Our Story

In 2008, Pushkara Sally Ashford had a "singing dream" which inspired her to go on a "pilgrimage for peace and global harmony."

"Would we go on foot like the others? No. Instead, the idea of a gypsy wagon came to me. This would be fun!" says Pushkara.

In fact, she realized, it would be theater!

"It would involve a troupe of singers crafting a culture of peace through music."

Like any sensible person in need of a gypsy wagon, Pushkara took a course on how to build one. The class was taught by Jim Tolpin and Steve Habersetzer of the Port Townsend School of Woodworking. (Pushkara herself lives on nearby Whidbey Island. Both Port Townsend and Whidbey are in Washington State, not too far from Seattle.)

Guided by what she learned in the class, she designed the "SingPeace!" gypsy wagon and commissioned Steve, a fine woodworker, to build it for her. Others participated in the carving, painting, stained and etched glass, upholstery, and other fine decorative touches.

In November, 2009, a singing, dancing band of celebrants joined the gypsy wagon for its inaugural outing at the Woodworkers Show in Port Townsend. Among these were Rob Tobias from Eugene, OR, Sara Tone from Portland, OR, and Port Townsend-based Laurence Cole. This core group would go on to bring their rich, passionate, soaring voices, talents for multi-part vocal arrangements, and infectious enthusiasm for "sing ‘n mingle" sessions to future SingPeace! happenings.

The wagon is a tiny "green home" and a work of art that inspires curious attention, smiles and gypsying dreams wherever it goes.

"I soon learned that the dream of a culture of peace represented by the wagon was shared by many others," says Pushkara. "Folks wept and offered donations of time, energy and money to make it happen."

The wagon's journeys so far have included parades, workshops, gardens of all kinds (e.g. permaculture, forgiveness and tranquility), Earth Day fairs, and other occasions for celebration in the general vicinity of Whidbey Island. For instance, SingPeace! was in Seattle for four days of the Northwest Regional Folklife Festival. The wagon was on hand in Seattle when U.S. Congressman, Jim McDermott, celebrated Pushkara's mother, Irene Hull, at his 2010 annual Potato Fest. SingPeace! also appeared in support of a campaign in 2010 that ultimately raised $4.2 million for the Whidbey Camano Land Trust's purchase of the Trillium Community Forest, a 664-acre natural area on central Whidbey Island, now preserved for wildlife habitat, open space, hiking, bicycling and horseback riding.

Pushkara is fond of saying that, in reality, you don't take a pilgrimage, "the pilgrimage takes you."

One of the places it took her was to the Exuberant Animal Rhythmic Training Hall (EARTH) and "the Barefoot Sensei," Mick Dodge, apostle of bare feet and exuberant play, "using sticks and stones to stretch and tone while you connect with your native home – the land." Mick has become a frequent and much appreciated guest at SingPeace! events.

In February, 2011, Pushkara organized an all-night overnight full moon gathering of song-crafters, story-tellers, theatrical improvisers, poets, dancers and exuberant play pals. To this gathering came Becca Atkins and other proponents of healing through creativity from Artreach in Norwich, Connecticut. With the participation of Becca and friends, SingPeace! now spans the continent!

Also at the full moon gathering were Sharon Abreu and Mike Hurwicz, singer/songwriters from Orcas Island. Sharon and Mike – who sometimes go by the name "Irthlingz" (also the name of their nonprofit dedicated to arts-based environmental education) – can now be seen, heard, appreciated and loved on numerous SingPeace! expeditions, where they use their singing / harmonizing / harmonica-izing / picking / grinning / fiddling / bass-plunking talents to promote a culture of peace here, there and everywhere.

An important evolutionary step for SingPeace! came in April of 2011, when Pushkara took the BePeace Foundations Course, a 32-hour experiential workshop conducted by Rita Marie Johnson, founding director of the Rasur Foundation International. The goal of the workshop is to teach attendees to "feel peace, speak peace and teach peace." (The "feel peace" part makes use of techniques developed by HeartMath, while the "speak peace" part is based on Nonviolent Communication.)

Pushkara realized that SingPeace! fit right in as the celebratory component of BePeace.

"I felt that together they formed a completely full and viable method to get peace out of the pie-in-the-sky and onto the ground," says Pushkara.

The next step – accomplished with the help of her friend, Julie Vosoba, who had also taken the BePeace workshop – was to bring the BePeace Foundations Course to Whidbey Island. In due course, nineteen peace-seeking people and half a dozen facilitators showed up to participate in the training with BePeace founder, Rita Marie Johnson, at the Whidbey Institute in August, 2011; Mike and Sharon provided uplifting and inspirational songs; the Songweavers (Laurence Cole, Aimée Kelley Spencer and Aimée Ringle) arrived one afternoon for a sing 'n mingle session; an enlivening, peaceful and heart-intelligence-enhancing time was had by all; and the SingPeace! circle widened.

In September, Pushkara and Julie traveled to Rasur Foundation International headquarters in Arlington, TX for the official U.S. Launch of BePeace, as well as a BePeace Implementation Course for training as BePeace trainers, group facilitators and coaches.

Next steps:

Pushkara and Julie, as well as SingPeace! singer/songweavers Sharon and Mike are becoming BePeace facilitators and trainers in hopes of creating "hubs" where school children and community members can learn the methods of BePeace and come together to craft a culture of peace through singing. Julie has also signed on as Program Director for the Rasur Foundation, taking a leading role in bringing BePeace to communities across the country.

Travels for the gypsy wagon???

"We've had invitations from all over the continent," says Pushkara, "but I've been awaiting a 'traveling troupe' and a vehicle that doesn't have a tailpipe! Until these are in place, we'll let folks come to the wagon instead of the wagon going to them. It's great, too, that without going anywhere, the wagon continues to do its work locally on the ground and online!"

Steve Habersetzer's Latest Gypsy Wagon
Woodworker's Show is this weekend at American Legion Hall downtown
Sing Peace, first event in Port Townsend, WA
Laurence Cole
Barefoot Sensei (official home page)
"Going on foot: Barefoot Sensei"
Whidbey Camano Land Trust
"A woman’s quest for travel, song and peace" (South Whidbey Record, March 2009)
"Giving peace a chance" (South Whidbey Record, February 2010)
"Peacemaker, singers will meet for weekend at Whidbey Institute" (South Whidbey
      Record, June, 2011)

Sharon Abreu
Songs for the Great Turning
Singing Alive
The Whidbey Institute at Chinook