Georgia Kelly’s Praxis Peace Institute activates the choir
Back in the day, New Age music was a thing. You couldn't go to a yoga class, get a massage, have a past-life regression or an aura reading without a mellow soundtrack drifting in the background, carried aloft by incense and candlelight. At its best, it explored minimalism and techno rhythms; at its worst, it was sentimental and calorie-free.
It turns out that one of the stars of New Age music has been living in Sonoma for 20 years, hiding in plain sight. However the Georgia Kelly we know is anything but a sentimentalist, but the hyper-active, driven director and founder of Praxis Peace Institute, a 'progressive peace education organization dedicated to deep inquiry, constructive dialogue, and informed civic participation' as its mission statement says.
In Sonoma since 2001, Praxis has sponsored several lectures each year – the most recent featured renowned behavioral linguistics professor George Lakoff – as well as larger multi-day conferences on subjects like 'The Economics of Peace,' and week-long travel seminars to places like Cuba, Mondragón, Spain, and Dubrovnik, Croatia.
It can't be ignored, however, that back in 1969 Kelly was a young wife living in Big Sur, working on her music. 'I took up harp my first year of high school,' she said. 'When I was in Big Sur, that was really my focus – practicing, writing music, getting prepared for I didn't know what.' She played at Esalen with Big Sur neighbor Charles Lloyd, and though friends told her she should put out an album she knew it was a tough path for a harpist.
'I knew better than to go to a record company because they would say, 'We can't sell harp music.' So I didn't even bother to go that route, I just put it out myself.' In 1978 she recorded 'SeaPeace,' and self-distributed it to what were called 'metaphysical book stores' (they were not uncommon, back in the day).
'They played it in the stores, that's what made it sell. It just took off,' she said, with some pride. 'Within four months I was making more money than my husband. I went from being quite poor to being well-off in a short amount of time.'
'SeaPeace' was among the first to put the harp at center stage – it came out a year before Andreas Vollenweider's own harp recordings – and she followed it with titles like 'Ancient Echoes,' 'Aeolian Temple Music' 'Apollo's Lyre' and others (most of which have been reissued on CD).
She and her husband moved to Los Angeles in the late 1970s, but Kelly's restless intellect wasn't satisfied with one path, and by the end of the following decade she was producing former- and future-Governor Jerry Brown's radio show, finding guests to match minds with the intellectually curious and stimulating 'Governor Moonbeam.' She even led Brown's 1992 presidential campaign in Marin County – where she was living by then, having divorced – and was a delegate to the Democratic convention in New York.
Though she continued recording through the 1980s and into the 1990s, it was a discovery in 1988 that changed her life, and her music. Her mother's family name was Dabelić, and a friend tracked down the name to Croatia. Her first visit to Dubrovnik opened her eyes to a deep European heritage. 'Once I found my relatives there, I went every year – I've been to Croatia at least 25 times, since 1988.'
Gradually the politics took over the music, and a wider sense of social responsibility became music to her ears.
In 1997 –20 years ago this summer – she moved to Sonoma, starting the Praxis Peace Institute to explore 'systemic peace, economic justice and environmental sustainability through education, research and informed action.' Heady words, but Kelly doesn't use them lightly, backing them up with lectures, workshops, travel programs, conferences and even a book club under the Praxis banner. It's supported by membership, event fees, and grants - "We could use more grants," said Kelly.
Praxis literally means process, or practice instead of simply theory: applying or enacting ideas or theories in the real world. That's what Kelly sees as her mission today. 'We focus on educational programs, whether they're speakers in Sonoma or conferences here or abroad,' she said. 'Conflict-resolution, sustainability, peace workshops, those are the kind of things we've been doing for the past many years, and probably intend to continue.'
'You talk about people who are entrepreneurs in business, you very rarely see people who are entrepreneurs in culture. That's how I see Georgia,' said former mayor Laurie Gallian, who has served on the Praxis Board of Directors for three years. 'Praxis was always for me a think tank... I always found my mind stretched and my education of many issues filled out.'