Numerous musical and vocal groups swirl through Petaluma and the Bay Area, with regular performances by such groups now relatively common. That said, former Sonoma State University instructor Karen Clark, and her group known as The Vajra Voices, definitely bring something unique to the table. “Vajra,” a Buddhist term, indicates that the singing group is clear, strong and Clark describes it, “Has the meaning of a lightning bolt that is cutting through all delusion.”
Vajra Voices, exclusively performing Medieval hymns, consists of seven women with a variety of vocal ranges. Not only are the singers connected through music, Clark says the women have become like family, easily one of the best parts of being in any musical group.
“We’ve created this dynamic where we’re really friends, and we’re really encouraging and supportive of one another,” Clark says. “I think that shows in the music-making too, and that’s important to me.”
Vajra Voices earned critical raves for its debut CD, “Oh Eterne Deus,” a recording of ecstatic music by Hildegard Von Bingen. While the group mostly rehearses and performs in Berkeley and Oakland, Clark opened a studio in Petaluma about a decade ago when she started working at SSU. She mainly teaches at the Petaluma studio on Thursdays, educating students on the Feldenkrais method. Though more traditionally used as a fitness and health practice, Clark uses Feldenkrais techniques to show students how to sing using a combination of breath, embodiment and self-awareness.
“I want every person to use their own voice,” she says of her work with Vajra “and then we create our ensemble like that. We do blend, but the way we do it is by everyone being who they really are.”
Before going on to an array of ambitious career aspirations — including singing with some of the best ensembles in the world, and working at top schools like Princeton — Clark says she was just a girl with a passion for music. She grew up in a very musical family, and took up piano lessons at the age of 5.
To Clark, music brings an amazing force to a room, one that nothing and no one can take away.
“They call music the universal language,” Clark says, when asked to describe what it’s like to sing with a group of other people. “It’s like everything else falls away,” she adds. “I think that’s what I’m trying to find with my group.”
Even though a career in music can be financially trying at times, Clark believes that anyone who has a dream to pursue music should follow their heart.
“You’re going to feel really challenged by society and the urge to make lots of money,” Clark says. “Somehow, I have been able to maintain that thread of my passion, no matter what happened. I just keep coming back to it. It’s who I am.”
She also has another piece of advice for aspiring singers. Be patient and watch as the flower slowly blossoms into life.
“You have this idea that (great singers) just roll out of bed singing like that,” Clark says. “That’s rarely the case. You have to do the work.”