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Yuri's Story

I grew up in Floyd, Virginia in the Appalachian countryside.  My mother is an excellent singer with a voice like honey, and learning to walk and learning to sing came around the same age.  I was never given technical training in my childhood, and have always been grateful that song, for me, has been decidedly personal and spontaneous.  Something to be shared and enjoyed.

I did a lot of childhood singing at Catoctin Quaker Camp, a magical and vibrant community that would break into song at mealtimes, on hikes, while playing in the pond, before bed, and every morning.  This was the first time I really saw what a strong singing culture can bring to a community; how well it knits us together in moments of connection through shared musicality.  We had those camp songs in our very bones, and it would be years until I experienced anything like it again after reaching adulthood.

In my late twenties, I found myself dwelling in the woods a lot, wild-harvesting food and medicine, processing animals and tanning hides, cooking over friction fires, dipping in streams for my showers, and bowdrilling fires.  I found communities of people who believe deeply in creating new "cultural topsoil" to start in the long process of healing ourselves and the earth, after centuries of domination both inward and out. Song is one of the unexpected tools of reconnection that I learned to be crucial in building community and healing ourselves.  It is a powerful ally in tackling the inner self-criticism that past generations have bequeathed upon us.  And most importantly and concordantly, it helps open our eyes to the world that surrounds and envelops, engendering gratitude for the astounding earth we dwell inside.  And  to the cycles inherent in our daily lives:  Songs for waking, and lullabies for sleeping, songs of greeting and of farewell, songs of sowing and reaping, of spring and autumn, songs to the moon, sun, and stars; songs to our lovers, to our parents, our ancestors, and our newborns.  Songs to bless death.

A few years later I found myself on a whirlwind adventure with a couple magical song leaders, Annie Zylstra, and Laurence Cole.  They opened a whole world of song leading to me, and somehow they identified me as a community song leader, though I hadn't seen myself that way before.  I travelled to the Midwest with them, and went to my first Village Fire, and the whole time, I felt like my heart was the size of a beach ball, radiating and absorbing so much love, and all from doing so much singing!  There was no going back.  Six months later Annie and I went to Community Choir Leadership Training in Vancouver, BC, and were suddenly immersed in the network of community choir directors.  I was inundated with resources and filled with so many fun and enigmatic songs.  From then on it felt like all these songs were beings from the other side, and they would pop out and ask to be sung at appropriate times.  Who am I to interfere?  I have become a servant to these magical and potent beasts that dwell inside us.  A shepherd.   It is my joy and duty now to spend long hours learning the subtleties and histories of an old gospel song;  the round about coming home; a childrens' song about salamanders.  Because you never know when it is the perfect medicine for the moment, or the the needed seed of change in someone's life.

 I believe that opening your full voice connects heart and head.  I believe that singing together is extremely important.  I believe that the way to change the world with singing is not for it to be a performative act, with the highly trained singer literally on a pedestal while the "fans" sing along.  We've all got a voice for a reason.  We can't all talk at the same time, but we sure can sing together.

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