It was 8:30 p.m. Friday night and it was hard to find an unoccupied seat in McPherson Auditorium. The audience not only consisted of Bryn Mawr students, but also of those who had come from miles away and booked tickets well in advance for the performance.
“Sacred Music, Sacred Dance,” as the performance was called, was presented by the Mystical Arts of Tibet group as part of Bryn Mawr’s performing arts series. It featured monks from Drepung Loseling Monastery, a Tibetan temple in India whose North American branch was located in Atlanta, Georgia.
The performance began with a welcome speech, in which the announcer said it would be their last performance this year in the U.S. Soon after the performance, the monks would return to India.
The first piece of music was “Nyensen,” or “Invocation of the Forces of Goodness.” It served as a prelude to the performance, during which the monks showcased their multiphonic singing skill, the ability of intoning three notes simultaneously to form a chord.
There was no accompaniment by modern instruments. For most parts of the performance, the performers only used simple instruments such as drums, cymbals and dung-chen horns. But the effect was majestic. Those slow, monotonous and calm chants made people to think of the snowy peaks of the Himalayas and the mysterious highlands of Tibet.
The nearly two-hour performance was comprised of two parts, with eleven selections from traditional Tibetan music and dance. Highlights included “Shanak Garcham,” or “Dance of the Black Hat Masters,” “Senggey Garcham,” or the “Snow Lion Dance,” and many more.
A huge painting of Potala Palace was hung above the stage, adding to the splendor of the performance.
Megan Russell, a junior at Bryn Mawr College, said she really liked the performance. “It’s beautiful,” she said, “I really like the vocal performances. I think they are the most incredible thing. And I am impressed by the lion, which is adorable.”
Another Bryn Mawr student, sophomore Paloma Alcаlá, remarked on “Taksal,” a monastic debating scene of the performance: “I just wished I understood their language, so that I could get a better grasp of what they were debating. I want to know what they were saying.”
“Certainly they looked very energetic. But I wanted to know what they are so excited about. And a lot of this makes you realize, you know, my sort of pre-conceived notion of what monks do is that they sit around and pray all the time. But I realized that’s really not the case,” she continued.
Lobsang Norbu, spokesperson for the performing group, said nine monks participated in the performance.
He remarked that the Potala painting on the stage was made by the monks. Norbu said it typically took them several months to finish a painting like that.
Norbu also mentioned two things in Tibetan culture that he thought are still relevant to modern life. “Compassion and loving kindness” were the two important personal traits he stressed.
Further cultural events related to Tibet include a free admission Tibetan festival and bazaar held on Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia during December 6th and 7th. More information can be found on the website, phillytibetans.com.