soviet occupation. The Singing Revolution is an inspiring account of one nation’s dramatic rebirth. It is the story of humankind’s irrepressible drive for freedom and self-determination.”

They did it! They took back their country, their culture and their lives without so much as raising a fist.

So, while we’re still mucking about in the harsher realities, the sooner we get to singing our intention for “another way,” the sooner we’ll meet and merge with a brighter light. Hey, we don’t have to wait until we die to do it!

From recent observations, I would say that the “Singing Revolution” has already begun: witness the Ubuntu choir Network and other such open circle choruses around the world; the remarkable attempts by Mark Johnson, a film maker who has brought musicians around the globe together in the film, “Playing for Change: Peace through Music.”
Look at the burgeoning number of devotional chant and sacred sound gatherings stirring hearts and bringing increasing numbers of folks together to sing.

The opening gong for Sing Peace! A Pilgrimage for Peace and Global Harmony, took place at the equinox on March 21st (2009) on Whidbey Island in Washington State. Laurence Cole, director of Songlines Choir, one of the Ubuntu Choir Network, whose mission is to ReEnChant the World, led songs of Peace and Global Harmony.
Patricia Duff, writer for the South Whidbey Record, did a lovely feature article for the event.
And Jim Tolpin, a founder of the Port Townsend School of Woodworking, was on hand to give a slide show about his 30 year love affair with gypsy wagons. I’ll be taking his week-long course, “How to build a gypsy wagon,” in May, after which construction of my wagon will get begin in earnest on Whidbey Island. [Course took place in May, after which I commissioned one of the instructors, Steve Habersetzer, a Port Townsend farmer and craftsman, to build the wagon I designed. (The wagon was in the last stages of completion, as of Dec. 15, 2009.]

Even without the vardo, my “pilgrimage” is already underway. As the light of my intention grows brighter and more focused, it is met with many opportunities to refine my understanding while gathering in community with others who have heard the call.
More about the present course will appear in this blog and on the SingPeace! website.

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