About five years ago, Bruce Reddick bought an album of acoustic guitar music with harmonizing singers, not knowing it was in Sanskrit.
The songs turned out to be Hindu chants about the various deities, set to music. At ashrams in India, chants are sung nightly in the original Sanskrit, and in recent years Western musicians have been adding their own instruments and interpretations.
Reddick fell in love with the music, and began a journey of learning and sharing it.
More than performing for an audience, he says, it's performing with the audience. In a call-and-response format, the audience repeats the musician's praises as the steadily quickening rhythm builds enthusiasm. Traditional kirtan chanting can include Indian drums known as tablas, as well as a harmonium and small cymbals.
"There's something about it, it's really moving," Reddick says. "You can really sing it with a lot of conviction."
After years as a land surveyor, the 57-year-old now dedicates his time to writing chants in English to meld with the Sanskrit, and promoting kirtan groups. His own group, Bhagavan Kirtan, adds guitar and bass to Eastern instruments such as an oud, played by Raj Solanki. That adds to Kris Jasperse playing the djembe and other percussion for a unique sound that blends East and West.
Bhagavan Kirtan has found an outlet at Marmalade at Smokebrush, which has started a monthly chanting session. You'll see no downward dog or other asanas here, which may make it seem foreign to many Westerners. But as yoga has spread across the U.S. in the last 10 years, more people have grown interested in the other main tenets — devotion, which plays out in kirtan, as well as meditation — that take the practice beyond simply stretching and sweating in the gym.
"It's not really a religious practice," Reddick says of kirtan, "but you get this spirituality when you get everyone singing together."