Taras Lumiere at a John-Roger Seminar at Prana in 1977
I was born in New York City, a second child to Ukrainian parents who spent five years in European refugee camps after World War II. We lived in noisy ghettos but on Sundays, our Ukrainian Orthodox church offered its deep silence punctuated by call-and-response, Byzantine hymns and chants echoing all around. We are a tribe with a thirst for freedom that also clutches the past. I’m stepping into a lifetime full of polarities…stretch, stretch, stretching!
My parents had had their professional studies in the old country interrupted, spoke minimal English, and worked in factories. They consistently prepped my sister and me to be perfectly cultured Ukrainian kids. We got the advantages they did not have such as Catholic schools (including Ukie school on Saturdays) and private music lessons. I took up the violin at age 8, was an altar boy, and sang in the choir. But when the British Invasion rock music hit the radio waves, I would lip-synch to my fave songs in front of the mirror with my air guitar. How I dug that strong beat! Poppa begrudgingly bought me my first electric guitar at 13 and I started a rock band called The Rage. It lasted 2 years before I turned to acoustic songwriter music (James Taylor, Simon & Garfunkel, etc). Every summer, Ukrainian Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts would have camp. We sang marching to meals, on the bus, at the campfire – it was so natural. I remember listening to the older girls harmoniously ring out native songs of love, joy, humor, and danger with such gusto! Even a song to Mohammed! I knew then that music was to be my path to freedom. I wanted it all. I became a rebel. I became an American.
And how perfect are the opportunities Spirit presents once one decides! By my final years of high school, the Pope had allowed masses to be in English and I played in a church folk group with a priest getting us gigs and taking us out to breakfast afterwards. We played all the Catholic churches in Rochester, New York. One Christmas morning we did a mass at the county jail. Another time we played a huge celebration mass with 4 bishops and 2,000 attending. But on some Saturday nights I was drinking and playing and with a local polka band. The joy I felt “locking in the beat” with the drummer was AWESOME. I sang our three rock numbers and learned to love the waltzes, tangos, cha chas, and rumbas. I was making money and had an excuse to be out late! Whoopee!
After graduating from high school, I was hired again as a Ukie camp counselor but escaped to go to a music festival two hours away because Joni Mitchell was playing. Ahhhh…the adventure of the open road! One night that summer I missed the last Greyhound bus to get home and I stayed up at an all-night coffee shop with three strangers. They each came from unique backgrounds and I listened to them debate all night about meditation, LSD, and “working to make a living.” There was passion from every point of view. My mind was blown. Later, while hitchhiking that summer, I got picked up by two hippies who offered me a job selling food at a music festival called Woodstock. Life changing. Mind blown again.
At home, my parents still refused to let my sister and me speak English and we learned to lie a lot about what we did outside the house. My mother had a variety of ailments (“Be quiet! Mother is resting!”) and was sick and out of work half the time. At Boston University I studied psychology to try to figure things out and unwind the family neuroses. I started a folk duo named Happy and Terry and played heart-felt tunes at coffee houses and parties. Happy, whose real name was Harold, left mid Sophomore year after a meltdown, returned to Maine, and became a Unitarian minister. During some summer vacations I would travel across Canada or to Alaska and get gigs singing in bars or sitting in as a guest fiddler. It seemed like everyone knew the same body of songs and new friendships were built on the spot. Music connected people like sharing food.
In 1971, I began studying yoga and Transcendental Meditation and got my first mantra! Boston was full of sound, every type of music was available, and live concerts could be transcendent too! For two of my college years, a roommate who was a blind pianist-singer would enjoy sharing his unique record collection and I listened in rapture to music from many countries. The whole world was opening for me.
Late one night in Vancouver I was mesmerized by a songwriter who finger-picked his 12-string guitar like a harp. We teamed up for a while and he introduced me to the Arica School of Scientific Mysticism. Arica taught dozens of physical, mental, spiritual techniques from around the world to awaken and lift consciousness. I joined a large band centered on the congas and studied African percussion integrating that circular-syncopated rhythm into chants, pop songs, and free-form dance events. One of my music buddies hypothesized that when the drummers are in sync, angels enjoy hovering in the standing wave forms we’ve created! I liked that image and became adept at allowing sound to permeate my body and mind. One day, three of us were hired as backup musicians for the singing rabbi Schlomo Carlbach. And when the head of the Sufi order in North America did several large events called the Cosmic Mass, I auditioned and landed as a violinist. All the actors and orchestra members had training sessions in Sufi Walking and the spiritual science of sound.
