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On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.

There are a few moments from behind the glass that stop us dead in our tracks — times during an interview when a wise voice creates a new opportunity to hear something differently. To challenge a conceit. To envelop the listener in the womb of silent storytelling and place one in a position of listening profundity.

Vincent Harding was one of those men. He’ll be missed, and this story will stay with me till the end of my days.


Kara Holden offered this lovely Friday intermission in response to our question about the best song you’ve heard all week: Beneath us, constellations.

~Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Tagged: #music #video #song

Song of Sitting Bull at the Surrender of Fort Buford

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

For the Lakota people, Cedric Good House of Standing Rock Reservation says, songs kept different memories and meanings alive. Sitting Bull sang the song above, Mr. Good House says, to remind his people of their way of living at a time when things looked most bleak — in what the history books describe as the “surrender” at Fort Buford:

"Our story says it was an exchange of lifestyle. People were starving. He chose that the better would be for them to have food and shelter. So he in turn took his rifle, he gave it to his son; his son gave it to Colonel Buford or whatever his name was. And he’s the one that called it a surrender, but it wasn’t a surrender. It was an exchange of lifestyle. You’re going to give this lifestyle to my son, not to me."

Check out the rest of our show, "Tatanka Iyotake: Reimagining Sitting Bull," to hear more of Cedric Good House and Sitting Bull’s great-grandson Ernie LaPointe describe the spiritual legacy of Tatanka Iyotake.


Herman Cain Sings Gospel Song at The National Press Club

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Herman Cain is trending on Twitter again. But, this time it’s not for his latest television ad but for his rendition of a gospel song at The National Press Club. Facing some tough questions about the sexual harassment allegations made against him and his tax plan, the current GOP frontrunner for the presidential nomination ended by taking the opportunity to “share a little bit” about his faith with “He Looked Beyond My Faults.” The man can sing.


Tuesday Evening Melody: Allegri’s “Miserere Mei, Deus”

by Lisa Moore, guest contributor

This song affirms that humans create beauty. When that woman’s voice rises above the rest and spirals around, it is pure and intoxicating.

Miserere Mei was written by Italian composer Gregorio Allegri in the late 1630s. As legend has it, this piece of music was protected from being transcribed or played outside of the Sistine Chapel for the Tenebrae (“darkness” or “shadows” in Latin) service. Doing so was punishable by excommunication.

The story goes that, after more than a century, young Mozart heard the work in 1770 and rewrote it from memory when he returned home. His transcription ended up in the hands of an Englishman who published it in 1771. Rather than being excommunicated, Mozart was called to Rome and praised by the pope for his musical genius. The ban was lifted, and now it is one of the most common works to be performed by a cappella choirs.

Why would this song ever have been banned in the first place? Because it was so very beautiful. Perhaps people would hear this music and have a spiritual experience. That experience, of course, could then be had anywhere they heard that music and open a personal pathway to a relationship with God. The Church wanted to be sure that that type of communication could only occur with its guidance and control. There are other examples of music being avoided because of the belief that it insinuated evil, like the tritone.

Other composers also transcribed it, and there is quite the dispute about who got it right and whose version is the best. I first heard a recording by the Dale Warland Singers, so I think I’m stuck with my first love, but there are many recordings — including the gorgeous version above performed by The Sixteen — both with adult and children’s choirs.

As interesting as all of this is, I’m not trying to make any big statement. I just want to share this amazing music that deeply touches my soul, no matter what sort of mood I am in.

Lisa MooreLisa Moore is a medical student at Loyola University in Chicago. She attempts to maintain her identity as more than somebody who studies through yoga, creative cooking, reading, and writing.

We welcome your reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the Being Blog. Submit your entry and contribute a deeper understanding of the world around us.


Tuesday Evening Melody: “Going to a Town” by Rufus Wainwright

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Rufus Wainwright. Photo by Laura MusselmanRufus Wainwright performs in KEXP’s studios in 2007. (photo: Laura Musselman)

What do you do on a 16-hour family road trip to Montana with two sons under five and a wife riding shotgun? Play a lot of music — and sing badly. But, there are certain songs, certain performers that bring on the quiet. And this live performance from Rufus Wainwright is one of them.

Fumbling around my pickup’s floorboard pickup while cruising down I-94, my fingers serendipitously happened upon an unlabeled compilation CD I had burned in 2007. Etched with grit and gravel, it actually started playing. The opening track: Rufus Wainwright’s live version of “Going to a Town” that he performed at KEXP’s studios in Seattle while promoting Release the Stars.

