David Schmit, vocals, guitars, accordion
I am of the generation of Americans who were radicalized in the 1960s. In the 1970s, a number of us turned to Asia seeking wisdom and enlightenment. We traveled – and stumbled – through the East’s ashrams, temples, zendos, and monasteries, pilgrims from the west, searching. We crossed boundaries into other cultures, voyaged into other states of consciousness and along the way, upset a bunch of American conventions telling us how to live our lives. Then we came home to try to make sense of it all. That’s when the real fun began. Ever since, East and West has been dancing inside me, moving in circles, flying up and falling down, getting up and going around again. It has kept me busy!
I was born in Duluth, Minnesota. I started playing music as a child, mostly guitar and some keyboards. I spent my teens and twenties in Florida, where I absorbed the music of the American South, especially blues and Appalachia. Time spent in the Caribbean yielded a love for the great grooves and rhythms of the islands. During my high school years, I performed in teen coffeehouses and an occasional tavern. I have been performing ever since with some breaks along the way when I did other things. I was a good student in school but I was also rebellious and challenged conventions.
My interest in yoga and Indian mysticism began in my teens. Meditation practice opened a spiritual path before me. I headed down it. Big changes began to happen. I wanted to learn more. I was young – right out of high school – when I went to India and met my guru, Ma Yogashakti. Under her guidance I received training in the four branches of yoga, was initiated, got a new name, Dayananda, and I learned lots of chants and mantras.
Mataji (Ma Yogashakti) told me to practice bhakti, and I have tried to do so ever since. I am forever grateful for her teachings.
My path went back to South Florida. I earned the first of a couple of college degrees. For several years in the 1970s, I led a weekly chanting program – called a Satsang – at the Yogashakti Ashram in Deerfield Beach Florida. It was during this time that I fell in love with singing to God and deepened my practice of Bhakti yoga.
With some friends, we formed a group, Heartsong, and recorded an album’s worth of sacred songs and chants.
More changes were ahead. In the late seventies and into the eighties, I shifted lanes and performed popular music along the South Florida coast.
Later in that decade, I turned back to sacred music, this time permanently.
I was drawn to the work of Robert Bly. He introduced me to the poems of Kabir, Mirabai and Rumi. I am grateful for the doors Robert opened up.
David Ballman and I were both in a chanting group with Bly. I was fortunate to make friends with him then. We experimented with fusing music with ecstatic poetry. Sufism entered my life. I had a dream I was playing the accordion and so I thought I better try one out. I love this instrument… it breathes waves of chords.
In 1994, I started Meeting Rivers Sacred Music Dance Theater with a group of musicians, poets, dancers and theater folk. We explored a cross-cultural vision of the sacred through an interactive music theater experience. We performed mostly in Minneapolis, often to good sized crowds and recorded a CD at one of our live theater events, Meeting Rivers Live. After four energetic seasons, the group disbanded.
In the 1990s, I finished a PhD, and began teaching college. Among other subjects, I teach courses on social justice. Now and then I take students to India to study Gandhi, the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan freedom struggle. I also got married and started a family. I am blessed in this part of my life.
Sometime in 2006 I was looking for some new musicians to play with. I heard Gary Waryan and Dalyce Elliot perfoming at a yoga studio. Gary and I started playing together in a monthly chanting program. Then Dalyce joined.
Later, Dalyce had a dream that David Ballman was singing with us. I asked him to join the group and he obliged. We became the Wild Moon Bhaktas in September of 2009. We released our first CD, From the Ganges to the Mississippi, November of 2012. Through the wonder of world-wide web searches and digital downloads, people from all over have found our music. The Wild Moon Bhaktas are now being listened to on three continents!
In February 2014, Dalyce left the group to pursue other projects. About that time, Christine Larson, who had attended a couple Wild Moon Bhaktas chanting and kirtan programs approached me and asked if we ever needed a substitute violinist, she was interested. After playing with us for a few events, we enthusiastically asked her to join the group. Fortunately for us, she agreed. Not only is Christine an accomplished singer and instrumentalist, due to the breadth of her studies and spiritual journey, she is adept at moving through the cross-cultural terrain we musically and philosophically traverse. What a treasure!
Each member of the Wild Moon Bhaktas—and our listeners for that matter—come to this music through their own journeys and engage it in their own ways. For me, what we do, I call Spirit music. It’s about love and devotion. When I chant, I feel boundless joy; Spirit brims everywhere.