Stringer Theory: Chanting for Conscious Healing

By Steven Libowitz   |   November 30, 2017
Dave Stringer performs Saturday, December 2, at Yoga Soup

In his most recent email missive, Yoga Soup founder/owner Eddie Ellner mused on how his effort 12 years ago to “construct the place that I’d want to go to when I felt I had no place to go” eventually turned into the thriving consciousness-raising hub as he eventually realized that he was “surrounded by a loving, supportive, and appreciative community.”

Kirtan singer Dave Stringer – who back then was not long out of his singer-songwriter/filmmaker days – was one of the first visiting performers helping to open Yoga Soup a dozen years ago and has since gone on to help expand the genre of call-and-response devotional singing beyond studios to the mainstream. This weekend, the two are reuniting for the first time in several years when Stringer returns for a special holiday concert and chant-fest concert at Yoga Soup that begins with a food court with vendors selling unique gifts in the main building before moving to the studio for the music.

Stringer – who will be accompanied by singer-songwriters Joss Jaffe (who was raised in Montecito) and Sheila Nicholls, plus local musicians Sudama Mark Kennedy and Philippo Franchini – talked about the concepts and the concert over the phone.

Q. You are one of the rare kirtan singers who happily breaks down the process and the meaning of the Sanskrit chants. Why?

A. Sanskrit has worked for centuries, and for English speakers it helps get you beyond the diversion of your mind and thoughts, depriving it of words that have specific meanings in your own language. But I want people to understand that we’re trafficking in sounds that are inherently either soothing or can convey some kind of meaning. When I break them down, you get to collaborate in seeing what state they are meant to evoke, which works across cultures, and that the names of gods and goddesses are representations of philosophical concepts and approaches.

Similarly, you have studied and embraced the science behind Kirtan – the neuroscience of music and meditation, mantras, and molecules. Why does that matter?

Partly because I want to know how it works. How is it that I can start out singing in a terrible mood and end up feeling elevated and connected as a result of just singing what are basically non-sensical syllables? To me, having an understanding of how we are neuro-equipped for ecstasy, and especially how it is that we are driven to experience it on a collective level, is important. I love looking into that whole hypothesis that consciousness is something we as humans share but don’t possess.

In composing kirtan songs, what drives your decisions on melody, instrumentation? And for that matter, when played live, the rhythm and tempo, et cetera?

The ragas and melodies are deeply within us, and for me as a writer it’s partly a matter of discovery. They’re elemental. They’re not arbitrary. So, the effort is to connect to something deeper. When I do that, it automatically produces a connective response. (As far as live), skillful kirtan musicians know how to listen and connect organically. It’s like what drives a flock of birds or school of fish. What is the underlying consciousness? Who decides? We do, collectively, by listening to each other, and the audience singing the music back. What causes us to speed up, or drop out, or change the groove is attunement and a feeling of “rightness.”

What can we expect this time around at Yoga Soup?

I’ll sing some classic call and response kirtans, but we’ll also do songs. That was always the tradition (in India), a philosophy in poetry that would be sung intermixed with kirtans. So, we are using meditations to move people from mass ecstasy to mass stillness, and then offer songs that are both beautiful and philosophical. Sheila and Joss will so a few songs, too, and I might even do some new songs from a record that I’m working on in English right now.

(The Yoga Soup holiday party and concert with Dave Stringer & Friends takes place 6:30 pm on Saturday, December 2. Admission is $20 in advance, $25 at the door. Call 965-8811 or visit

Jewel: Falling from Pieces to Peace

Back in 1995, Jewel‘s first pop album Pieces of You took nearly two years to click, and then, almost overnight, became one of the bestselling debut records of all time, eventually moving more than 12 million copies. The singer-songwriter was just 21 at the time, not far removed from being a homeless San Diego teenager, and the sudden success might have proved overwhelming if not for the mindfulness practices and coping mechanisms she’d already developed in her early days as an aspiring troubadour. (Not coincidentally, her first two smash hit singles were called “Who Will Save Your Soul” and “You Were Meant for Me”.)

Fast-forward 22 years, and Jewel – who brings her Handmade Holiday tour featuring her father and two brothers as guests to the Chumash Casino on Friday night (see the events calendar) – is turning that lifelong spiritual pursuit into a business. Jewel Inc., which launches just a year after the debut of her website (named after her 2015 memoir), a joint project with mindfulness research expert Judson Brewer, expands upon the concept of encouraging “emotional fitness.” The company will offer a digital tool kit to improve mental health fitness, and she’s also creating curriculum for public schools to help youngsters “realize they are observers of their thoughts, not victims of them,” she told the San Diego Union-Tribune last week.

