Sri Chinmoy Birthday Music Mix, August 2019

Exploring the subtleties of Sri Chinmoy’s music with a delightful mix including flute, esraj, singing, and piano, plus detailed notes

UPDATE 5. A very happy birthday to Sri Chinmoy, who would have been 88 today, August 27th, 2019! In the music world, when we hear the number 88 immediately we think of the piano, which has 88 keys. And indeed, the piano is an instrument for which Sri Chinmoy showed tremendous fondness. He played many instruments, and imparted to each a particular quality or manner of expression. Taken together, these begin to comprise his musical oeuvre.

Sri Chinmoy was a man of action, not a dry theoretician, or a composer removed from the performance of his works. He wrote countless spiritual songs, and was very active in singing, playing, and teaching them. But though his songs represent a significant corpus, he was also known for his striking improvisations on piano and pipe organ. Often times, at the close of a concert of one or two hours in which he played his songs on a variety of instruments, he would end with an avant-garde piano improvisation.

Sri Chinmoy as many remember him: in the spiritual and musical spotlight. Photo courtesy https://au.srichinmoycentre.org/articles/piano

His flute melodies are extremely pleasing to the ear — the essence of zenlike simplicity. When he played the Indian esraj (a bowed instrument similar to the better-known sarangi), this imparted a haunting, ancient quality. His singing was all heart and soul, seeming to embody the seeker’s plaintive cry to know the Divine, and to be freed from the shackles of ignorance. He himself was ever-free, but identified with the pangs of seekers.

When he sang in concert, it was as if he were bundling up the collective longing for God of his audience, and directing it as a single prayer upward to the Divine. Something more: As a spiritual Master, he was able to fulfill that prayer, to bring it to fruition. So inwardly, in the course of a concert he would play the role of both a seeker and a Liberator, carrying the collective longings of his audience Heavenward, and showering them with inner blessings from the Highest Height of meditation — throwing them into the Universal Consciousness (as he would put it). The closing moments of his meditations and concerts were indeed special for this reason. They are coloured deep blue in my memory.

He approached each of the instruments he played with a sense of discovery, spontaneity, and childlike enthusiasm, bringing out the unique qualities of each. He was fearless in the manner of David Amram, always ready to grab a new instrument and start jamming. (A photo from Amram’s first autobiography Vibrations shows him wigging out at the Fillmore East with violin and kazoo.) Like this, if someone gave Sri Chinmoy a Hawaiian slide guitar, he would not hesitate!

He was also like a quick-change artist or showman. There was always something more about him than met the eye (or ear). He was a perfect example of the artist as shaman, creating art not simply for art’s sake, but also as a means of inner awakening for both the individual and the assembled collective, the gathering tribes.

As listeners, it is always our challenge to remain attentive. There is a regrettable human tendency to replace the actual experience of art with our mental attitudes toward it. The liner notes (or our knowledge of the musical devices employed) become a substitute for hearing the music itself.

Listening to Sri Chinmoy’s flute music, we could easily be lulled into thinking that his entire message is one of peace. But he knew how to guard against complacency on the part of listeners. Just when you thought you had him pegged as a purveyor of serene flute melodies, he would rotate the circular table on which a host of exotic instruments were assembled, and choose one with a striking and unusual sound, like the African wind spinner. Or he might rise and walk over to a different part of the stage where his cello was waiting for him, and proceed to sing and play in unison, perhaps “Ore Mor Kheya”:

Ore Mor Kheya (English translation)

O my Boat, O my Boatman,
O message of Transcendental Delight,
Carry me. My heart is thirsty and hungry,
And it is fast asleep at the same time.
Carry my heart to the other shore.
The dance of death I see all around.
The thunder of destruction indomitable I hear.
O my Inner Pilot, You are mine,
You are the Ocean of Compassion infinite.
In You I lose myself,
My all in You I lose.