Trying to conjure up meanings of the song’s lyrics would require too much exegesis, if you will, for this humble post, but Wainwright’s melodic challenging of America and its brokenness is valid four years later. Through this song, he forces us to remember what we once were as a nation — even if it’s a dream — who we’ve become, and what kind of people we might aspire to be again.

When I hear a ”Daddy, daddy. Play it again!,” I know he’s the right notes.


Wangari Maathai Dies But Spirit Lives on in Song and Deed

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

“Every person who has ever achieved anything has been knocked down many times. But all of them picked themselves up and kept going, and that is what I have always tried to do.

You cannot protect the environment unless you empower people, you inform them, and you help them understand that these resources are their own, that they must protect them.”

Wangari Maathai at the Svalbard Global Seed VaultThe Nobel laureate from Kenya died yesterday in a Nairobi hospital from a prolonged battle with cancer. We had the privilege of interviewing interviewing Wangari Maathai several years ago, and she remains one of our more treasured interviews. But, it’s a song she sang for us that is etched in my memory.

In the waning moments of our conversation in a Minneapolis hotel room in the midst of a blizzard, we asked Ms. Maathai if she remembered singing any songs during her days of planting trees (estimated to be more than 45 million now) in Kenya. She replied:

“…we do sing sometimes, but those are very local songs. Like, one song I always sing when we are together with the women — here comes my faith — because there is a lot of our — people are still very religious, and so quite often when I’m talking to them I use religious songs. And one song that we always sing is one that says ‘There is no other god. There is no other god but Him. There is no other power but Him.’ It is like a chorus. You want me to sing for you?

And this kind of song would be appropriate because when we are singing, when we are moving, we always want it to be peaceful, non-violent, so singing religious songs was very common.”

She left us with this song (audio above), a native tune in Kiswahili that is often sung by members of the Green Belt Movement while planting trees. I used to sing it to my baby boys when they were upset in the middle of the night, a pacifier for both them and me.

On her Facebook page, fans are posting some beautiful, loving memories about her and the work she did. They’re definitely worth reading.


Tuesday Evening Melody: “Jailer” by Asa

by Chelsea Roff, guest contributor

The story of how I discovered this song really isn’t all that interesting. I was just riding in a car with a friend listening to his iPod on shuffle when the lyrics caught my attention. I remember asking him to play it several times, and each time I heard it I gathered a different meaning from Asa’s words.

For me, the song speaks to being liberated from both personal and collective oppression. Some days when I close my eyes and listen to it, I see the images of Egyptian men and women standing together in the streets in peaceful protest; other days I think of a little girl shedding off her insecurities and telling the voice in her head that says, “You can’t. Yes I can!

When I hear this song, I hear the words of Mother Teresa and Gandhi and Martin Luther King and Jesus and the Buddha all rolled into one.

"I’m in chains, you’re in chains too. … Let he who is without sin be the first to cast the stone."

The message is a call for compassion. It’s a call for the oppressor and the oppressed to join one another on level ground, to stand together rather than exist in a power-over, power-under dynamic. At least that’s how I hear it. Whether you’re a greedy dictator, a violent abuser, or the bully at the playground, you are no different than me. Get off your pedestal; I won’t be slave to you anymore.

I hope you decide to share the song with listeners. Definitely one of my favorites. :)

Chelsea RoffChelsea Roff is managing editor at YogaModern.com, where she is active community-builder and a contributing writer. She recently helped found a yoga service organization called Studio to Streets that brings yoga classes to people in homeless shelters, juvenile detention centers, and prisons in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Want to recommend a song for our Tuesday evening melody, submit your suggestion and a little bit about the tune. We’ll take a listen for possible publication on the Being Blog.


Tuesday Evening Melody: “I Know” by Cynthia Hopkins

by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer

Cynthia Hopkins in The Truth: A Tragedy(photo: Paula Court)

Cynthia Hopkins is a Brooklyn-based musician and performer whose voice taps a quiet, deep well of emotion. If you’re looking for catharsis, find a private chamber and and try belting out one of her songs when no one else can hear you.

"I Know" comes from her most recent play, The Truth: A Tragedy, an exploration of her relationship with her ailing father:

"It’s an homage to him. It’s a portrait of him. And it’s also an attempt to make peace with him and to portray the evolution of my perspective on him from anger and frustration to celebration."

In this song, Hopkins suggests that we don’t really know our parents in their fullness. Like the bigger cosmos, these people who reared us are beautiful mysteries. No longer saddled by anger or disappointment, Hopkins makes peace with her father’s indirect expressions of love. There are other lovely songs to explore from her play, including “”Love,” “Resist the Tide,” and “The Answer” — all of which can be downloaded for free from Gloria Deluxe, the website of Hopkins’ band.


