Image by Eric Allen
Meditation and music are both sourced from a deep place inside the human mind and spirit. They’re both tinged with something mysterious and primal. That’s why the collaboration between The Big Quiet and Okeechobee Music Festival felt so serendipitous: a celebratory fusion of music, community, and meditation. Okeechobee is a mindful festival thrown in the lush parkland of central Florida. The Big Quiet is a group meditation experience: hundreds or thousands of humans sit together in silence, joined through their breathing and intentionality. Okeechobee, however, was the first time The Big Quiet made an appearance at a major music festival.
In collaboration with violinist Sarah Neufeld of Arcade Fire, singer Sophie Hawley-Weld of Sofi Tukker Band, Taylor Rice and Kelcey Ayer of Local Natives and Jenavieve Varga, violinist, The Big Quiet went deep. Infused with music, thousands gathered for this collective meditation experience. Not to be kitsch but a unique energy, a sort of shared vibration ensued. Following such success, it’s even more interesting to read these interviews with the key players in Okeechobee’s Big Quiet from before the festival. They were equal parts stoked and uncertain.
We spoke with Jesse Israel, the founder of The Big Quiet, who explained the event in architectural detail. Then, we spoke with violinist Sarah Neufeld, about her relationship with meditation. Finally, we spoke to Sophie Hawley-Weld about the ways meditative thought flows outward from practice and into one’s creative life.
Jesse Israel, Founder of The Big Quiet
Hey Jesse, can you introduce yourself for us and tell us where we are?
I’m Jesse Israel, I’m the founder of The Big Quiet and we are here at Okeechobee Music Festival in Florida. We’re a couple hours away from bringing The Big Quiet to the Main Stage of Okeechobee Music festival.
What’s that going to look like?
We’re gonna bring thousands of people together to host the first ever mass meditation at a music festival.
Where have you held Big Quiets before?
We’ve hosted The Big Quiet at places like the top of the World Trade Center, Madison Square Garden, Central Park, the San Francisco World Fair.
Why is this Big Quiet special?
This Big Quiet is extra special because we’ve been able to partner with members from Arcade Fire, Local Natives, and Sophie Hawley-Weld to create something that’s really collaborative. It’s the first time that a music festival has put their hand up and said, ‘We wanna try something different.’ The headlining musicians are saying ‘We wanna be a part of this. We wanna create something we know is good for attendees and will have a lasting impact on their lives and those around them. It will not only unite the musicians, but also all the attendees that partake in the experience. We’re really just excited to be a part of history in that way and bring something good to Okeechobee.
Are you nervous?
I’m definitely feeling some nerves right now. We’ve done a lot of Big Quiets before but this one’s particularly uncertain because we’ve never done one at a music festival when there are other musicians performing at the same time.
Has anyone ever done anything like this?
As far as we can tell, this has never happened before at a North American music festival.
You’re obviously a huge proponent of meditation. Why is meditation so important?
Meditation is particularly important this day in age because of how disconnected people are from themselves and their true natures. Meditation is a practice that lets people clear the gunk blocking their heart, their mind and their gut and really connect with who they are and why they’re here. Meditation is also incredibly important because it’s a stress reduction tool. What we’ve seen is that when we bring people together to meditate en mass, something really special happens. It’s really a deeper way to connect with other people.
Yesterday during the warm-up we saw a few people crying. Is that normal?
Yeah. At Big Quiets we often see people crying during the mass meditation. We’re uniting people through breathing together, through sharing quiet together. A lot of emotions come up and when we give permission for people to express that.
Sarah Neufeld, Violinist for Arcade Fire
Hey Sarah. To start, could you introduce yourself?
I’m Sarah Neufeld, I’m a violinist and composer, I play in the Arcade Fire and I’m here at Okeechobee Festival in Florida performing with The Big Quiet and with the Arcade Fire later.
What’s happening here today?
We’re doing a lot today. I’m taking part in The Big Quiet on the main stage, which is really exciting to be a part of. Not only seeing how the meditation ceremony goes down, but also because I co-wrote a piece with two of the Local Natives guys and Jenavieve Varga and that’s gonna be a lot of fun. We just finished putting it together. Then later I will be on the main stage again with Arcade Fire. We have a really good time playing music for people. It’s kind of our favorite thing.
Image by Yvonne Gougelet
Why do you consider meditation important?
Meditation has been such an important thing, tool, resource, practice, spiritual focus for so long. As it comes into the modern day-to-day, into a regular person’s life, it can be incredibly useful especially with with so much distraction. We’re glued to our devices, we’re glued to the internet. People in the West are living enormously busy lives. We get addicted to the busy-ness, but we’re actually able to function less well when our brains are always going and we’re multitasking. There are so many amazing scientific studies out there proving the benefits of meditation.
What’s your relationship with meditation like?
For me personally, meditation has been probably the most life changing and useful tool or practice that I’ve developed over the years. It gives me distance from my thoughts, memories and emotions. Having that distance makes a difference: it gives you the ability to respond rather than to react. When we’re in a constant state of reaction, we don’t have a lot of choice or wisdom. I’ve found that being in a place where I have a little bit more choice and wisdom allows me to be a bit more free. In the creative process, it’s enormously helpful for focus and concentration. The way I write music especially is pretty painstaking and requires a long period of myopic focus. I don’t know if I would be doing what I’m doing right now if I didn’t have the basic mindfulness training and practice that I do.
Have you ever meditated with this many people before?
I don’t think so, no. I just came back from a meditation retreat in upstate New York with close to maybe a hundred people? I didn’t count, but it was a big room and that’s the most I’ve ever practiced with.
Image by Mandi Nulph
Sophie Hawley-Weld of the band Sofi Tukker.
Hey Sofi. Could you introduce yourself for us?
My name is Sophie and I’m one half of the band Sofi Tukker. We are currently in Florida at Okeechobee Festival and just did a rehearsal for The Big Quiet which I’m gonna be a part of and am really excited about.
Why does The Big Quiet feel special today?
Well, we see a lot of these artists at different festivals but don’t get a chance to actually do things together or have a common cause. To be around so many artists all caring about the same thing and collaborating is a really cool opportunity.
Are you a meditator as well?
Yeah, I am a meditator. I go in and out of proper seated meditation. I have a hard time on the road with it. When I do it on my own, it’s just the most luscious thing. It’s really when I’m in one place for a long period of time and can find a community, that I really get back into seated meditation. But I also really think that performing is a meditation, making music is a meditation, dancing is a meditation, depending on intention one brings into it. I try to incorporate that intention and way meditative way of thinking about things into shows and making music everyday life.
How do you think it’s going to turn out today?
I have no idea. I’ve been to festivals where there will be 20,000 people and sometimes there will be a hundred and I’ve really loved both experiences, they’re both really valuable. You have a different relationship with the people that show up. Whatever it ends up being it is I’m just happy to be here. Truly. I’m not just saying that: it’s really fun no matter how many people are there, it just changes what the thing is. If there are 20,000 people there then you try to make it feel like there are only a hundred people there so I’m open.
Image by Eric Allen