– Sri Chinmoy, from The Garden of Love-Light, Part 1 , 1974

 

Here then is a specially selected mix of Sri Chinmoy’s music as performed by the Maestro himself, and by his students. Not every track has piano, but that instrument is well-represented, including one of Sri Chinmoy’s immortal piano improvisations. Taken together with his other music, we can see how in the course of an evening he could easily span the distance from ancient to modern. He expressed not only deep peace, but also dynamism, vastness, and infinitude:

For now, you can also access this m4a audio file containing all the referenced music. Plays in most players. If you use iTunes, VLC, SMPlayer, or another chapter aware player, you can use the chapter markers to go to any track. Also see track list at bottom of this post.

Because the individual and the collective go together, I find it especially meaningful to hear the same song performed by Sri Chinmoy and by his students. There’s completion of a circle in that. The whole of his music consists not only of what he sent out, but of what was received, embraced, and understood by others. The same is true of his teachings.

Sri Chinmoy’s voice is not prettified in the manner of an opera singer or pop star, but is the true voice of a shaman — one who through spiritual knowledge is qualified to conduct the sacred ceremonies. His performance is always the most austere, but the most true. And where there is abundant truth, is that not also beauty? The spiritual truth is most beautiful in itself, without any artificial sweeteners.

Sri Chinmoy blended the boundaries between purely sacred or ceremonial music, and music which could be enjoyed simply for its aesthetic beauty. His flute music is pleasing to all, and his Bengali songs are arranged most beautifully by his students. But as with much music with sacred origins, the more you know, the richer your experience. His music is an invitation or portal to the consciousness which inspired it. When he sang a bhajan which called upon the Divine to bless and illumine each soul present, the Divine answered! No matter if Sri Chinmoy missed a note or two.

How do you listen to music? I know I always ask myself “What is the musician getting at? What is he or she trying to say?” In the final movement of Beethoven’s Ninth we hear a tremendous striving to communicate something which is beyond words, employing every possible device, but always going beyond, beyond, beyond. Like this, in his meditation, music, and poetry, Sri Chinmoy is constantly going beyond. The lyrics to his English song “There Was A Time” say:

There was a time when I stumbled and stumbled,
But now I only climb and climb beyond
And far beyond my Goal’s endless Beyond,
And yet my Captain commands: “Go on, go on!”

– Sri Chinmoy, from My Flute, Agni Press, 1972

In his philosophy, Sri Chinmoy suggests that there is a subtle distinction between the words “God” and “Supreme.” When we think of God, we may think of Him as a great but finite being; but when we think of the Supreme, we become more conscious of His (or Her) “infinite beyond” aspect.

These are ideas about the beyond, but in his piano improvisations Sri Chinmoy often seems to be dealing with the infinite in a manner far beyond words and ideas, as infinite energy, or as an endless sea with no shores. His piano improvisations can be highly gestural, with no discernible melody or harmony, but a maelstrom of notes that strives to communicate something about the vast and eternal.

Sri Chinmoy traveled widely, holding free concerts and meditations in major cities around the world. He would often write a song honouring the city or landmark he was visiting (which for some reason is making me cry remembering it). We hear a medley of five such songs: “Monticello,” “Philadelphia,” “Moskva” (Moscow), “Eternal Peace Flame” (Oslo, Norway), and “Borobudurer Bhiti Stapan” (Borobudur Buddhist Temple in Java).

The contrast between “Monticello” (arranged by the group Ganga) and “Philadelphia” (arranged by Archee Moffitt) is striking because the first uses all acoustic instruments like harmonium, recorder, and tabla, while the second makes extensive use of synthesizers. (Gotta love that classic DX7 tubular bell patch!) “Philadelphia” sounds Philip Glasslike in spots, and the revered minimalist spoke highly of the Master:

The passing of Sri Chinmoy represents the loss of one of the last of the great spiritual teachers who brought the tradition of Indian spirituality to the West.

He had a very special connection to music. In his performances, with clarity, simplicity and directness, he was able to move his listeners in a very immediate and deeply emotional way.

In his lifetime he brought tremendous joy to the people who were with him. For me, his life was a special and personal inspiration.

Though at this moment we may feel great sadness, he will always be in our hearts.

