'Sacred Songs made my eyes well up, but left me with a smile on my face.'
~ Myristica, musician, UK
'Sacred Songs... so honest, so direct, so beautiful. This album is truly from out of this world.'
~ Marc de Klein, reviewer, 'Consciousness Magazine', Netherlands.
'Sacred Songs', the 18th and newest recording in Asher's catalogue, is released in October, 2012. Recorded between March-August, it features 14 brand new songs, and the tone is gentle, devotional and profound. It is more mellow and reflective than Asher's previous very recent release, the dynamic and popular O Great Spirit, and is largely piano-based with heartfelt vocals, orchestrated tenderly with cello, violin, acoustic guitar and soft, insistent, shamanic rhythms.
The poetic, spiritual messages are very direct and intimate, sung lovingly and with great feeling and mastery. There is a profound coherence and flow to this music, and the overall effect is one of warmth, beauty and high integrity. All the words and music here are composed by Asher, except the melody from Pachelbel's Canon which forms the basis of the song 'One more hour (the Hallelujah song)' which closes the album, and it's as if they are encoded with a specific message from beyond which opens the emotional heart to great and powerful truths. There is a sense of timelessness and awe about these compositions.
'Heaven on earth', which opens the album, seems to move from the Old Testament to the New, both musically and poetically, during the course of the song. It starts with an almost gospel-like, Hebrew set of melancholy chords, but finishes in a warm, rapture. Hungarian dancer and actress Henriett Tunyogi stars in the YouTube. The wonderfully, directly titled 'I love you', which follows, is a very catchy and pretty love song, sung both to a loved one but also to Spirit itself, in the style of a Sufi poem. Then comes the lilting and pagan 'Green man' as a folk dance, followed by the haunting and disarmingly beautiful 'The road home'. Most of these tracks, by the way, will have intriguing videos to accompany them on YouTube, with some very interesting personalities appearing in full or in cameo, like singer-songwriter and dancer Aya Glover, and celebrated German eurythmist Georgina Kares.
Tracks five, six and seven have a unified, interior feel all of their own, with piano and vocal combining to bring a strange, mesmeric and other-worldly beauty to life. They are 'Evangelina', 'Beyond Saturn' (named after a dream) and 'You are loved'. The startling raw, simple and unexpected song of grace 'Kyrie' then follows, suggesting with the combination of piano and Persian lute, a synthesis and some common ground between east and west.
The wistful 'I wish' is a beautiful and deeply moving, devotional love song, and the quirkily titled 'Illusions I have loved', which comes next, is a Baroque, harpsichord-based declaration of faith, and belief in the journey to Self-awareness. 'Talia the thief' is a mythic folk song, based on a Hebrew tale, which will appeal to the natural child, and 'The shepherd' is a naiive, immensely touching vignette which feels almost like a night-time prayer in the style of the celebrated mystical poet, William Blake.
'Passion play', the heartbreaking penultimate track, begins with a crackle and a music-box celeste, and conjures up a magical, nostalgic sense of archetypal love, sacrifice and devotion, which somehow evokes the longing for divine love of the eternal child, and spiritual seeker, and finishes in a tempest of beauteous emotion. The epic 'One more hour (the Hallelujah song)' closes 'Sacred Songs' in a grand, joyous, touchingly celebratory style. It is simply a Hallelujah chorus set to Pachelbel's Canon, which develops hypnotically until eight unexpected love verses burst forth towards the climax of the song!
At 70 minutes, 'Sacred Songs' is a generously full musical narrative, as is Asher's usual style, and it is perhaps his most plaintive, complete and direct offering to date.
Asher writes in the sleeve notes, 'A word about the songs'...
These songs came to blossom, flower and fruit rather unexpectedly, between March and July, 2012. I was not planning to write new songs quite yet, having only just recorded my previous collection of songs for an album I called 'O Great Spirit'.
But they came anyway on a strong wave of feeling, one after another… once, four songs in a single weekend. I felt a great and passionate force behind them, a sacred insistence. These are love songs channeled by spirit and hewn by nature, some of them mythic, pagan and other-worldly, sacred but not sectarian, and all of them philosophically eclectic. As I received and faithfully transcribed them, I felt in my heart the passion of the Christ, the intoxication of the dervish, the wisdom and irony of the Jew, the harmony of the Dao and the energy of the sun. And all of this before breakfast.
I continued my daily role as provider for my family, and my weekly work as a psychotherapist. I recorded the songs devotionally at the weekends and continued to give concerts that had long been planned. But I felt gripped afresh by a force from beyond me, by a powerful passion play that consumed me and cast me in many roles.
I became mysteriously ill during this intense time, and… driving to Pamplona in Spain to sing… I began to pee blood. There was suffering, beauty and enlightenment in equal measure in this archetypal theme in which I found myself immersed. I came to feel that I was in a kind of a Grail quest. These songs were anticipating the dramatic conclusion of a journey I had been making with a beloved friend and creative companion.
I feel keenly that the greatest love one can ever ultimately experience is the psychic integration of that mysterious 'other' that appears in our lives from time to time… our sacred counterpart, anima or animus, sometimes referred to in diluted form, and projected onto another, as a soul-mate. For a man this can be symbolised at the highest level by Sophia, or Mary perhaps… the divine feminine… and for a woman it can be the divine masculine, the Christ or the King.
We meet and fall in love with another soul at so many levels, often romantically, but somewhere deep in our being we can fall in love with the apparent messenger of the greater life… of the divine life beyond... the supreme feminine or masculine that we see in, and project onto, our beloved. It's just that we don't always realise it, or know how to articulate it.
