If music can move us from being trapped in the head to dwelling in the heart, Nirinjan Kaur and Matthew Schoening‘s new album To the Heart does just that. This is music for light beings, for those who enjoy the inner journey, for those who appreciate music that offers both complexity and enrichment.
Matthew Schoening’s electric cello compositions have been described as a warm, safe blanket of healing sound. Like with all his albums, in this album Matthew’s music delivers both a healing sonic experience and a lively, technical music performance. What’s more, Matthew is a tea ceremony enthusiast; no doubt this personal passion informs his music: Just as a Chinese tea ceremony nourishes the senses, so too Matthew’s music creates an atmosphere of quiet grace and a warm fragrance with which the spirit rises.
In interviews from the past, Nirinjan has described music as a family member, as a Beloved one who moves the spirit. She grew up in a Kundalini Yoga household. She studied Raag with a master in India. She is steeped in the Sacred Sound Current. Her voice is known for its ability to transport listeners to the sacred space within. On this album, when such a voice combines with Matthew Schoening’s strings, the result is a gorgeous, sophisticated, and complete sacred experience.
To the Heart is Nirinjan’s sixth album, and her second with Matthew. I played the album in my home, and then I sat in the silence after it was finished. I just sat there, surrounded by the benevolence of true peace and quiet. My awareness could reach deep into this silence and dissolve my whole being. I could become one with this silence in praise of the Universe. Emerging after this experience felt like a rebirth.
The first song is called “Let Go.” It opens with an energetic instrumental harmony. When Nirinjan’s voice enters, it is low and jazzy, as if the singer keeps the Great Mystery swaddled in song. The lyrics are from a poetic translation by the mystic Kabir, “Sing such a song with all of your heart, you’ll never have to sing again. Walk such a path with all your faith, you’ll never have to wander again.”
The words “let go” come as a chorus that Nirinjan repeats with such assurance that letting go can be done easily, gracefully, and even with rhythmic agility, thanks also to Matthew’s cello. The song continues its journey by layering the cello and the vocals. This music convinces us that letting go involves dissolving into a flow with the universe that is subtle and sweet. Musical layers inspire listeners to journey through the layers of consciousness. We can contemplate each layer with a sense of what it really means to “Love such a one with all of your heart that you’ll never have to love again.”
Like “Let Go,” the next song “Breathe” is also a faceted, layered, and dynamic treasure, like a buried gem. The craft of this song inspires listeners to breathe and be steady amidst the layers and facets of mind, reality, and consciousness. We get a sense that these songs are linked and leading us somewhere. This palpable anticipation is provocative.
“Expansion” offers powerful strings and rhythm. This song challenges us to expand. Listeners may or may not be familiar with the shabad (Gurmukhi poem) Nirinjan sings here, but the beauty and depth of the sound current carry us ever inward; so, it matters little whether we know what the words mean or not. In Kundalini Yoga and meditation practice, we are constantly reminded not to worry so much whether we know the meaning of the shabads, so long as we surrender to the Sound Current. Ultimately, it’s the sound that blooms our consciousness, not the meaning of the words. At the end of “Expansion,” the cello carries sound out into infinity. We can expand into that love that is The Love that ends all love.
“Suniai” is a song that brings things to life, if songs can be said to do such a thing. It’s quite magical. Listeners can hear the breath of the ocean. The breath of God. The breath of musical instruments. The breath of melody. The breath of rhythm. This song reminds us that all things breathe. Even this moment is breathing. Everything comes so alive that by the song’s end we will want to sit simply in silence and listen to the vast space, listen for the breath of life and breath of God that dwells everywhere always. Suniai means listen, but not just listen with our ears; listen with our whole being, and listen into the essence of things. There is a second recording of this song on the album that features the famous composer Jeff Pevar, who has made music with Crosby, Stills, and Nash, Ray Charles, and James Taylor.
The song “To the Heart” reminds us that the thinking mind is a spiral staircase that leads to nowhere. Wonder what it all is that we whisper. Wonder what it all is for which we pray. Nirinjan sings us into a state of wonder, and it’s a wonder that love opens the door! What door? Where do we go? This song offers phrase after phrase of musical openings and a giant and gentle deepening. The melody gives us instant access, access to the heart space. This heart space that we can hear, that is full of Breath of Life, serves us better than our head space; so, we are with Nirinjan when she sings “I give in!” She ends the song whispering a message. Is this the key? Is this the answer? Is this the ultimate teaching?
“Waves” is a song that takes us beyond head and heart. This song is a celebration of how our sense perception can lead us into infinity, so long as we choose to access that perception through the heart. These waves can fulfill us. This is about allowing the waves of life, the ceaseless ups and downs, to fill the heart. Again, this song offers comfort: “the ocean mirrors the sky and follows the moon; so, I see you and move with you. Again and again, surrender to the crashing waves.” We surrender into natural rhythms of waves rushing in again and again, filling up the heart with divine energy. Here, where there is a pause in the vocals, the electric cello enters. Now, our roused awareness enjoys another chance to dance into the unknown inner realms.
To the Heart is an album that inspires us to confront our inner complexity; it is about coming through a sacred experience and emerging with elevated day to day awareness. We gain a new way of being with all experience as it brings us more and more into harmonious collaboration with the divine music of the universe.
May your deepest listening experiences always bring you home to the heart. Sat Nam!