— Philip Glass

Source: https://www.srichinmoy.org/kind_words/leaders/tributes

After his passing, his music has continued to live on in many, many forms, including the Songs of the Soul concerts presented worldwide by his students, where Philip Glass has been a beloved guest artist.

Returning to our mix: “Borobudurer Bhiti Stapan” (here performed by the groups Mountain Silence and Akasha) has a somewhat different character than the other city or landmark songs: first, because its subject is an ancient holy site extremely significant in Buddhism; second, because it is in Bengali, which language is (obviously) far closer to ancient Pali and Sanskrit than is English. The compact nature of Bengali lends itself especially well to spiritual poetry, as Vidagdha Meredith Bennett hints at in her doctoral thesis Simplicity and Power: The Poetry of Sri Chinmoy, 1971-1981 (footnotes omitted):

It is possible that Sri Chinmoy’s use of the compound noun has its origin in an attempt to find in English the natural analogue of the Sanskrit and Bengali forms of comparison. Gerow notes that translations from Sanskrit into English “tend to be flabby and prolix precisely where the original displays a tense compactness and is most striking in its beauty.”

In the case of Sri Chinmoy’s own mother tongue, Bengali, this compactness is inherent in the language. The formation of compounds is frequent and, in fact, the grammar of compounds cannot be distinguished from that of phrases. The words “swapan sathi,” to take an example, may be translated in an interpretive way as “companion of my dream.” Literally, however, the words read as “dream-companion,” with the two words closely intersecting. In so far as a direct English equivalent may be found for the Bengali words, Sri Chinmoy most commonly elects to keep the true form of his source language. As a result, he is able to use the compound noun to establish a greater cohesion within the English language itself. The life-principle of poetry, he would seem to affirm, does not lie in any of the norms of grammar and logic but in the interactions of words within the language.

See the song “Dhire Ati Dhire Man Jangal” (discussed further down), which includes the compound nouns “mind-jungle,” “Forgiveness-Eye,” and “World-Lord.”

Because Sri Chinmoy is a gifted poet in both Bengali and English, his best translations of his most significant poems are absolutely outstanding! Why? Because he does not merely translate. Rather, he re-imagines the Bengali poem in English, so that it becomes a significant poem in its own right. (See “Ore Mor Kheya” above.) His groundbreaking 1972 volume My Flute includes many such translations.

Another example of things coming full circle manifested in 2016, when a bilingual edition of The Garden of Love-Light was published, including (for the first time) the Bengali script. (See this article in The Indian Panorama.)

Without diving too deep into the ethnomusicology weeds, we can note that like fellow Bengali Rabindranath Tagore (whose songs the Master greatly admired), Sri Chinmoy employs lines of different metric lengths. So while much of “Philadelphia” is in 4/4 time, the words “Liberty Bell” bring in two bars of 5/4. “Karuna Mayer Jyotir Dulal” (here arranged and performed by Temple-Song-Hearts) is a striking example of this phenomenon. The piano introduction alone tells us we’re in for a bumpy ride, mapping out as:

4/4 + 4/4 + 5/8 + 7/4 + 7/4 + 7/8 + 3/4 + 7/8 + 3/4

Others might count it differently, but still: Not even the Mahavishnu Orchestra in its heyday adopted a metric cycle this ambitious! (In songbooks, Sri Chinmoy’s songs are usually notated without barlines, but when groups arrange them, barlines become more of a practical necessity.)

“Sabai Amai Pagol Dake” (performed by Aspiration-Flight) and “Jago Paran Jago” (the Sri Chinmoy Bhajan Singers) are further examples of the polyrhythmic quality which Sri Chinmoy’s style of plainsong can take on in group arrangements. At the opposite end of the spectrum, “Borobudure” and “Peace: Humanity’s Flower-Heart” bring out the more monastic quality. See also In Vastness-Peace, a CD recorded in the churches of Iceland.

