St Andrew's Well

St Andrew’s Well, Corton Denham, Somerset

What is left that can be said to hear?

I was tired and the error was mine, but I didn’t really check much about this site in advance. So, I was perturbed when I arrived to find that Saint Andrew’s well (refurbished by the Women’s Institute in 1988) consisted of a tap and a trough. There was no sign of the spring itself. Worse, it was on the main road through the village. Still, I was tired, it had a seat and so I sat on it.

I became entranced by the aquatic life forms in the trough in their spiralling dance with themselves. I must have stopped listening altogether because the next thing I knew I was immersed within a strange sound: something like a dog drinking. Hold on, it WAS a dog drinking. But in the moment between the hearing and the identification, the sound took hold of me as if there was no distance between it and me. It was a very odd and unexpected experience.

I looked up to see a black and white pointer and its owner. “Do you want any more to drink, Sasha?” the owner enquired. Sasha obliged with a few more gulps, during which I debated whether to mention the aquatic life forms to her owner. Then Sasha and owner trotted off.

But what had happened to me? Had I been actively listening at that point, instead of gazing mesmerised at the creatures in the trough, would Sasha’s drinking have had the same effect on me? I don’t think so. The nearest I can come to explain it comes from a book of Zen stories that I read once which talked about how an unexpected sound can trigger a breakthrough moment of kensho, or enlightenment. The sound could be a rooster, the creak of a floorboard, someone’s sneeze in the meditation hall, or even a dog drinking. Indeed, “any sound that finds little or nothing of you in the way and fills you completely can let you in directly to the shocking open secret: ‘what is left that can be said to hear?’”1

Accidentally enlightened by a Christianised well in a small village in Somerset? Let’s keep that one an open secret too.

1The Hidden Lamp: Stories from Twenty-Five Centuries of Awakened Women, Edited by Florence Carlow and Susan Moon

Wistman's Wood

Wistman’s Wood, Dartmoor, Devon

Listening with wonder, reverence and joy

Wistman’s Wood is a special place. It is one of the highest oak woods in Britain, but its not like any other oak wood I’ve ever visited. The oaks grow through crevices between large granite boulders called clatters; as a result their growth is stunted and their trunks and branches are contorted. Both the clatters and the oaks are covered in lichen and moss, which lend a particularly vivid greenness to the wood. It’s a weird mix of the fecund – Hildegard Von Bingen may have called it viriditas, the green creative life force – and the misshapen and stunted.

But I confess, despite the interesting natural features of the wood, I was even more drawn to its folklore. ‘Wisht’ means weird, uncanny or eerie and the wood is associated with the mythic Wild Hunt. I’ve heard of people having strange sensations of malevolence directed towards them; of feeling watched, or even being driven out of the wood. What would such a place sound like?

I arrived about 8pm on a suitably windy and damp summer evening. Out of respect – and self-preservation – I asked, as usual, if it was ok for me to enter. I received a positive response and did so. I had the wood to myself. 

It took me a while to set up my tripod for a photo and I became annoyed with myself for messing about and wasting time when I had come to be still and listen. So I put my camera away and sat on a clatter. At this point, I was unaware of the presence of a large adder population in the wood, so take care if you do the same. 

The more I have listened, the more I have become attuned not just to sound, but to all vibrations. This includes feeling, sensations and “knowing.” That’s how I can confidently say that I was invited into the wood. There wasn’t much to hear here that was audible – the wind, the odd raven call – but there was a lot going on on the non-audible level. I was truly surprised how benign the wood felt. I felt not only that I was welcome, but that the wood was happy that I was there. Yes, I did feel a presence behind me, but it was not threatening.

I heard voices: a young couple appeared. The woman was complaining about the speed they were hopping across the clatters and that it would be his fault if she broke an ankle. They disappeared. Then a family with an unhappy child arrived. The child was also upset about the terrain and was crying until his father picked him up. It took them longer to pass me and I could hear the child still whining for a while, but eventually they too were gone. What did they think of me sitting there? Did they wonder what could there be to do sat in the one place? Maybe they knew about the adders? What did I think of them? Well, truthfully, I felt sad for them, rushing through such a magical place, without stopping to simply be there, with wonder, reverence and more than a little joy.

