Mama's Minstrel | Nancy Vedder-Shults, Ph.D.

- Chants for the Queen of Heaven -

Review in Feminist Voices, July/August 1993 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 women's spirituality.

Recorded 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, blood-pumping kind.

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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Mama's Minstrel
Nancy Vedder-Shults, Ph.D.
Madison, WI | (608) 231-3362