Honoring Gaia Through Song
- Chants for the Queen of Heaven -
Review in Feminist Voices, July/August
by River Krantz
Chants for the Queen of Heaven...and Earth is a new cassette recording
of ritual chants by Madison artist Nancy Vedder-Shults and friends. A
beautiful and inspiring mixture of original melodies and traditional songs
from Tibet, India, Cuba, Hawaii, Korea, South Africa and the United States,
this tape is an important contribution to the growing musical genre of
live at the Unitarian church here in Madison, with seed money from a Unitarian
Universalist Women's Federation Feminist Theology Award, "Chants" features
Nancy's rich voice and skilled arrangements. No less important are the
talented singers and musicians who accompany her. Normajean Bunton, Barbara
Burdulis, Suzanne Christensen, Maggie Delaney-Potthof, Lynn Fendler, Jade,
Judith Lary, Paula Murphy, Mary Sykes and Barbara Vedder are the singers;
ethnomusicians include Atma on drums, Rolliana Scheckler on harp, Marianne
Egerstrand on talking drum, Marcel Colbert on agogo, Anne Fraioli on flute,
Cathy Moore on hurdy gurdy, Jennifer Morgan on English horn, Marianne
Westphal on cello, Eva Wright on chimes, Jim Yocky on drums and Tibetan
bell and Ranjitas Gupta on tabla.
Nancy Vedder-Shults has been collecting chants and sacred songs for years,
learning them at women's festivals, conferences and concerts, and researching
them in books and music libraries. She has been involved with the Women
and Religion Committee of the Unitarian Universalist Associations' Central
Midwest District, and wrote an annotated discography for the Womanspirit
Sourcebook five years ago. Through these experiences, she says, she realized
"how little excellent chant music was available" for use in women's rituals,
and was inspired to contribute her own work.
Reclaiming beautiful and powerful images of women is an essential component
of feminism. Traditional goddess mythology is an important source of such
imagery, and Nancy's work brings to life female deities from many cultures.
"Amaterasu," with its haunting flute melody, is a tribute to the Japanese
Shinto Sun Goddess. Nancy adds that it is about "seeing your own beauty
and realizing the power of yourself as a woman -- and as a goddess."
"Volcano Woman" celebrates the fiery creative power of the Hawaiian Goddess
Pele with a catchy beat that brings to mind a vision of women dancing
amidst leaping flames....Kwan Yin, Kali, Tara, Yemaya, Calliope, Sarasvati,
Spider Woman and Oshun are also invoked in chants ranging in mood from
meditative to exuberant.
In addition to reclaiming goddesses and mythical heroines as strong and
powerful role models, many women have begun to embrace them as aspects
of the divine, or of an all-encompassing spiritual force. Chants which
invoke goddesses, ancestors, and the divine within each of us can be integral
to rituals of personal and spiritual transformation. I first heard Nancy's
"Old Crone of Mystery" in a ritual context where the participants sought
the wisdom of the Crone. Hearing the chant again is a vivid reminder of
that empowering event.
The groups's rendition of "I Found God in Myself [and I loved Her fiercely]"
is one of my favorites on the tape, since it proclaims both the self-love
so important to a feminist consciousness, and the immanence of the deity,
one of the central tenets of goddess spirituality.
The only song on the tape that I don't like is one of Nancy's solos, "Every
Hour;" it reminds me too much of the Sound of Music's "Climb Every Mountain;"
it, too, might work okay as the triumphant denouement of the movie after
the Trapp Family Singers' escape from the Nazis, but in this context I
found it boring.
The final piece on the tape, "Ancestral Faces," is written by Adele Smith,
an African-American Unitarian Universalist woman. It is an incredibly
powerful invocation of the "women who have gone before us, who embody
the goddess...the historical truthseekers and mythical figures in African
and African-American culture." The litany of women who are honored in
this ritual piece is impressive and inspiring, and the rhythm is the foot-tapping,
If you missed the release concert for this recording in June, you'll want
to pick up a copy soon. (It's available at A Room on One's Own Feminist
Bookstore). If you were one of the many who packed the First Unitarian
Society's Frank Lloyd Wright sanctuary for the concert, I probably don't
need to urge you to buy it! For ritual use or simply for listening pleasure,
Chants for the Queen of Heaven ...and Earth will be well worth your money.
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Nancy Vedder-Shults, Ph.D.
Madison, WI | (608) 231-3362