2009-03-26 / Community

Woman unleashes voice of the soul

By Sophia Fischer sfischer@theacorn.com

Stella Davies Stella Davies For Stella Davies, spirituality and inspiration come from the voice. The Oak Park resident leads chanting and singing circles to help others enjoy the same experience.

"Many of us have a voice locked inside ourselves that we are completely unaware of. It's incredibly powerful, like your soul singing itself," Davies said. "Sometimes afterwards, people are quite shaken and say, 'Where did that come from?'"

Participants in the chanting circles sing devotional mantras to help them meditate and celebrate the spirit. Davies requires silence after each chant so that the group members can "be with the sounds they've just been singing."

"It instills a sense of peace and joy and a sense of stillness we don't get with the rushing about of our lives," Davies said. "It's very powerful. We're human beings, but we often turn into human doings, and it all gets a bit crazy."

Davies uses chants from different religious traditions including Buddhist, Hindu, Judaic, Native American and African. She considers the experience "a journey around the world in song." No musical background is required of the participants.

Another adult group led by Davies is a monthly circle, "Women in Harmony," that is more orchestrated and less meditative than the chanting circles. In the group, Davies teaches songs from all over the world. Participants don't have to read music or be musical. She instructs through her own singing and having people sing back.

"It's an opportunity for people who always wanted to sing but were afraid to sing solo or don't have the opportunity to sing," Davies said. "It's a lot of fun getting together and celebrating our voices."

Davies holds the sessions in her home where she has set up a "safe space" for people to feel comfortable while exercising their vocals. Large cushions and chairs, burning candles and fragrant oils fill her living room.

Stefanie Friedman of Agoura Hills described the chanting circle experience as "uplifting," "invigorating" and a "great stress reliever."

"I have never been one for yoga, meditation or anything that doesn't involve loud music and highenergy movement," Friedman said. "It's amazing what a beautiful sound is formed when everyone finds the rhythm. I felt so relaxed after the session."

A native of England, Davies moved to Oak Park last November. Two years earlier, while visiting her sister Bronwen Li-Paz and family in Oak Park, Davies met and fell in love with a family friend. They were married Thanksgiving weekend last year. Davies said she is enjoying her new life in America, but still must adjust to certain cultural differences. The chanting circle helps.

"Everyone is so busy in this area," Davies said. "Fitting another thing in their schedules is difficult, but when they come they say, 'Wow, I really needed this.' It's not a perk in their lives but essential. It's the yoga of sound."

Davies comes from a musical family that enjoyed singing together. She earned a theater studies degree at a Northern Ireland university and worked in musical theater. She has helped young people with auditions, drama, speeches and using their voices more proficiently as actors.

Her career changed when she became interested in helping people use drama to creatively express themselves. She used drama therapy to assists prison inmates, psychiatric patients, women in need of raising self-esteem and people with learning disabilities.

Davies is a trained Reiki master practitioner and sound healer.

"It's about helping people learn to communicate with each other, empowering them to be assertive about what their needs are. . . . I've always been about helping people find their voices."

She discovered the work of Chloe Goodchild, founder of The Naked Voice, a vocal program that encourages people to express themselves through sound and song. After training with Goodchild, Davies began running her own workshops. She is a member of the Naked Voice Association in England.

Davies also produced several CDs featuring original material. In England she performed live with a guitarist and participated in sacred chant dance nights, which she described as a "sacred rave." She has led chanting and singing workshops in several countries, where she discovered cultural responses differed.

"Croatians loved naked voice work because they've been through war, communism and needed to express themselves," Davies said. "In Britain they were a little more repressed, but when they felt safe enough they were totally up for it. In Greece it was more of a retreat and melting pot of people from different countries."

Davies says she utilizes full body and soul to achieve maximum effectiveness for each song.

"A lot of people's voice comes from the chest up, sort of cut off," she said. "But it should be rooted in the body, where you should almost feel it down your toes, coming up your legs, certainly in your belly, abdomen, hips.

"What if you circle your hips or raise your arms overhead or stretch spine and let the sound come out? It's extraordinary what happens," Davies said.

She is considering starting a circle for children using percussion instruments. For more information, visit www.theheartofvoice.com.

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