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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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