Venford Falls

Venford Falls, Dartmoor, Devon

a choir of water spirits


I was in the mood for a waterfall. But, as I’m sure anyone who’s read any of my posts so far will already have anticipated, I wasn’t in the mood for a crowded one. Venford Falls, sometimes known as Dartmoor’s secret waterfall, seemed to fit the bill nicely. When I told my landlady I was off to find it she gave me that look that says “good luck cos you’ll need it.” Turns out, with good reason. 

I realise now that the instructions I was following were the wrong way round. Written by someone else who wanted to keep the falls a secret? Not knowing this at the time, though, I began to get disheartened as the landmark I was looking for failed to materialise. I noticed a trail through the undergrowth that veered off to the right and decided to follow it. I was convinced that it was a wild goose chase and was also becoming increasingly alarmed at the steepness of the path down. But then, almost without realising it, I began to hear something that sounded like a waterfall. Was this the first time in all my years of listening that I heard my intended location before seeing it? 

And there it was. The falls themselves are small, but very beautiful. There was just me and a mouthy green woodpecker. Having convinced myself that I was about to go home empty eared, I was beside myself with happiness. Best of all, for the first time in a very, very long time, I was in a place entirely free from human made noise.

Venford Falls

Waterfalls are wonderful for listening to. As I listened I began to hear voices as if I was hearing a choir of water spirits: bass, tenor, alto and treble. Then each section began to break into separate parts until there were several multipart fugues going on at the same time. I teased myself by trying to follow an individual part, but there always came a point where my ear became delightedly confused about which voice it was trying to follow. That may have been why the woodpecker was laughing at me.

Eventually, however, despite the insect repellant, the midges got the better of me. Venford Falls would only tolerate human visitors for so long.

Finding Venford falls

From the north of Venford Reservoir, follow Venford Brook on your right towards the Dart River. There is a stand of trees to your right: when they stop, look for a path that curves off to your right and follow down to the brook. Be warned: the path is very steep and slippery and mobile coverage is patchy, so please tell someone where you are going.

Kantele

The Kantele

The kantele is a plucked psaltery from Finland. The kantele and its cousins – the Latvian kokle, Lithuanian kanklės, Estonian kannel and Russian gusli – are known as Baltic psalteries.

Artic Circle, Finland

I play the diatonic folk kantele. Most folk kanteles range from 5-11 strings, but mine is a large 19 string kantele. The additional bass strings are meant to function as drone strings, but I re-tuned them for extra harmonic possibilities.

I have loved Finland since I spent time in Helsinki and Rovaniemi on the Arctic Circle. The first time I heard the kantele, I was moved to tears. The soft, metallic sound with its incredible sustain is, to me, what snow falling on birch trees would sound like if I could hear it. This characteristic sound occurs because (unusually for a stringed instrument) the kantele lacks bridges. Instead, the metal strings are simply wound around metal pins at each end, resulting in some complex acoustics.

I have since come to appreciate more about the origins of this ancient instrument.

THE MYTHIC ORIGINS OF THE KANTELE

The story of the kantele’s creation is told in Finland’s national epic, The Kalevala – a huge collection of Finnish folklore and mythology that originated between 500 B.C. and A.D. 1000. Its many thousands of verses were compiled in its current form by Elias Lönnrot in the 19th century, from the singing of Finnish and Karelian peasants.

The Kalevala tells us that the wizard Väinämöinen makes the first kantele from the jawbone of a giant pike and a few hairs from a magic stallion. Many people try to play it and fail until Väinämöinen himself begins to play music of such beauty that it draws all the forest creatures near to listen and wonder. However, Väinämöinen loses his fish-bone kantele when it returns to the sea. After grieving over it for many months, he is persuaded to make another. This time, he crafts it from the wood of a birch tree and strings it with the hair of a willing maiden: the magic of this second kantele proves equally powerful.

