Choral Chameleon, a semi-professional New York City-based chorus, joined Bloom Holistic Healing, a wellness organization, for an immersive “washing” experience at Robison Concert Hall, Oct. 28. As the audience took seats, healers walked around the room with various bowls and chimes, welcoming the audience with a calm energy that is nearly the opposite of the usual buzz that accompanies the start of a show.
This alternative energy was entirely intentional on the parts of both Choral Chameleon and Bloom, as it was intended to welcome audiences back to concerts and public spaces after the isolation of Covid-19.
“We were concerned that when audiences came back to formal concerts that they might find that experience immediately overwhelming after having been so isolated for two years… The idea behind this was, ‘How can we reunite with our listeners in a way that was gentle, mindful and holistic?’” explained Choral Chameleon Artistic Director Vince Peterson.
This mindset was potent throughout the performance. Following the unique welcoming of the audience, Peterson began the show by saying “you are safe, you are held and we ask you to let go.” From there, audience members were encouraged to put on eye masks for the duration of the show, allowing themselves to focus on the sensations that would accompany the choral music alongside the sounds of the healing instruments.
As a reflection of the sound bath’s intentional uniqueness, the Choral Chameleon choir, which has never been tied to tradition, performed a nuanced version of traditional choir music. Choir music usually has religious connotations and is rooted in classical music — often making words hard to understand or lyrics overall unrelatable. Choral Chameleon, however, takes a different approach wherein its composers arrange pieces in the style of traditional choir music (i.e.: the style that makes a group of people’s voices sound like one big instrument) but adds lyrics drawn from contemporary music. This creative process allows the choir to blend with the sound bath instruments, as choir-members sang about love and connections to Earth and the inner-self.
“The chorus played a variety of songs which helped foster a space of deep relaxation for me and others in the audience. I was struck by the palpable change in atmosphere after the final song was performed, like the audience was coming out of a trance,” said concert-goer Alex Stimpson ’23.5.
When asked if it was their first sound bath, at least three-quarters of the audience raised their hands. Despite fears of falling asleep, by the end of the show it was clear that everyone in the room had been emotionally moved. The performance ended with audience-members taking off their eye masks and being asked to say “ahh” all together three times. And while each chant was moving, the final chant came with the request that each person let out whatever stress or energy they had brought with them, and, without any of the usual “I can’t hear you”s that come with the awkwardness of audience participation, everybody sang out together for about 60 seconds.
“This is not just a musical performance, it’s a transformance. When you receive sound healing in a sound bath, you don’t just listen to it with your ears, every cell in your body is receiving vibrations and frequency… We know from science that every time you give your nervous system the opportunity to switch from ‘flight or fight’ to ‘rest and restore,’ you are giving your body the ability to do what it does naturally, which is finally come to a state of balance,” sound healer Isabelle Pierre-Emile said.
The uniqueness of this performance and the way that the audience was expected to receive it were reasons that Director for the Performing Arts Series Allison Coyne Caroll was so excited to host the choir. “Choral Chameleon is a really forward-thinking ensemble. And now that the [performing arts] series is in its second century, it’s a nice energy to have an ensemble here that is really looking toward the future,” Coyne Caroll said.
Though it may sound quite daunting to attend a 90-minute performance blindfolded, this joint effort by Choral Chameleon and Bloom was not to be missed — and would have been nearly impossible to doze off to. The sounds of the healing instruments were relaxing and the choir enveloped the crowd in a communal and loving experience that was only added to by the talent of the performers.
“This experience is an opportunity for everyone to reconnect with themselves and reconnect with everyone in the room. So much of what we’re missing right now is community, and specifically healing from the last few years in community, together again,” reflected Bloom sound healer and Choral Chameleon member Molly Rabuffo.
And if this article has made you regret having missed such a relaxing and moving show — not to worry! Choral Chameleon will be returning for a residency with the Middlebury Choir come spring 2023, and though they will not be accompanied by Bloom, there is no doubt that their performances will be both talent-infused and musically unique.