If nothing else, the current concert tour is proof of healing her own traumatic past. Her alcoholic father was abusive to both her and her brothers after divorcing her mother when Jewel was just 8. Now they’re all touring together to celebrate the holiday season. “We’re really coming full-circle in a lot of ways,” she said.

It’s unlikely she’ll delve into the subject at the concert, but Jewel is also an expert on the suddenly hot topic of sexual harassment, as the singer-songwriter lost her first two jobs as a teenager for turning down propositions from her bosses, stories that have been documented in the book and interviews. Just three years later, she found herself as one of the headliners on the debut Lilith Fair high-profile women’s tour. Full circle, indeed.

The Power of Meaning

Emily Esfahani Smith, the TED Talks favorite and author of The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life that Matters, knows that there’s more to life than endlessly searching for happiness. The positive psychology instructor and editor at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, Smith draws on psychology, philosophy, and literature to postulate that pursuing meaning in life is ultimately more fulfilling and leads to a richer life. Smith, who writes about the human experience – why we are the way we are, and how we can find grace and meaning in a world that is full of suffering – gives a public lecture titled “The Power of Meaning: Making Your Life, Work and Relationships Matter” at UCSB Campbell Hall at 7:30 pm this Thursday, November 30. Admission is free.

Moon-gazing Meditations under a Roof

Rupa Meditation founder Tom G. O’Brien, a Montecito native, is back in town and hosting his monthly Full Moon Meditations again. Only with the winter fast approaching, you’ll have to imagine the luminous orb as the events have moved indoors for the next several offerings. The next program, slated for 8 pm this Saturday, December 2, takes place at The Base, the new fitness and wellness facility at 116 Anacapa St. in the heart of the Funk Zone, just a couple of blocks away from East Beach, the meditations’ warm-weather locale. Each event features a new guided meditation from O’Brien, as well as continued focus on a variety of pranayama (breathing) exercises. Admission is $15 for adults, $10 for seniors, students and teens, and by donation for veterans and first responders. Returning participants get a $5 discount. No experience is necessary, and there’s plenty of room at the workout space. For details or to reserve a spot, email O’Brien at or text 453-8965.

More Magic in the Moonlight

Patrick San Francesco – the Goa, India-based healer, teacher, and philanthropist who travels the world offering healing to individuals, teaching his unique energy healing in workshops, and presenting talks on higher consciousness – returns to Santa Barbara for two events at Yasa Yoga & Wellness Center (22 W. Mission St.) this weekend. The founder of Samarpan Foundation and Light Movement Foundation helps participants to harness the power of the full moon with his Celestial Meditation and Talk 6:30 to 8:30 pm on Friday, December 1, then returns to the studio the next morning for a four-hour workshop Consciousness and Power Living talk and healing sessions (Level 1/Level 3) beginning at 9 am. Admission is $20 Friday night, and $150 on Saturday, and proceeds go to fund the Samarpan Foundation, a non-profit charity named after the Sanskrit word meaning “surrendering your identity to the universe” that serves the poorest and most vulnerable people and works to protect and rejuvenate the environment. More info at San Franscesco’s website,, or call 845-4626 or visit .

Dawa Heads to La Casa

Bodhi Path Santa Barbara resident teacher Dawa Tarchin Phillips is offering another one of his extended local retreats this week over at the La Casa de Maria Retreat Center. The five-day meditation workshop and practice, taking place December 4-8, focuses on “Mahamudra – The Ocean of True Meaning”, a seminal text on Mahamudra Meditation by the 9th Karmapa Wangchuk Dorje. Phillips will lead participants in meditation, discussion, and practice in the beautiful and serene environment of the Montecito center.

Meanwhile, with Phillips at the retreat, members of the Bodhi Path sangha – located at 102 W. Mission, a block from Yasa Yoga – take over his regular Thursday evening slot on Thursday, December 7, for a screening and discussion of Hannah: Buddhism’s Untold Journey, a documentary about the transmission of Tibetan Buddhism to the West through the life of Hannah Nydahl, a Danish practitioner and a teacher who was instrumental in this journey. Everyone is welcome; admission by donation. Details at


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