PRINCEVILLE — Benjy and Heather Wertheimer bring the traditions and classical sounds of India to Kaua‘i during tonight’s “Sacred Music of India” concert. The husband-and-wife-duo, known as Shantala (which means “being of peace”), performs kirtan music 7:30 p.m. today at the Church of the Pacific in Princeville.
Kirtan (pronounced keer-tun) is a call-and-response chanting rooted in Hinduism.
Benjy plays an instrument while Heather recites simple Sanskrit mantras that the audience echoes back to her.
And don’t worry if your singing voice isn’t up to par.
“Kirtan is the kind of practice that is open to everyone,” Benjy said. “You don’t have to be a skilled musician or singer. It’s a opportunity to open the heart and share with community. I love the range people who come and sing with us.”
Even though Kirtan has Hindu origins, “Everyone is welcome,” Heather said. “I find people of any kind of religious background can enjoy the process.”
The chants are simple and repetitive, lasting anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes. The music begins slowly, and little by little the tempo increases.
“It’s a celebratory practice,” Benjy said. “People are singing and dancing kirtan. It’s a series of these musical celebrations.”
The concert is designed to blend sound and rhythm to create a vehicle designed to open the heart and create a sense of well-being.
Benjy, who has studied classical Indian music for more than 25 years, described kirtan as a type of yoga centered around sacred music and sound.
Lending to the group’s credibility is Heather, who was a yoga instructor for 10 years before she had to put her practice on hold in order to take Shantala’s musical act on the road.
“We never in a million years expected to do what we are doing today,” Heather said. “I guess the universe had other plans.”
Benjy and Heather met more than a decade ago while they were taking a songwriting workshop in the Portland, Ore. area. Heather was working as a part-time yoga instructor when she invited Benjy, a practitioner of Indian classical music, to perform at the end of her classes.
“Benjy brought an esraj, a 19-string bow instrument from northern India, to play the end of class,” Heather said. “People started asking us to perform chants and kirtan, and we just fell in love with it.
Together, the husband-and-wife team have released 12 albums together as the group Shantala and have performed with other kirtan groups including Krishna Das, Deva Premal and Miten and Jai Uttal.
Even while on tour, the group practices yoga.
“We were just in a yoga class,” Benjy remarked during the interview.
The group practices anusara yoga.
“Its literal translation is flowing with grace,” Benjy said.
Sean Frenette joins Benjy and Heather for today’s concert. The bassist said he was a kirtan practitioner in the Boston yoga community before he met Benjy and Heather.
As part of today’s concert, Frenette said he will perform a original piece on a three-string guitar.
“I never would have imagined that I would have landed here,” the classicaly trained guitarist said. “It’s quite magical.”
Before the concert, there will be an Indian dinner and Coconut Bliss desserts. Visit www.ShantalaMusic.com for more information.
What: “Sacred Music of India” performed by Shantala
When: 7:30 p.m. today
Where: Church of the Pacific in Princeville
Cost: $15 cash at the door