In the final section of The Kalevala, immediately before Väinämöinen sets off in a copper boat to go between the earth and the sky, he leaves his birch-wood kantele behind to become the grandmother of all kanteles, including mine.

In his last words, he vows to come back some day, saying:

Let the time pass, let days go
and needed will I be again,
needed will I be, longed for, looked for
To make the New Kantele
to move the new moon, to change a new day.

VÄINÄMÖINEN – RUNE SINGING SHAMAN

In Finland, the verses of The Kalevala are known as runes. Rune means song or poem. It could also be translated as a secret thing – something that contains hidden and powerful sacred knowledge. Rune singing has its roots in antiquity and is believed to be connected to the practice of shamanism. During the singing of runes, the shaman is able to enter a trance state whereupon their soul can journey to other worlds.

Rune singing was accompanied by the kantele. In The Kantele Traditions of Finland, Carl Rahkonen writes:

The kantele may have served a function similar to that of the Lapp shaman’s drum, as a source of sound upon which the shaman could focus to help achieve a trance state. Undoubtedly, the kantele held special symbolic significance to the shaman, as the magical object mentioned in the runes, which also existed in tangible reality. 1

The Kalevala portrays Väinämöinen as a rune singer himself, with the kantele the source of his magic power. Elias Lönnrot and other contemporaries even believed that Väinämöinen was a real-life shaman-poet who had lived sometime in the ninth century. There are fascinating parallels here with British and Irish shaman-poets, such as Taliesin and Amairgin, whom I will write about another time.

1 http://www.people.iup.edu/rahkonen/kantele/diss/Sym.htm

Ichigenkin

The Ichigenkin

The ichigenkin is a single-stringed zither from Japan. Its silk string is plucked by a tubular plectrum on the right hand index finger, while a slide on the left hand middle finger depresses the string at the desired pitch. The slide and plectrum are collectively known as rokan.

The ichigenkin was popular during the 17th and 18th centuries, but by the 20th century, it was in decline, with much of its tradition lost and forgotten. It is now very rare, even in Japan.

Like the better known shakuhachi, the ichigenkin comes from the Zen Buddhist tradition and is intended not to be played as a performance instrument but as a tool to teach the student about Ultimate Reality.


The ichigenkin should be played with the consciousness anchored in the hara. The hara is considered the physical and spiritual centre of one’s being. Many Japanese arts are executed from the hara, including the martial arts, archery, ikebana, the tea ceremony and Usui Reiki. With the ichigenkin, this anchoring is particularly important because of the inherently weak sound of the instrument. The player needs to use the energy of the hara to send forth the sound of the ichigenkin, lending it power and volume from the core of their own being. As I began haltingly to develop my hara, I stumbled across a paradox: not only was the hara the source of the ichigenkin’s sound, but it was also a source of stillness and silence. Peter Wilburg’s words began to make sense:

The hara is not only a still point of inner silence. It is also the gateway for a descent into silence which leads us into a world of inner sounds or “sounds of silence.”¹

As I learned to play from the hara, I became aware of these sounds of silence that Wilburg refers to. Moreover, I began to experience the inner sensation that I am playing the ichigenkin above what I can only call a continuous drone of silence. My perception of the silence is that it is in continuous flow, dynamically moving forward with the melody line, supporting it, as if it were both a musical and a metaphysical ground. I believe that this “drone of silence” is similar to what Hazrat Inayat Khan calls the “undertone of existence²” that goes on continuously and with which, eventually, all will merge.

Once the ichigenkin player has reached a certain level of spiritual attainment, they are able to transfer this to their audience. My teacher, Randy Raine-Reusch, calls ichigenkin concerts “a meditation in action and non-action, sound and silence and one note and many notes. Audiences gently slip into another world, another reality.³” The other reality of which he speaks is, of course, Ultimate Reality, where the audience members experience action/non-action and sound/silence as the two aspects of vibration from which all things emerge and re-merge.

