The Nature of En-Chantment. Interview with Singer Liz Crow
This week's interview is with Liz Crow, who among other things produces recordings of Pagan songs and chants.
FB: Hi Liz, I think you're most widely known from the Chanting CDs you produce with other singing partners. How did the CDs come about?
LC: Graham King bought the Museum of Witchcraft at Samhain 1996 (see separate interview about the museum), and we decided to open that Christmas, after the first intensive changes had kicked off, i.e. we had remove the more outrageously dodgy of Cecil's tableaux. (Note from Francis: Cecil Williamson, the previous owner had run the museum since the 1950s and many of his displays were not entirely savoury or truly representative of what the Craft is about). Where 'Joan's Cottage' is now (a recreation of a village wise woman's house from the 18th century), Heike Robertson, Graham and I made a temporary display, using Cecil's old redundant mannequins, of two young witches in a domestic room done up as a temple, affectionately called "Tracey and Sheila worship the Old Ones at home" . We needed some sound, so Heike (a singing friend of many years) and I recorded the "Ruislip gas fire tape" (!) - it was very rough, had cats yowling, phone, children, cackling etc but it worked well with the display. A couple of months later we did a proper job, studio recording some chants for the Stone Circle, a new area of the Museum.
That first season we had so many requests for copies of the Chanting that it rapidly became necessary to reproduce them professionally, so we had tapes and CDs made; to our surprise and delight they sold very well and people loved them. After four years, more gathering, and many requests we finally managed to produce Chanting 2, this time I was working with Carole Talboy with whom I had been singing for a while.
FB: there is a stereotypical image of a lot of 'new age music' that is just fluffy aural wallpaper; elevator or advert music - someone like Enya would be a prime example. That's not really where you're going though, is it?
LC: I love all sorts of music, but the importance of the chanting to me is that its intent is devotional and magical; it isn't a cynical product of the New Age Industry. I am certainly not condemning the whole New Age scene, but there's so much money involved, the "Buy your enlightenment here," mind set. We're in a time of enormous change and people are searching, vulnerable to being ripped off, they need to realise their own power and knowledge, not be conned into thinking they have to Buy It! The Chants we've recorded, as well as for listening to, are for people to learn to sing themselves, the more people that know and use them, the louder our collective pagan, "witchy body corporate" voice becomes. I really do believe that this is important stuff on many levels.
FB: If you look closer at words, something like 'Enchantment' really does imply a magical use of song: I've heard some of your chants/songs done both 'live' and the CDs played on machines in a ritual setting, and it feels really powerful- maybe in part from it being so simple, yet being repeated by several voices it seems to grow in strength- rather like a repeated mantra? Another thing I notice, certainly in myself, but others have remarked on it too, from their own experiences, is that those who are not natural singers had trouble actually projecting the words at first, but it's almost like it takes over after a few repetitions, and draws sound out of the body; a very nice effect!
LC: Firstly, magic is within and all around us, and I try to bring it through with and for people wherever I happen to be. It's the most fundamental of my aims in this incarnation! In a Pub Session environment you can reach people with a Traditional song that has that contains magical references and imagery, its mystery touches those who would never enjoy the chanting. I particularly collect and enjoy singing Traditional Christian songs that have pagan elements and it's bridge building and a gesture of respect too, to the local churchy community, as I think I am generally known as a witch.
As to the chanting, well it's power-full, it raises power, and once
experienced, then that feeling is never forgotten. Well that's what was like for me when I first felt it, many moons ago! It is the ancient and wondrous magic that comes when human voices make noise and sing in harmony, the sound that can come through each of us, the song of the earth and the starry sky and "all our relations"... something inherent within human beings that makes us whole, healthy and happy when we share it, and that is sadly discouraged by the anti-spiritual society of commodity and consumer.
And it has a physical, scientifically studied and researched energy, don't know much about it at all, but when harmonic sound waves move within a space a standing wave of sound can be produced; this is experienced as an all around, vibrational "out of the mundane world" sound, recognisable in religious music through the ages.
At the Friends of the Museum Ritual last December a circle of about 40 people chanted 'AIR I AM…'
This is what it sounds like:
SHORT SAMPLE OF AIR I AM HERE (20 second mp3 sample, 300k) . [NOTE NOT AVAILABLE]
This longer version gives an idea of the mantra-like song structure LONG SAMPLE HERE [NOT AVAIABLE] (55 second mp3 sample, 850k) around a moon-charged bowl of water and as the energy of the sound rose, so the surface of the water rose too into a standing wave pattern, a physical manifestation of magical and devotional intent. And its nothing to do with being able to sing, the individual voice becomes part of the whole and it's very liberating and joyous to let sound go from your body without inhibition and fear. It's connection, it's magic... my favourite word!
FB: (grin) Can you tell us a little about the song that the samples above came from?
LC: Sorry don't know, learnt them round the fire pit from many wondrous women... and deepest thanks to whoever wrote them, so many chants are moving round these days, even between continents. Like the orally transmitted folk songs that the New World emigrants took with them from home, they develop and undergo changes from their source version. They're tools and treasure, once you have them you've always got them with you.
FB: You've produced 2 CDs so far (buying details appear below) are there more in the pipeline? Or what's next for you? It must be a heck of a lot of work finding the chants and working out how to present them?
LC: I intend to spend as much time as I can this summer off in my camper van, dictaphone primed, in search of the singing. I love the way they change and I collect variations, it is good to gather and record these precious and fragile chants, and revealing to see how they move on and develop as time passes, but finding them takes a great deal of time.
As for what's next - I have no idea! My plan is to go with the flow... and my hope is that I'll connect up with more people to sing with, it is beginning to happen. I enjoy working hard at whatever I am involved in, and I'm out there singing most night of the week these days, very varied material and situations, which is exciting. From Traditional Folk, through Pagan Chanting and even the latest wondrously unexpected opportunity doing vocals with a currently nameless local band, I love to sing, its fun, it makes me very happy and who knows where it will take me! I have always trusted The Old Ones to guide my steps and whether I'm chanting the Elements, singing "The Coven Chain Dance" or "Black Magic Woman" I know they're there with me helping to bring the mystery and magic back for all to share and celebrate.
Ho! Blessed Be.
Liz Crow April 2002
FB: Great stuff, and it's so nice to have some really uplifting music on the site... Many thanks for that Liz.
Sound samples used by kind permission, but remain copyright of the Museum of Witchcraft, 2002. No reproduction without express prior permission.
Contact and Buying the Chants:
Liz Crow can be contacted at Chantingqcrow@aol.com and especially welcomes contact with other musicians and singers. You can also buy her second CD, for £10 UK, including postage and packing using the same email address.