In the winter of 1991, on the auspicious occasion of Chotrul Duchen, Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo surprised her students with a new chant of the traditional “Seven Line Prayer” to Guru Rinpoche. The chant was more like a song, filled with hope and longing, and spoke to the mostly Western sangha members.
This event inspired a small group of Jetsunma’s students to write songs of devotion and sing traditional chants with harmonies and simple guitar accompaniment. The students put together a homemade cassette tape of songs, and presented it to Jetsunma. She encouraged them to continue, and a year later they had the opportunity to perform Dharma music at the Marvin Center in Washington, D.C.
Jetsunma attended one of the rehearsals for the performance, offering tweaks to the various pieces and advice to the students. Each change, however major or minor, made an improvement to the piece, and the students were amazed at the depth of her musicality. But, as the students sang Jetsunma’s new version of the “Seven Line Prayer” with harmonies they had created, something wasn’t working.
On the spot, Jetsunma created harmonies that were perfect for each of their voices. She had always heard the prayer in her head being sung with many voices in harmony, and was able to sing each part without hearing it in conjunction with the others. The parts blended together amazingly! However, there was not a voice for the main part, which wove its way in and out of the melody, and was filled with longing and devotion. She sang that with the group in rehearsal, and they begged her to sing it at the concert. She did – and it was exquisite.
After that, her teachings had another vehicle – through her music. With her group, now called “Sky Dancer,” Jetsunma wrote and recorded a number of songs, all of them Dharma messages in contemporary musical forms. The culmination of that period was the 17 minute prayer “Invocation,” beseeching Guru Rinpoche to be present in the world and in our hearts.
In 2000, on the occasion of a Guru Yoga retreat at the sacred Dakini Valley property in Arizona, Jetsunma revealed yet another tune to the “Seven Line Prayer.” To have sacred music that spoke to the Western ear was something that many of the students had longed for – and Jetsunma was providing just that.
It was not until 2006 that music once again rose to the forefront. She made a sampler CD of a few songs, performing them live to a welcoming audience, then went into the studio with John Ward of Totally Killing It Productions. Out of this came the 18 song CD Revolution of Compassion, with the haunting “Prayer to Be Reborn in Dewachen,” and a song in which she chanted the mantra to Guru Rinpoche alongside the voice of His Holiness Penor Rinpoche, her own root teacher.
This CD was followed in quick succession by the CDs Delog and Ellinwood Ranch Blues. Last year, Jetsunma, along with a host of revered musicians (Jimmy Mack, Louis Winfield, and the late Wayne “Tex” Gabriel) began work on a new CD, A Lineage of Queens. A sneak peak was offered via the CD Trilogy.
As Jetsunma begins a period of retreat, it’s hard not to wonder what blessings via her music might come into the world. To hear Jetsunma’s music, please visit http://www.cdbaby.com/Artist/Jetsunma.
Ani Dara Tokarz
Oct. 12, 2010