Sometimes they do it to themselves.

Years ago I got a student referral from a colleague. J_____ called me and wanted to begin studying Indian music. I explained the scheduling and fee structure to him, and he seemed anxious to begin.

“But,” he then said, anxiously, “you’re not going to make me meditate or anything, are you?”

I assured him that I would be teaching music, not meditation.

He came and started lessons. As part of developing his voice production, I instructed him to sing the tonic Sa while moving his lips from a wide “AAAAAAA” slowly through all the intermediate vowel positions, listening to the sweep of the overtones as his lips moved from “OOOOOO” to “UUUUUUU” and finally closed on an “MMMMMMMM.” He enjoyed that and commented repeatedly how it seemed to help his singing voice gain resonance (true, dat).

J_____ was a pretty musical guy, and he started to make progress with the first raga we selected. He struck me as someone who craved the “exotic” quality of augmented seconds, so I started him on Raga Bhairav — always effective as an auditory icon of India. He learned some alap phrases and grasped basic sargams pretty rapidly; I taught him some rhythmic variations on a sargam composition and he internalized them quite well.

I said, “It seems to me you’re ready for a song, J______.” He replied, “Well, okay, but it can’t be anything Hindu.”

I said, “What?” He repeated himself, and asked, “Is the song you want to teach me a Hindu song?”

I replied, “Well, many of the songs of this tradition reflect Hindu themes in their lyrics. It’s kind of unavoidable. Why is it important to you to avoid a song with a Hindu theme?”

His answer? “Because Hinduism is an evil religion.

Uh-huh. I asked him how he knew this, and he replied that the minister at his church told him so. Which is how I discovered that the guy who was taking raga lessons from me was in fact a hard-core fundamentalist nut-job. His minister had delivered a whole string of sermons on the eeeeeevil Hindus and their terrible idolatry and caste system and cow-worshiping and eight-armed gods and on and on and on. And J______ had swallowed the whole thing, hook, line and sinker.

Which was why he had wanted to be sure I wasn’t going to teach him meditation.

So we had a little conversation, and I suggested that maybe all religious traditions had some stuff in their closets they perhaps shouldn’t be too proud of, like the Inquisition. He was taken aback, and said, “Aren’t you a Christian?”

“No,” I said. “I’m an atheist.”

He left, rapidly. Three days later I got a call from him.

“Warren, this is J_____. I’m not going to be able to keep taking lessons from you, because, um, because, aaah, er, um, I…, I…., ummm, I, er, um…don’t have enough money to continue. But I want you to know that I’ve really enjoyed the lessons, and I’m going to continue to do the overtone exercise every day the way you showed me, because it seems to be really good for my voice.”

Which is how I got a gen-you-wine bible-thumpin’ intolerant ignorant fundie whackjob to spend a bit of time every day…saying “AAAAAOOOOOOOOUUUUUUMMMMM” over and over.

Bringin’ it all back OM.