For more on the ichigenkin see Randy Raine-Reusch’s website Zen of One String.

¹Wilburg, Peter The Little Book of Hara, 2011, ebook location 374
²Khan, Hazrat, Inayat The Music of Life, 1988, page 57
³Raine-Reusch, Randy The Zen of One String, http://www.asza.com/zenone.shtml

Knowlton Henge Yew Tree

Knowlton Henge, Wimborne, Dorset

Listening to remember

A Neolithic earthwork, a ruined Norman church, a line of ancient yew trees and a reputation for supernatural occurrences: what might this place sound like? Well, turns out the only thing you could hear on the day when I went was a didgeridoo.

I don’t set myself up as an expert in listening to the land, but I’ve learned a few things in my time and if I were to share a tip or two, today’s would be: don’t go listening on a solstice. There’s something about solstices, equinoxes and the Celtic festivals that brings out a desire to mark the occasion with musical instruments that are meaningful for the player and annoying for everyone else. Its usually drumming circles, so at least today was bit different. I normally avoid listening excursions on these days, but I was here to speak at a festival just down the road at Gaunts House and today was all I had.

I hung around for a while to see if the didge guy would give the rest of us a break, but no, he was in it for the long haul. So I wandered a bit listlessly into the ruined church and then over to the yew trees. Despite my mood, I was soon captivated by them: people had transformed them into a shrine with offerings of clooties, prayers, images and tokens. Some of the messages touched me deeply, especially the many left in honour of deceased pets. I thought of my own beloved dogs and my eyes filled up for them all over again. There was an aura of peace and I felt grateful for having my dogs in my life and grateful for the space to feel grateful. Perhaps today was about listening to the heartfelt feelings of those who had left offerings in the trees and a teaching about how the voice of prayers can also become part of the spirit of a place. 

I was glad that I had come, after all.

Absolute Pitch

Absolute Pitch (often referred to as Perfect Pitch) is the ability to recognise and name a musical note without a reference tone. It is possessed by about one in ten thousand people.

I have just finished re-reading This is Your Brain on Music by Daniel Levitin. Levitin is a leading neuroscientist who specialises in music and he tells us that he has read every single research paper on Absolute Pitch (AP). He admits that scientists do not know why some people have it and some don’t. But, he also demonstrates a poor understanding of the nature of AP. For instance he gives the example of a colleague who “discovered a patient who has absolute pitch but is tone deaf! He can name notes perfectly, but he cannot sing to save his life¹.”

Why the exclamation mark, Daniel? As someone with AP, my response to this is “like, d-uh!” As long as the patient were not visually impaired or colour blind, no one would bat an eyelid at his recognition of the colour green or blue, yet in no way would this lead to an assumption that he would be able to paint anything recognisable with them.

So, I thought I’d write about my experiences of AP in an attempt to help further understanding of this ability in those who may be interested. Of course, these are only my experiences and those of others may be very different.

Each Note has a Unique Quality

I can recognise an A or D# as easily as I can recognise my husband’s voice, or which one of my dogs is barking. An F just has a quality of “F-ness”. It is not something I have to pay attention to and it requires no effort – though, as we’ll come to, there are exceptions to this.

I Have No Idea How I Came to Have AP

I can’t have been born with AP because at birth I was unfamiliar with the concept of musical pitch. But I don’t recall acquiring it and it feels like I’ve always had it. In fact, I used to think everyone had it. It was only when I misunderstood an aural test and I wrote down the melody of a piece played on the piano, along with the (required) rhythm, that my music teacher told in a mix of awe and accusation “you’ve got perfect pitch!”

The Pitches of Some Instruments are Harder to Identify than Others

I find the piano the easiest of all to determine pitch, even though I’m not a trained pianist. Instruments with prominent dissonant overtones are the most difficult. There are some singing voices that I cannot identify.

AP Does Not Go On Indefinitely

I cannot identify notes at pitch extremes: either high or low.

