Pink Floyd & The Dalai Lama
Louisville Cellist Fulfills a Legacy of Mutual Respect
By Chris Webb

In 1968, on the border near Nepal and Tibet, a meeting took place between two of the most influential spiritual thinkers of the 20th century. There, high in the Himalayas of northern India, Trappist monk and writer Thomas Merton met with the young, exiled XIVth Dalai Lama. These spiritual brothers engaged in a dialogue of unity and communion, recognizing a shared commitment to bring the East and West together through genuine kindness. Though years have passed and Merton has long since left this world, their vision remains intact, finding rest in the hearts of many, including that of renowned cellist Michael Fitzpatrick.

Hailed by National Public Radio as a "musician for the millennium," Louisville resident Fitzpatrick is a much celebrated and sought-after musician who's well acquainted with the bluegrass region as a former Transylvania University faculty member with many ties to the Lexington orchestra community.

Knowing that music has the ability to reach listeners of different faiths, cultures and generations, Fitzpatrick crafted a way to musically merge the East and the West, putting together the ground-breaking Compassion, a project of unique concept and direction. And on July 9th, he'll be making a stop at the Kentucky Theater for a live taping of the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour to share the sounds of Compassion, his five-year labor of love.

As Fitzpatrick explains, "When I got the invitation from the Dalai Lama and from the Vatican to do this recording, I thought, the last thing this world needs is another boring chant CD. I wanted to make a cool album that just happens to have Tibetan and Trappist chants as its core, but really is about what we have to do as a global people. I knew there was gonna be this challenge of blending the Eastern and the Western musically. So I figured, what if we modeled the thing on Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon where you are dealing with a continuous lifting experience with unexpected twists and turns something that gets inside your mind and ultimately takes you where you've never been before, but also sorta takes you somewhere familiar."

The result is a compelling record featuring the voices of the Dalai Lama and the late Thomas Merton, an album which finds the joining of the Drepung Loseling monks with monks from the Abbey of Gethsemani Schola and musicians from Millenia Music in Louisville in a captivating sonic collective. Ultimately, the record captures the transcendent spirit of benevolence and transports it into the world.

The recording literally creeps up from inside the womb of the Earth, making a mythical ascent to wondrous elevation. Recorded in three dramatic settings, each with its own unique acoustical signature, Fitzpatrick's project rises from the Star Chamber, deep in the heart of Mammoth Cave, to the cherished walls of the Abbey of Gethsemani, to the grand heights of the Furnace Mountain Zen Temple.

"The Mammoth Cave idea literally came as an image a vision, " says Fitzpatrick. "I started thinking about the project and how it's got to be something highly dramatic, something with an impact. Then I got this image of monks in Mammoth Cave. It was astounding, and it became a compelling necessity that I hoped would come to fruition. And thankfully, it did. So much of this thing felt like it just revealed itself. It felt like it was just our job to get out of the way and let this thing happen. "

"It's just the music," he adds. "I think we're all music inside and there's a collective awakening going on, everyone waking up to their own music."

Much of Fitzpatrick's vision has become reality lately. Having just returned from an extensive tour with the Dalai Lama, Fitzpatrick is still amazed at the path that has been opened before him, especially the opportunity to present his record to crowds with the Dalai Lama himself.

As Fitzgerald puts it, "What was particularly cool for me is that people would completely get the message the Dalai Lama was sending, then they would hear the CD and get the same vibe. That's particularly moving. To work on it for five years and to see the magnitude and scope of it now, is really something. Makes me think, 'Okay, this is what we think it is.'"

"To me," he adds, "this massive five year recording process is really part of a thirty-two year journey. This CD feels like the collective unfolding of that meeting in 1968, saying somehow, if we can come together, certainly the rest of the world can come together in compassion."

Michael Fitzpatrick will perform with Baillie & the Boys and Michael Johnathon at the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour on Monday, July 9th, at the Kentucky Theater. The show starts at 6:45. Seats are $3. Call 252-8888 for reservations.