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Springfielders Find Their Voice In A "Song Laboratory"

Members of a unique band based in Poland came to the United States for the first time earlier this month. Their first destination was Springfield.

The music of Laboratorium Pie?ni, or "Song Laboratory," is mostly acapella. Part of what makes the group special is how the voices of several females intermingle, using a style called polyphonic singing. At times drums and other percussion is also used. All the music draws from traditional songs from around the world, mainly Eastern Europe.

Founders of the group recently came to Springfield to lead workshops on singing and to perform what’s called a "sound bath". Alina Jurczyszyn and Kamila Bigus performed the sound bath concert at a dance studio, dozens of people were spread out on yoga mats and blankets, allowing the music to wash over them. Jurczyszyn explains: “People are lying down on the ground in a very peaceful mode ... Kamila is playing the violin, I am playing the drum or shruti box, we are singing traditional songs, of course we add many intuitive sounds, we add improvisations."

Afterward many talk about how relaxed they feel. “Their belief that music and harmony is healing ... when you’re lying there - you just feel better, that’s all there is to it ... you just feel better," says Terri Woodliff - the woman who brought the two to town. She helped organize their first U.S. tour, which also includes stops in New Orleans, Seattle and Dallas.

Woodliff lives in Texas now but used to call Springfield home. She says the area has a strong spiritual community and she knew there would be interest in getting the girls here. "For some reason it is just a hotbed of energetic activity ... You have energy workers and light workers ... I’ve never seen such a small city with so many people who are focused on just being positive in an energetic sort of way," says Woodliff.

Jurczyszyn says she came upon this style of music by accident - she was working in a theater program when she started learning some traditional songs. She says, “From the first moment, it touched my heart so deeply that I thought - oh my gosh, what is the secret of that type of music, what is the mystery of it?” She calls the music she performs folk, because she and the other ladies put their own unique spin on the tunes. It has taken off and the band and its members have been traveling the world. Jurczyszyn and Bigus go to cities where they perform the sound baths as a duo and lead workshops, helping others learn to sing the way they do.

40 people spent two intensive days learning three songs. The workshop sold out months ago and took place at a spiritual retreat in Springfield, a place run by Catholic nuns that’s called called Jubilee Farm. Jurczyszyn emphasizes the importance of being open to new possibilities, and says that everyone can sing, as she tells the attendees before they part ways and head home. “Really, it’s the biggest lie in our civilization that we need school to sing ... look at children - they know how to sing, they know how to dance and breathe."

Some people traveled all the way from the east coast for the workshops here. Lucja Lawniczak just barely made it in. By the time she found out about it on Facebook ... the workshops had sold out. Fortunately she was able to take a spot when someone else had to bow out. She had been following Laboratorium Pie?ni for years and is originally from the same city in Poland as they are. She now lives in Chicago, and helped plan another Sound Bath that took place there. Lawniczak says before this weekend she was afraid to sing in front of people, but she's learned a lot. “To sing well is to sing with your own voice - opening yourself up to that therapeutic level of truly finding your own voice ... signing with that - that is when you feel the power that you hold within - and that’s the most valuable thing that you can carry out of this workshop."

And as it turns out - it sounds pretty amazing when people come together and use their authentic voice to “meet within a song," as the organizers describe it. Jurczyszyn says while she’s not sure what she is helping others connect with through music, it’s something spiritual and it's bigger than herself.

UPDATE: Laboratorium Pie?ni more accurately translates to "song laboratory" - the audio version and original written version of this story had it as "sound laboratory." NPR Illinois apologizes for the error.

Rachel Otwell of the Illinois Times is a former NPR Illinois reporter.
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