By Joe Holtaway
I’m a member of London’s Wake Up Sangha and producer of Peace Sounds, a collection of twelve songs on the theme of peace. My friends and I made this album to bring awareness of Thay’s 2012 United Kingdom tour and to support the tour by raising extra funds.
The seeds of this project were planted last summer in London’s Hyde Park. A number of us from the Heart of London and Wake Up Sanghas were gathered for one of our “Joyfully Together” picnics where we meditate, eat, and share songs and mindful yoga stretching.
We include Thay’s practice of walking meditation in our gatherings. Hyde Park, one of the largest in our city, is our piece of countryside, and silently walking together there feels like a gift indeed. We had warm sun that day and the old tall trees brought us shade. I remember just how the sunshine softly lit that afternoon.
With songs sung and food eaten, we were talking over Thay’s forthcoming tour. Sister Elina Pen (Little Earth), flash mob meditation organizer, singer, and a visionary member of our Wake Up Sangha, proposed a musical adventure: we should write a song to be released with his tour. I guess you never know what will come about when a project begins, though I felt full of its magic during my bike ride home!
That night I stayed up until 4 a.m., composing “Walk with Me My Friend,” inspired by our practice of walking meditation. The Wake Up Sangha had been running flash mobs in London, where young people like us would come by the hundreds with flowers in their hair and peaceful smiles on their faces, to sit and meditate with strangers, then sing and hug as friends. I came to our Sangha’s next flash mob with a recording I had made of the song.
To Soundtrack Love
With a good six months before we had to begin Thay’s tour preparations, we began talking about more music. And from there, the other songs emerged. A mailing to the Wake Up list brought some musicians; we requested other songs from artists we already admired.
Little Earth and I collaborated—the first-ever recording of her magical voice. Both she and Kim McMahon performed versions of Plum Village songs. Kim and I also collaborated for her track. Little Earth had pronounced, “Joe, we just have to have her voice on the record.” Hearing Kim sing was a beautiful discovery; I feel honored to share her voice with the world.
The same goes for Chris Goodchild. He recorded “Life is Beautiful” especially for this project, a song he’d sung that first day in Hyde Park. To spend time with this gentle man was touching enough, but to capture his song was so special. We just left the mic on… I was humbled.
Pianist Tom Manwell and singer James Wills are friends from here in London. I recruited them and four more artists whose work I’d admired: Northern England’s Jackie Oates, London’s Cornelius, Ireland’s Nathan Ball, and the U.S.A.’s Joe Reilly, whom I had heard through his connection with Plum Village (Joe’s song, “Tree Meditation,” features brother and sister monastics, and was recorded there). Finally, we were gifted with recordings sent by Manchester-based Hilary Bichovsky and Brighton’s Gavin Kaufman; they had heard about the project through their meditation groups.
The process involved bus trips around London and the rest of the United Kingdom with a microphone and guitars. I made some recordings in artists’ homes, where we drank tea, ate cake, meditated, and forged friendships. Other songwriters came to my place in London. I recorded my own song at my family’s home in Cornwall, a peaceful coastal area, amidst sea air and warm summer days.
To gather these songs was to soundtrack a sense of honest and, I feel, revolutionary love. Here were individuals responding to life by singing about it and sharing their passion outward. This collection of songs carries that feeling for me, a considered response to what was moving in each singer’s musical soul. I feel a fearlessness in each of them, to stand up for what they feel is worth caring for.
Listening to the collection, I feel a huge sense of gratitude. As I watch the album trailer clips (see www.peacesounds.org), I’m brought back to a sense of reverence for love and peace that was as much in the songwriters’ homes and letters as it is in their songs.
You can listen to the album online and download it for a donation (follow links on the website). Proceeds go to the Community of Interbeing UK, which makes meditation available here within groups, in schools, and on retreats.
For a free download of the song “Peacefully Free” by Little Earth, email “Mindfulness Bell” to email@example.com.