It is called “overtone” singing. The performer manipulates his or her mouth, throat and diaphragm to create several pitches, or layers, of sounds at the same time, starting in the lower range of human voice then adding another note up to an octave above the first. Also known as harmonic or throat singing in western cultures, overtone singing is a distinctive sound that is felt as much as it is heard. This kind of voice manipulation is central to the prayers of Tibetan monks. Several monks chant in unison, integrating their prayers with each other until a wall of sound rumbles in the room.
Of course, the sound is not the goal of the chants. The words are.
On October 9th, 2015, in South Salt Lake City, four visiting monks, dressed in burgundy robes and traditional curved saffron hats that brings to mind a roman centurion helmet, spoke in overtone voices the words of prayer, and dedicated a community center. What was once an unused warehouse was turned into a place of reflection, celebration, and peace.
This is a story of the Tibetans who live in Utah…one of the smallest ethnic communities in the state, proud of its heritage and focused on its challenges. It is about the building of the center, what it means not just to Tibetans but all Utahans. And, it is about how one woman became the “Mother of Utah’s Tibetans.”