Tuesday Evening Melody: “The Sound of Sunshine” by Michael Franti

by Chris Heagle, technical director/producer

They say that miracles are never ceasing, and every little soul needs a little releasing…

As the first day of summer came and went last week, I found myself raising my fist to the sky and shouting La Niña! Please pardon the blatent regionalism, but here in the Twin Cities, where On Being is produced, it’s been a pretty slow start to summer. Tons of rain for an already soaked landscape and temps that have been about 20 degrees below average.

In this part of the country, knowing the details of the weather are not just a staple of small talk. It borders on obsession. Normally, I would include myself in that camp (after all, I’m blogging about it now!), but these days, I just want a couple weeks of uneventful summer sun.

This Michael Franti track, which came out last fall, is definitely more pop and less political than his previous releases. That might be too much of a departure for diehard Franti fans, but I can’t help putting this hopeful song near the top of my summer playlist.

What’s on your summer playlist? And more importantly, why? Send us your Tuesday Evening Melody and we just might publish it next Tuesday.

I just figured if I liked a song, it was mine.

—Jazz vocalist Nancy Wilson delivers a humdinger of a line on this week’s American Routes.

~reblogged by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Tagged: #jazz #music #song

Tuesday Evening Melody: Philip Glass “The Play of the Wrathful and Peaceful Deities”

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

There’s no other composer quite like him. Philip Glass summons the inner strength — the power and majesty — and the vulnerable adult who is always a child inside. His music stirs something primal; he reminds of us of our vulnerability. His music compels us to remember how profound we all can be, even when we can’t feel or say one remarkable word.

I’ve been moved by “Mad Rush” on several occasions, but I had no idea of the back story until now. It was originally written for the organ, which I encourage you to listen to, but the reason it was written is just as interesting. Glass tells the story this way:

"In 1979, most of us didn’t really know very much about His Holiness the Dalai Lama. We weren’t sure exactly when he would arrive, though there was a time specified. I was asked to compose a piece of somewhat indefinite length. Not actually a problem for me. I played in the organ; I’ve become very comfortable with this as a piano piece.

It eventually acquired the name “Mad Rush,” which had nothing to do with its original purpose but… For those who are interested in the Tibetan iconography of Tibetan Buddhism, you might think of it as the play of the wrathful and peaceful deities.”

You can watch Glass’ performance of “Mad Rush” at the Garrison Institute on April 13, 2008 at the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine in New York City.

(Hats off to findout for reminding me of this exquisite piece!)


Bobby McFerrin’s Daily Singing Exercise

by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer

Bobby McFerrin be HappyBobby McFerrin at TED2011. (photo: Steve Jurvetson/Flickr, cc by 2.0)

The musician Bobby McFerrin describes the art and act of improvisation as “simply motion, just the courage to keep moving.” In the audio above (from this week’s show "Catching Song"), he offers a three-week challenge for building improvisational muscles and describes how it works. Here are the steps:

  1. Set a timer for 10 minutes.
  2. Open up your mouth and sing.
  3. Don’t stop for 10 minutes.
  4. Do this every day for three weeks.

Sounds pretty simple, right? McFerrin, however, warns that every inch, atom, and molecule of your being will want to bail. Self-judgment will creep in. But don’t falter. Keep going. McFerrin holds open the tantalizing promise that, in a few short weeks, you’ll see a change.

So, who’s up for the challenge?

Once you’ve tried McFerrin’s improvisational workout, we’d love to hear what it was like. What surprised you? Delighted you? Share your reflections here in the comments section. You can even record yourself and send in your improvisational vocal creations here at (612) 326-4044. If enough people participate, we’ll produce an audio montage and post it to the blog.

Are you in?


Tuesday Evening Melody: “North Dakota” by Chris Knight

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Missouri River Aerial 6-1-11  03Yeah, I’m a day late — partly due to the Memorial Day holiday but more so for the fact that I’m back in North Dakota taking some sandbagging vacation days. This sorrow song from Chris Knight is my homage to the great prairie state and the Missouri River, which is reclaiming its banks and swallowing up homes and lands it hasn’t said hello to since the Big Muddy was dammed nearly 60 years ago.

The effort may be futile and nature may remind us that flood control is never foolproof. But to try to salvage what remains is noble, whether it mitigates disaster or not. And the way that catastrophe galvanizes a community is one positive I’ll take from these days in the sun with shovel in hand, and lower back in tow.

About the image: The Missouri River waters near Bismarck and Mandan can be seen spreading to areas rarely touched due to the increased releases from the Garrison Dam. (photo: Bill Prokopyk/North Dakota National Guard Public Affairs Office)