So we're performing at a Christian college, and I suddenly realize that my singer is chanting the Litany of the Sacred Heart while I'm playing a traditional North Indian drum piece on the tabla and simultaneously leading the audience in a rhythmic call-response kirtan while my clarinetist is shredding a smoking solo, and I think, "This is the coolest thing I have ever done!" It all began when a Rumi scholar friend sent me a verse he had just translated and asked if I could "do something with it" for an interfaith devotional gathering in his home. I didn't have much time, so I took a bit of Gregorian chant, added a couple extra phrases and put a rhythm to it, fit the Rumi words to that, floated some chanted psalm verses over it, put a tabla solo under it, and left a place for a horn solo over a repetitive rhythmic zikr on the word Halleluyah in the middle of it. It was more of an assemblage than a composition. The audience loved it-it remains one of our "greatest hits." The message was clear: God wants me to write less music. So that's what we've been doing: write simple melodies over drumbeats and drones, float some Gregorian chant through them, and leave plenty of room for spontaneity and improvisation. Bring all the influences in our backgrounds to bear--Gregorian chant, Hindustani music, klezmer, jazz, Renaissance vocal music, European classical music, Balkan folk-and let something grow that, far from being an eclectic hodge-podge, is (if we can believe our audiences) something cohesive, unified and utterly unique. That's Mandala.
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