About Sweet Soul Music
Sweet Soul Music is a musical endeavor of Melissa Sweet (Sati devi) who has been writing, recording, and performing her music since the mid-1960s. Songs to the Divine is the first recording in the Sweet Soul Music project – we hope you enjoy these songs and that they inspire and uplift all who hear them.
Visit the Music Room for more about our project and these songs, including lyrics.
Additional recording projects for Sweet Soul Music are in the planning stages, so look for new songs in the near future.
Melissa Sweet has been singing her whole life. She began piano lessons at age 8 and studied for five years. At age 11 she was asked by Reverend Robert Schuller to join the adult choir at the Garden Grove Community Church in Orange County, California (which later became the Crystal Cathedral). She sang in adult choirs from then on, played piano, and learned guitar. She was in her school and church choirs every year, and her high school choir was so skilled and proficient that they regularly placed first or second in the annual California State Choir Festival.
Melissa joined the Orange County cast of Up With People in 1968 as a singer, guitarist, and tambourine player. She performed with them through May 1970 and was invited to sing with the Up With People national cast on their album, recorded in Los Angeles, where she was the youngest singer in the group.
In 1969 Melissa began receiving requests to sing background vocals on albums by local musicians and bands, and spent several years doing studio work. In 1972 she became a student at Yoga Center of California, which changed her life and her relationship with music. During this period she was able to develop her natural abilities as a percussionist, learning to play everything from tablas, mridangas, and other Indian drums to congas and most any hand percussion instrument. In 1977 she joined with Kim Palmer (Thakurvadini) and Robin Richardson (Nanda) to form the group Lila, whose ground-breaking 1978 album paved the way for “yoga music” and devotional artists to follow. Her recording career tapered off during the next several years as she raised her family, but she continued to perform — mainly at Yoga Center — and composed more than 200 songs during this period. And she did some occasional studio work as well, recording and co-producing work for friends, including To Thy Loving Heart, an album recorded by Lila along with other Yoga Center singers, and an album of original songs by Marvel Aeschlimann (Karuna).
Melissa was the founding member of the Yoga Center choir, formed in 1976 to perform Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus for the Christmas Eve service that year. They have continued through the decades, singing every Christmas and at several other events annually. She has conducted the choir for more than half the years since then and sings in the choir when Brian Beck (Ram Prasad) or Davina Keiser are conducting. She also serves as the longtime “musical director” at Yoga Center, coaching harmonium players, percussionists, and other singers and musicians as they lead the chanting for our Sunday Morning Celebrations, our retreats, and for other Yoga Center special events.
After years of requests by friends and family to record her own material, in March 2018 Melissa asked some Yoga Center friends to learn some of her songs for this project and they began recording Songs to the Divine in June 2018. (For more about these fine musicians, visit our Team page.) The final mastering session was completed on December 31, 2018.
Music and Yoga
Melissa has been practicing yoga and meditating at Yoga Center of California continuously since 1972 and — along with the other musicians on this album — has found music to be a powerful part of sadhana that enhances yoga techniques when utilized properly and not as a substitute for conscious yoga practices.
As we become more attuned to Spirit, we often find that music is a natural doorway to higher consciousness which can be an excellent focus for the mind, helping to calm its restlessness before deep meditation. More than five thousand years ago, the ancient yogis knew this. They've long known the benefits of conscious chanting and developed the practice of mantrams for exactly this purpose: to focus the mind, rein it in, and prepare it for deep and one-pointed contemplation, concentration, and meditation.
This is the foundation of Sweet Soul Music, music that inspires and encourages a deeper experience of Spirit in every life, and in the heart of our planet. Each person who is moved to undertake the practices and disciplines of yoga, deep faith, religion, and mysticism, who has the courage to look within and above for inspiration, adds new light to this world and banishes darkness.
Listening to beautiful, peaceful music is a wonderful way to pause for a moment in our busy lives, providing an oasis of calmness and a chance to catch our breath. Massage therapists and health providers — even dentists — often make such music a key part of the relaxation process that is so helpful to our bodies and minds as we build health or recover from injuries or illness. Our minds are naturally drawn to focus on these beautiful sounds, and medical research confirms that blood pressure, heart, and breathing rates normalize while consciously listening to appealing music or natural sounds. We encourage regular time for listening to such music.
Chanting is not the same as singing
The practice and discipline of chanting is often confused with singing, especially singing in Sanskrit or singing along with "yoga music". In truth, chanting is an important aspect of yoga sadhana that is designed to give the mind and body a task that relaxes the tension of the body, releases the turbulence of the mind, and gives us a fighting chance to focus on the object of meditation for more than a fleeting moment. To achieve higher states of awareness takes sustained focus, incorporating the breath and energy flow within, and repeating a positive word or short phrase with full attention in order to go beyond "normal" awareness. Proper chanting is an ancient, highly effective tool for meditation.
Singing is a natural function of being human, is a key feature of every civilization, and is hard-wired into our bodies and beings. Not everyone is blessed with a pleasant singing voice but, unless you strive to be an entertainer, this has little bearing on your own singing practice. As noted above, there are documented physical and psychological benefits to singing that enhance our health in countless ways. Until the latter half of the 20th Century, it was common for strangers to sing together naturally in public places like pubs, trains, waiting in line, etc. but the advent of personal music devices seems to have supplanted this pastime, at least in the U.S. You can sing with others or on your own, make up your own songs or sing along with your favorite artists — but try to sing with joy: it's a natural way for us to attune with joy and set it free in the world!
We encourage everyone to sing to Creation and to the Creator, in whatever name or form is most comfortable, such as God the Father, God the Mother, Christ, Krishna, Holy Spirit, Gaia, Mother Nature, the Force, or the Incarnation or sages and saints of your own faith.
However, this kind of background music defeats the purpose of yoga asanas, mantrams, mudras, pranayams, and other similar practices — especially meditation — which are designed to involve a mind that is here and now, focused on the task of consciously relaxing that thigh muscle or redirecting the mind to the ishta or other focus of meditation. We’ll be drawn to pay at least some attention to the music, not the yoga task at hand, and will miss an opportunity to train the body and mind to cooperate with our efforts to focus and dive deep into higher states. Such music may make us feel good in the short term, but it's a distraction — not an enhancement — to actual yoga.