AP is a Function of Response, Not Initiation

If you asked me to sing a certain pitch, I could do it correctly 90% of the time. But I have to sing the pitch in my head first. Once I’ve heard it internally and experienced the quality of the required pitch, I will know if my internal starting pitch is correct or if it needs adjusting. I can then reproduce it vocally.

If I just sang without hearing it first, I could be off. This correlates with the research finding that muscle memory is not involved in AP.

AP is a Blessing and a Curse

Yes, I’m pretty good at playing by ear! But sometimes I don’t want to know that the key of a piece is Gm: it doesn’t further my enjoyment or connection with the music and sometimes, I think it even gets in that way of that. Also, transposing can be a challenge. However…

I Run in ‘Parallel Pitch’

When you consider that my first main instrument was the Bb clarinet, a transposing instrument, it is even more peculiar that I should have AP. But it seems that I have the ability to compartmentalise. In fact, when I listen to the clarinet, I can tell you the pitch of the note either from an AP viewpoint, or from the viewpoint of the clarinettist. The note has a certain quality which I recognise because I recognise the pitch, and because I recognise the note as its played on the clarinet. I’m effectively hearing two pitch schemes in tandem and choosing to focus on one or the other.

Another example is the Persian setar, which I am studying. The tradition here is to tune in standard pitch when playing with others, but to tune down a tone when playing solo because the strings have more resonance at the lower pitch and the setar sounds better. So, with a tuned down setar, I recognise that my teacher is playing a G but I have to go to the fret which I know as A in order to play the same note. I’m not quite sure what is going on here, but I don’t believe I’m carrying out an instantaneous transposition, rather that I’m running a double pitch scheme in my head, where the quality of G can be an A if I let it.

I Lose it When I Am Ill

Isn’t this interesting? I can lose it overnight if I’m coming down with something. In fact, there are degrees of AP loss: I may just lose it with some instruments and my AP compass might decrease. Or I may lose it completely. I can even use it as a barometer of how poorly I am. When I’m better, it re-appears.

I Have a Relationship with Pitch that Cannot Be Appreciated by Non-AP Musicians

I once wrote an article on harp tuning and claimed in passing that singers find it easier to sing in flat keys. I was taken to task on this by someone who, virtually apoplectic with rage, insisted that this could not possibly be the case. It was something that a singing teacher (without AP) once told me and it matched my own experience. So, when I was challenged I sat down and paid attention to what was happening. It was true: when I was singing a flattened note (ie, an on-pitch Bb, not an under-pitch, out of tune note), I felt a sense of ‘settling or easing down’ into the pitch; when singing a sharpened note, such as F# or C#, I had to ‘reach up’ for it. Enharmonically, I even found it much more comfortable to think in terms of Db major than C# major. I could well imagine that my critical reader would not readily understand if I were to tell him that, for me, going from note C to D# is more of ‘stretch’ than going from C to Eb, because, ultimately, he does not have the same intimate relationship with pitch that I do. We were, therefore, both right from our respective experiences.

¹Levitin, Daniel J. This Is Your Brain on Music: Understanding a Human Obsession, May 2008, page 184

Non-Aggression in Music

One of the most difficult things for me to learn as a musician has been the practice of non-aggression. This can be a tricky concept and there is often aversion to it when it is explained. But, as Chögyam Trungpa says “transcending aggression is the root of all the artistic talent one can ever imagine.¹”

It is fair to say that, until recently, most of my music has been aggressive. When I was younger, I thought the purpose of my songs was to tell people exactly where the world was going wrong. I grew out of that, mainly because it stopped feeling right. Instead, my songs became focussed on how we should be nice to each other. This, I realise now, was equally aggressive.

Essentially, being aggressive in an artistic sense is attempting to manipulate your audience into thinking or feeling in the way you want. Even if your message is one of love and peace, it is fundamentally aggressive. That’s a lot to take in, isn’t it?

Non-aggression, on the other hand, is simply presenting reality as it is, without filtering it through your own viewpoint.

