Martha’s Vineyard singers join global choir

From left, Gail Tipton, Michelle Jasny, Roberta Kirn, Beth Goodell, and Noava Knight respond to Ms. Nelson's direction. — Photo by Hollis Rafkin-Sax

Where do you come with an idea like this: recruiting 15,000,000 people around the world to sing the same song on the same day?

Most likely it takes a conviction that global problems require global solutions and that hope is a critical ingredient in formulating and effecting change.

Shyla Nelson, a former opera singer from Vermont who was a Chilmark summer resident as a child, exudes hope. Last week she was on the Vineyard planting seeds for the local chapter of Good Earth Singers, the nonprofit she founded in 2009 to “focus global consciousness on the needs of our fragile planet through the power of song,” according to the group’s mission statement. It takes a positive attitude to attempt to teach millions of people a five-word song — and keep smiling while you’re at it.

A dozen willing and curious Islanders gathered around picnic tables at the Charter School on a breezy evening late last month to learn more about the project known as One Song. One Planet. One Future. They were also there to sing.

“This is the largest song project ever attempted,” Ms Nelson said, with a glint in her eye and a smile on her face. “I believe we can build community through the power of singing. Something changes in the air when we sing together — even it’s something as simple as Happy Birthday.”

The song that Ms. Nelson has chosen for the global project is actually a traditional African chant, “Ise oluwa, kole bajey o,” which means, “That which the Creator has made can never be destroyed.”

That she would use such a small, simple song for such a huge project with such an ambitious goal seems odd at first, but Ms. Nelson believes that the song’s simplicity amplifies its power. “As I’ve gone around and introduced this song to groups here and abroad, it seems to change the molecules in the air in the room, and it has happened again and again and again,” she said. Skeptics salivate at talk like this, but this woman believes — and she is convincing.

And she is convinced by the power of song in effecting social change, citing the power of “We Shall Overcome” in the Civil Rights movement in this country in the 1960s and ’70s.

Still, is it realistic to expect the air around the planet to change when 15,000,000 people tune up and air out a simple African chant at the same time on December 21, 2012? Absolutely, according to Ms. Nelson, who sees the winter solstice and the last day of the Mayan calendar as a two-fold opportunity for change.

At the Charter School, Ms. Nelson divided the group four ways — sopranos, altos, tenors, and basses. After learning the words, the group first sang the melody of “Ise Oluwa” as a round, before learning separate parts. In a few minutes, they were proficient, and in a few more, Ms. Nelson was nodding her approval and appreciation as singers and song were unified. Now her omnipresent smile was reflected on the faces of the singers.

This fall, Ms. Nelson will travel to Nigeria to receive the blessing of the Yoruba tribe for her effort to bring the song to the world. Then she will travel to 15 sites around the world to introduce and promote One Song, One Planet, One Future.

“At each of these sites, communities will learn to sing ‘Ise Oluwa,’ song circle leaders will be identified, the media will be engaged, and the ‘seeds’ will be planted for everyone to sing together on 12/21/2012.”

A tall order indeed, but the confidence that Ms. Nelson projects is infectious, and what’s the point of resisting it, after all?

For more information about the Good Earth Singers and the One Song, One Planet, One Future project, visit