Great Leap's Offering
to the World Festival of Sacred Music
by Jennifer "Emiko" Kuida and Nobuko Miyamoto
Rafu Column November 1999


When Great Leap first approached Rev. Mas Kodani about doing our annual “To All Relations ‘99” concert at Senshin Buddhist Temple for the World Festival of Sacred Music, he wondered who would come. Of course, Great Leap supporters and Temple members, but what strangers would venture west of La Cienega to come to this jewel in South Central LA?

To add to the challenge, we didn’t simply want to do a music concert. We wanted to create the context with the teachings of spiritual elders. We wanted people to partake in various practices in preparation of the event. So this intimate concert became a marathon that began at 5 am and ended at 10 pm - making us the first (and probably the longest) of the 85 events of the World Festival of Sacred Music which vibrated through Los Angeles from October 9th and ended on the 17th. Throughout the day, a n estimated 350 people participated in our 17-hour event.

The morning of the concert, or the middle of the night for some, Krishna Kaur and Nobuko pulled into the parking lot at Senshin, and were surprised to see a group of strangers waiting at the gate. It was only 4:45 am! Inside the Temple Hondo, we breathed in the sweet smell of incense and started our yoga sadhana. Soon many more people filtered in as we did our ‘salute to the sun’ until there was hardly a place to fit the bodies in the aisles.

After our meditation, we walked out into the courtyard to find more strangers and familiar faces gathered for Tarabu Betserai’s tai chi class. It was fun to see the Senshin Fujinkai ladies, taking a break from preparing chirashi for lunch, joining in the morning exercise.

And so the day began. At 10am people were drawn into the Temple by the rhythms of the Sundance drummers to hear the sacred words “Mitakuye Oyasin” (to all my relations) explained by Wallace Black Elk, elder from the Lakota Nation, and then Rev. Mas reminding us…we are not nouns. We are verbs. We are only our actions.

With that in mind, people began verbing… to create the sacred space for the evening’s music concert. The courtyard was buzzing with chatter and creativity - children, teens and adults creating peace flags, Japanese lanterns and an exquisite flower mandala. The concert had already started. They were the music.

Lunch and the sound of taiko called people in from the midday heat for a Taiko Drumming Workshop with Danny Yamamoto and George Abe, then Nedra Wheeler and her bass gave an entertaining lesson in jazz improvisation. Following was the popular Feng Shui workshop, with people going home to completely rearrange their houses.

After a delicious Thai/Chinese dinner, we listened to the Venerable Geshe Tsultim Gyeltsen, a Tibetan monk, who that day returned from a retreat in India with the Dalai Lama. As people drifted out into the beautiful courtyard, the Healing Dance, led by Haqqika Bridges, was already in motion, the dancers moving like tai chi under the stars on that warm moonless night. Their music, a lone and persistent heartbeat from a hand-made drum, and finally, a segue into the Sundance drummers and singers, and the concert was propelled.

The music took us on a journey from the ancient to the contemporary. In Sangay Bum’s soaring voice and songs of Tibet, you could almost hear the mountains of his homeland. The beauty of June Kuramoto playing Japanese koto made one’s breath stop, then with equal grace she joined Derek Nakamoto’s keyboard to play a song they co-wrote called “A Thousand Cranes.”

Krishna Kaur’s commanding voice pulled the whole audience into a rhythmic chanting of mantras that embraced Sikh, Hindu, Christian and Buddhist faiths. Then, Lesa Terry’s earthy violin and Nedra Wheeler’s driving bass wove the heart-wrenching and foot-stomping sounds of black spirituals with jazz. What a journey! The performance came to a finale with Nobuko Miyamoto singing songs from her album, “To All Relations.” What a joy to bring this incredible group of musicians tog ether.

The 9 day World Festival of Sacred Music, was a moment that a light was shined on the incredibly rich and diverse spiritual music traditions that exist around us in LA. It was a time when many churches and temples invited strangers to enter, and engaged artists crossing musical boundaries. It was a time when the Dalai Lama came to Los Angeles and shared his wisdom, compassion and humor. But for those of us who have been touched by this opportunity, it will continue…in the music, in the new found “ ;relations,” in the creative possibilities and in the quest for oneness.

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Great Leap is an Asian American and multicultural performing arts organization that has been around for 21 years. No longer in our teenaged years, we have slowly grown over the past few years. Several people have asked us recently, “Do you have a staff?” “What else do you do?” “We only see you people once a year in LA!”

The reality is, we are a small nonprofit arts organization. We have one full-time Managing Director, and two part time staff, which includes the Artistic Director and a Booking Coordinator. We don’t drive fancy cars, and we don’t have expense accounts or high salaries. We have a small, but dedicated Board of Directors. But we always need something. We need an Administrative Assistant. We need a photocopy machine that works. We need a marketing/graphics person. We nee d a grant writer. We need more volunteers. And on and on.
And while we always have needs, we also have a lot of heart, soul and friends. We have dedicated people like Nona, Azusa and Cara who worked so many hours to help put up “To All Relations.” We have the support of people like Harry, Satoshi and Terry, who mobilized folks at Senshin (at 6 am!) to help us bring this event together. We have talented people like James, Ann, Eugene, John and Anne, who videotaped 20 hours of video footage for us. We receive funding support from the NEA, California Arts Council, City of Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department, Edison International, California Bank & Trust, Kaiser Permanente, Hitachi, Aihara Insurance Agency, and more. And of course, we have artists, without whose dedication to their craft, we would have no productions and no stories.

We are also very effective in reaching our mission throughout the year. Our performance “A Slice of Rice, Frijoles and Greens” features lessons of multicultural diversity for over 40,000 children each year in Southern California. In 1999, we have performed our productions at over 30 colleges in 11 states across the country, including Colorado, Wisconsin, Indiana, North Carolina, and even Maine!

We also work with at-risk youth every summer with our Arts and Yoga for Youth program, doing an intensive five-week session with over 40 workshops in yoga, martial arts, storytelling, music and silk-screening design. The philosophy of yoga and cultural arts exposure are key ingredients to an innovative and holistic approach to heightened self-awareness, social responsibility and alternatives for young people.

We are planning exciting programs for the coming year/millennium. We plan to spend time in Arizona, Appalachia, and maybe even Arkansas. If you believe in the work we are doing and support our mission, we invite people to become a “Friend of Great Leap.” Tax-deductible contributions can be sent to: Great Leap, Inc., 2912 Colorado Ave., #204, Santa Monica, CA 90404. For more info, email at jenni@greatleap.org or visit the Great Leap website at: www.greatleap.org.

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Jenni Emiko Kuida is the Managing Director and Nobuko Miyamoto is the Artistic Director at Great Leap. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of the Rafu Shimpo.

Updated: 12/14/03

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