When you start to be aware of the ways in which one can be artistically aggressive, you see how many traps there are for the unwary. If you want people to like/admire/desire/envy you, or think that you’re a hot sax player or a genius, but tortured, singer and you play to that end, you are being aggressive.

Another pitfall is in making your work too obvious, too delineated, because you are concerned with your message being received in the way you want. Chögyam Trungpa again:

Spelling things out proves one’s legitimacy, wisdom or artistry. But according to Buddhist tradition, the only thing you can do is hint. If you want to demonstrate something very badly and you achieve that, your work of art is a dead one².


We usually think of spelling things out as a mental process, but you can also spell things out emotionally. We’ve all seen performers put emotion “into” the music. You see their emotions first and foremost and they upstage the music. That is a huge imposition onto the music and onto the audience who are denied their own emotional reaction to the music.

Even the popular viewpoint of art as self-expression can be problematic, unless that self-expression is clear of neurosis and able to express reality as it is.

Some may think that this is a lifeless, dry approach to performing music. This is not so. Let us play music as it is, without trying to change, inform or manipulate and we will be playing not “our music” but Music.

¹&² Trungpa, Chögyam, True Perception: The Path of Dharma Art, 1996, page 105

Seals at Horsey Beach

Grey Seals, Horsey Beach, Norfolk

SonGs of the seals

While making my way down to the sand dunes it occurred to me that its not very often that you can make a trip to listen to a particular species of mammal. I suppose that I could find a field of cows to listen to, maybe some horses. But truly wild mammals? That’s quite a rare and special experience. Even more special in the case of seals. 

As a child, I was a sucker for folk tales and songs about selkies: magical creatures that are seals in the water and humans on the land. When full time humans and selkies meet it doesn’t usually begin or end well. Sometimes humans are lured into the sea by the haunting song of the selkies; sometimes the humans appear to get the upper hand by stealing a selkie’s skin while the selkies are dancing in the moonlight. The poor selkie is thereby obliged to stay in human form and marry the thief who stole their skin. Inevitably, the skin is found and the selkie returns to the sea, either leaving offspring behind or taking their children with them. Either way, there’s sorrow for those destined to remain on land. Anyway, those are the tales. I always wondered where they came from. What was it about seals that inspired such legends? Was it just their dual identity as sea creatures that give birth on land? Maybe it had something to do with their strange beauty? And, indeed, what was this haunting, but elusive seal song that was often alluded to in the story? Was I about to find out?

The first two sounds that hit me was the wind and the sea. For a moment I was completely enveloped by these, until the wind, the sea and I seemed to be one entity. Then I heard it…strands of song emerging from within the wind/sea/me sound. It was incredibly moving and arresting. It was also distinctly musical. I detected three main phrases: a downwards glissando of a fifth; an upwards glissando of a second or third, which sometimes descended again and sometimes not; and two repeated notes. The pitch was remarkably consistent too: most phrases started on the quarter-tone between C and Db. Before A was raised to 440, the seals would have been vocalising pretty near to C (sea?) natural itself. One longer phrase lodged itself into my head and I was still singing it to myself later on that evening. I eventually wrote it down and it went like this:

Sealsong Transcript

Had I been alone one evening on the shore and caught a snatch of that song through the roar of the wind and the sea, would I have thought I was hearing someone singing? You bet I would. I think I would also have struggled to know whether the singer was human, animal, or some magical hybrid of the two. I also think that I would have felt a sadness or a longing come over me in response to the strange, haunting and mesmerising song; the same sad longing that whispers through all the folk tales about Selkies.

Perpetual Choirs

On 2nd February 2020, I took part in The Perpetual Choir for the Ash: a gathering of voices that sang for 24 hours non-stop for the healing and regeneration of the ash tree. Different groups around the world sang for slots of one hour or more at a time by a chosen ash tree. People took part in the UK, Ireland, The Netherlands, Belgium, France, Slovenia, The USA and Canada.