In one way, the journey of the holy Grail is to come to find that 'life beyond', and to realise that we ourselves are loved by something numinous beyond our ordinary reality; desired even. Our ordinary self is loved by our higher Self, with a passion that is eternal and inextinguishable. The drama of the passion play is when this ordinary, mortal sense of self is crucified by the relentless shattering of illusions… again and again… until, in the end, only the truth about a greater cosmic love remains.
Invariably when we love, we project all kinds of things onto the other, and these are mostly illusions… Maya… illusions, but important illusions. They are our thoughts and feelings about the other person, but we only ever know those things inside us really, not the real truth about that person. We need to bind like this, ultimately, for consciousness… we need these kinds of attachments and illusions to prevent us from sinking into the the deadly swamp of solipsism. Love, in the ordinary mortal sense, is a helpful and necessary illusion, a projection. Not very romantic! But, paradoxically, the great truth veiled behind that illusion is the greatest love story of all… that the heart of the divine is in everything. It's a deeply mystical perspective.
I wrote these songs inspired by my spiritual collaborator, fellow warrior and muse figure… she who is my Mary in this life. Together we fight in the resistance… soldiers of love, both… fighting our personal ego cultures to liberate a remembrance of the divine. I knew that they would find a home in the vessel of her profound and beautiful intelligence, and that they would thrive and be nurtured there. Her knowingness somehow brought the very best out of me. For five years we shared a collaborative, creative partnership, where she eventually came to build my website, create my videos and design my artwork. We talked about many things… spirit, art, music, myth, the meaning of dreams, Jung, Steiner, Jesus, Mary, life, money, football, gardening, business, success, failure, eternity, the apocalypse, the merits of mildly mood-altering poppy-seed cake and so on.
We had a deep, deep bond, full of great work, childish delight, sense and nonsense. Heroically, she was my Mary, and I was her Jesus. Top jobs! We helped each other grow. But we also had separate lives in different cities, were different ages and at very different stages of life. Ultimately, the challenge of maintaining that precious bond, whilst continually separating and returning to our individual lives, crucified the relationship. I recovered from my mysterious, bloody illness eventually, but then soon afterwards she fell even more ill, herself. Bravely, my trusted friend helped me give a concert in Budapest in June… one that had been long planned and eagerly anticipated… and then kind of collapsed, dreadfully fatigued for weeks, with infection and anaemia.
Her illness had a voice, and my companion came to consistently feel that she had to completely sacrifice our working mortal bond and relationship, in order to recover; to separate our souls out. Her illness signalled the crucifixion point, where the Maya of our connection had to be exposed. We shared much that was real and also projected much onto each other. Some of these were illusions that worked delightfully in many ways, and were paradoxically very productive… friend, muse, knight, helper, child, parent, saviour, redeemer, business partner, creative companion, badminton opponent… but ultimately, that which we sought and imagined we glimpsed in each other, had to be sacrificed for a higher truth.
Don't get me wrong… you might think that burdening somebody with being their Mary would make anybody fatigued! With projections, however, there are always hooks. That's how they work. At the ordinary level we continue to lead our confused, bewildered, brave and magnificent lives, but the projections we have onto each other can reveal deeper truths about who we really are. My friend is my Mary, not the Mary.
There was enough Mary there in her being for that to become a portal for the boat of my spiritual imagination, as it sailed upon the highest sea of dreams. It's important to have a sense of humour about it all, though, and to sit down and have a cup of tea over it, like we do in England. We willingly explored the adventure we found ourselves in, pushing open the creaking castle door to discover a waiting stage in a different dimension. We were cast in a divine comedy… two ordinary mortal souls in a tragi-comic passion play.
I reference two French-speaking art films from my younger years, here: 'Jesus of Montreal' and 'Julie and Celine go boating'. In the first, an acting troupe put on a passion play in Montreal, but the real drama and passion… the personal crucifixions and resurrections… occur in the relationships between the cast members, between friends, lovers and rivals. In 'Julie and Celine', two teenage girls suck boiled sweets and, rather like 'Alice in Wonderland', get transported to a different life, parallel to their own. When they want to see the latest developments in that dimension, they suck the sweets! With me, it was English tea and Hungarian poppy-seed cake that transported us to the parallel universe passion play we were in.
In our story, however, despite regular cups of tea, our earthly time together had to come to an end. Only then could we both bust through the illusions, endure the terrible pain and suffering of loss, and find the Grail beyond. She could not ultimately stay as my Mary, nor I as her Jesus. She had to have her separate life and I mine. To ever stand a chance of integrating Mary or Sophia, I had to withdraw my projection of the muse onto my companion, and it was the same for her with her projections of sacredness onto me. It is not a life choice I initiated… my soul-mate, the couer-de-lyon, made the coup-de-grace
She took her sword and made that sacrifice, valiant warrior that she truly is. She put our relationship on the cross, and then we spent three awful, biblical days saying our tearful goodbyes and heartfelt thankyous, before agreeing to separate completely, forever.
We will not meet again in this life, and she will never read this or hear these songs.
If you are interested, some of the poetic narrative of our story is there, in the songs.
The very last thing that she sent to me was this verse from the Song of Solomon, which I now present here:
"Set me as a seal upon thy heart,
As a seal upon thine arm,
For love is stronger than death...
Many waters cannot quench love,
Rivers cannot sweep it away."