I became attracted to studying angels and psychic levels but did not have visions or wisdom I could reproduce or rely on. Having exhausted drug fueled experiences, I was thirsting for a way in which I could get high naturally. One of my Arica housemates told me of a local MSIA seminar leader who could see angels, and I went and marveled at the easy, joyful, sacred space John-Roger created in his talks. This was a paradox that I could understand! Sometimes it felt like jazz, spontaneous and free. A few months later, I remember walking into this beautiful hall at the Boston Library with what seemed like angels singing – Michael and Edgar from the MSIA staff singing their devotional songs. I felt that I had finally come home. I stayed to the very end, got a hug from J-R, and walked him to his car, talking about the PRANA ashram in California.
After the big move to California, I landed a job closer to San Diego assisting a music director, a former rock and roll star. We worked on an original college play with a spiritual theme, “From Here to Kingdom Come.” It was the story of a shepherd boy in 1212 who had a spiritual vision to lead a Children’s Crusade from France to the war in the Holy Land. They were to stop the slaughter through the powers of innocence. The play was full of beautiful songs, but when it finished I was aimless, jobless, and alone. I was living free in a damp cold basement and, after 7 years of smoking, I developed asthma. I began coming regularly to live seminars at PTS and writing songs just to play them there. After making many new friends, I met Ken Thackwell who had an endless enthusiasm for Spirit-filled rock and roll. I made the commitment to clean up my body-temple, move to Los Angeles, and join the BARAKA band. Now I was rehearsing weekly in the living room of a huge mansion!
(left to right) Ken Thackwell, Taras Lumiere, Peter Gerler of the band Baraka in 1977
I still had no understanding of how to make a living even with a MA degree in psychology because I had been spoiled. My parents, although fanatical in some ways, felt a deep obligation to support me financially until I became a doctor, dentist, lawyer or something respectable. After perusing want ads, I got a job working as Activity Director for two nursing homes, my first real job at age 25. Joking with the residents, many in wheelchairs, filling them with enthusiasm, and leading the Friday sing-a-longs were my great joys. I got to play a captive audience.
Meanwhile I had a knack of writing irreverent pop songs for MSIA events. Once, when J-R read aloud the line-up of contributors before the seminar and mispronounced my first name, I corrected him repeatedly and admonished him saying something like “Even the Traveler’s got things to learn.” The attendees gasped, laughed, and cheered as J-R said that he was sure he would get me back. And he has, many times. This was an important quality of a spiritual teacher for me, that balance of truth with delight.
Deep healing came through USM and Insight trainings where I finally got to recognize and release during exercises the years of emotional stagnation. I wept uncontrollably at times with the observer in me marveling at the drama. Even to this day, when a song tears me up…I know I need to pay attention! Oh… the longing! Oh…the beautiful sorrow!
BARAKA eventually made two cassette albums of good original songs and played around LA ‘till we got busy with our careers in 1982. So here’s another paradox – back in the late 70’s and 80’s I worked so hard to finish a song to perform it…then I might not play it again for years or ever. What’s that…a letting go, a detachment? Do I really need to be on stage performing for approval? Or is it the definition of Baraka, a spiritual gift from above to below, out to the world and back again? I don’t know. Both. But these days I’m more attracted to Bach than the Beatles, my violin more than my guitar. Playing for my own pleasure is not familiar to me but it feels so good.
So much inspiration is happening. This past year of staying at home, there were weekly QiGong classes in the park…our teacher reminding us to feel the infinite Point of Light from the Heavens right through the body and grounding. Just like John Morton’s matter-of-fact explanation (I’ll never forget it!) during the Walking In the Light workshop. I heard him say don’t try to make that connection, just assume it. Allow it. It’s immediate. The Sound Current now buzzes in my inner ear when I go in. Just a small shift in awareness.
And I’m inspired by my son Eric and his devotion to making beautiful Soul music. I’m inspired by Paul Kaye’s presentation of exotic instruments, sound healing, and sacred minimalism, and the many opportunities on the web. As I finish this article, I’m inspired by 2 butterflies dancing with each other around the yard, small birds poking around in front of my window, and the bushes and flowers swaying to the rhythm of wind. Outdoors I am listening to the song of the trees and sky and nature in its many manifestations. The fullness and emptiness both paradoxically and perfectly present. Once again I am humbled. So, Great Spirit, let me just find the Sound that pleases, cleanses, and connects.
Some music to play is sure to come through. Thanks for listening…
PS: I put 21 of my original songs online, a happy completion. Free for listening or downloading. Any donation goes to MSIA as my thanks for decades of inspiration. Click here to check it out