The event was conceived and organised by Azul Thomé of the Earth Wisdom Tenders Group as an attempt to heal the ash tree, which is very sick in Britain and in parts of Europe. 95% of Ash trees are dying back due to the spores of the mushroom, Chalara, which enter the leaves
There is more information about Ash dieback on this Woodland Trust page:

https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/trees-woods-and-wildlife/tree-pests-and-diseases/key-tree-pests-and-diseases/ash-dieback/

As soon as I heard about the choir, I was moved both by the intention to support the ash trees and by the underlying conviction that sound and music – offered in the right way – could make a difference. As a sound healer, therapeutic music practitioner and tree lover, this was right up my street! In addition, I have been fascinated with the concept of Perpetual Choirs ever since I read about John Michell’s research on the subject – and here was a chance to actually take part in one, albeit “Perpetual” for one day only.

Ash Tree

Apparently, I’m not the only one. The idea of Perpetual Choirs is gaining in popularity, with people like Giles Bryant leading the way. The modern iteration seems to emphasise the combination of massed voices and an extended length of time for singing – in our case, 24 hours. This makes sense: we know that focused singers sharing the same intention can have a powerful effect and – while I am simplifying things here – in general the effect is heighted through an extended duration. How does this compare to the original Perpetual Choirs?

There is evidence that there was an ancient tradition, now lost, of continual chanting or singing in Britain, India, Egypt and other countries. Here I’m going to concentrate on the Perpetual Choirs of Britain as it’s the research into these with which I am familiar. The British Perpetual Choirs are recorded in The Welsh Triads of the Island of Britain, a Medieval collection of much older material. Some scholars believe that the Perpetual Choirs were maintained by monasteries in order to praise God continuously; others contend that this may be so, but that that origin of the choirs was pre-Christian and presumably, their original function was to uphold the integrity of the land. Interestingly, an English translation of the text from 1796 give the location of The three Perpetual Choirs of Britain as the Isle of Avalon (Glastonbury), Caer Caradoc (Old Sarum) and Bangor Is-y-Coed. There is debate about whether the third location refers to Bangor-on-Dee, near Wrexham, or Llantwit Major. John Michell puts forward a convincing case for further choir locations, including Goring-on-Thames and Croft Hill in Leicestershire.

The choirs could well have been huge. Iolo Morgannwg, translator of the original text, tells us that there were 24,000 singers in each choir. Unfortunately, Morgannwg has a tendency towards exaggeration and downright invention, but still, it is worth closing your eyes for a moment and imagining what a choir of that number would sound like. Its no wonder that modern re-creators aim for a large number of participants.

But what interests me is not so much the size of the choirs as their locations.  John Michell’s work shows that the choirs were situated in very precise locations in order to form a decagon, or 10-sided form, just under 63 miles in diameter. If you enjoy maths and geometry, it is set out here:

https://sacred.numbersciences.org/2018/12/27/john-michells-perpetual-choirs/

But, if you’re like me, and cannot make sense of the maths at all, it doesn’t matter. What’s important is not so much how the choirs were situated where they were, as why. It is clear to me that the choirs were located in such as way as to collectively focus the sound. Its not clear, however, whether that focus was inwards towards the centre of the decagon or outwards, using the decagon as a concentrated point from which sound could be radiated out.

Having received healing vocal tones in the centre of a circular group, I can attest to the powerful accumulation of energy when sound is directed inwards to a specific point. Equally, I can see how sending sound outwards from a concentrated centre point could increase the transformative power of the sound. Its possible that both were intended and utilised. We just don’t know. So, why don’t we find out? This is my request to those called to organise modern Perpetual Choirs: let’s set up more choirs of singers who are equipped to utilise the healing power of sound and music, training them in this, if necessary. But let’s not focus so much on numbers or duration, but on position. Let’s experiment with sound, sacred geometry and geomancy and see if we can understand the intention and effect behind the locations of the ancient Perpetual Choirs. Let’s see if they can teach us something important that we can use to heal the Earth and ourselves today.