Directly preceding “Peace: Humanity’s Flower-Heart” is Sri Chinmoy singing “Peace In My Flying Soul.” It’s a song in that it has words and a melody — indeed, the melody is quite exquisite in the way that it modulates further afield and then returns perfectly to its starting point in circular fashion. Sri Chinmoy did not painstakingly construct a melody; the melody often came to him all at once in a flash of intuition. When we hear him sing “Peace, peace, peace… Peace in Heaven, peace on earth, peace in every human life,” this is a chant for peace or invocation of peace.

Peace is not just a concept or the absence of war, but an actual quality of God which we can experience directly. When he invoked peace, peace descended upon the hall in boundless measure. At public events, you might see some people who were not used to receiving peace with their heads bobbing. But those more experienced in meditation would relax their body and mind, but maintain a slender thread of alertness so that they could drink in this delicious peace. In this way, they were able to enjoy the Peace Meal that the Master Chef was preparing for them.

So, Sri Chinmoy’s music has this dual nature that it is the outer expression of a powerful inner force, a blessingful force. When he would go off to the United Nations to give a “concert” — arriving with his collection of instruments both familiar and exotic — we should understand that he was really conducting a blessing ceremony in which music and sound played an essential role.

Perhaps it is science which makes us think that if there were a God, He would be formless to the point of being antiseptic. Yet, the inner world is filled with beings who have their distinctive forms and qualities. The Goddess Saraswati plays the vina. Why does she not play the saxophone or harpsichord? Because it is her nature to play the vina. She has always played it.

Sri Chinmoy’s nature as a spiritual teacher, visionary, or shaman, is that he imparts his teachings not just through talks on philosophy (of which he gave many), but also through art, music, and poetry. Why? Because that is his nature. We should not so much question it as marvel at it!

At the United Nations, 1998: Sri Chinmoy meditates, then plays the blue dove ocarina. Screenshots from a video by Mridanga Spencer.

Sri Chinmoy’s music is like a garden which we can enjoy for its simplicity and beauty, or if we are so inclined we can learn the names of all the different flowers and analyze how they are arranged. Retaining our simplicity, we can yet begin to recognize certain key Bengali words which recur: karuna is compassion, shanti is peace, ananda delight. (The Bengali language has different classes of words, some of which are Tatsami, meaning “same as in Sanskrit.” See also this brief comment from Sri Chinmoy himself.)

The music of India is rich in scales (or more properly ragas) which can sound exotic to Western ears. Statistically, Sri Chinmoy does not make much use of the more exotic flavours, but since he wrote thousands of songs, we can discover notable exceptions. One such is “Chinta Amar Amai Kare,” again arranged and performed by Temple-Song-Hearts. In Western music theory, the melody might be described as alternating between the Double Harmonic and Major scales.

sri-chinmoy-songs-chinta-amar-amai-kare

Another class of songs worthy of mention is the bilingual songs. Sri Chinmoy’s bilingual fluency dates back to his ashram days, when he became close personal assistant to noted Indian savant Nolini Kanta Gupta, translating many of the latter’s articles from Bengali to English for publication in the English-language journal Mother India.

Sri Chinmoy (top left) with Nolini-da (bottom left), August 27, 1962

Years later, Sri Chinmoy would provide beautiful English translations of his own works. But there is a special class of songs (usually short) where he weaves Bengali and English together in the same song. These possess a unique charm all their own, as we can see from “Pit Pit Mit Mit Sanjher Tara” (sung delightfully in rounds), the cheery “Gan Likhi Ami,” “Dhire Ati Dhire Man Jangal” (offered in two contrasting versions), and the soaring “Everest-Aspiration,” whose melody literally peaks!

Pit Pit Mit Mit Sanjher Tara

Pit pit mit mit sanjher tara sanjher tara
Atmahara heri tomar sudha dhara

Twinkling, twinkling evening star, evening star!
Watching the flow of your nectar-delight,
Myself I completely lose.

* * *

Gan Likhi Ami

Gan likhi ami gan geye jai
Nidra dekha nai
Ganer majhare parama shanti
Charama tripti pai

Songs I write
I keep singing
Sleep remains unseen.
From my songs, I receive peace sublime
And satisfaction deep.

* * *

Dhire Ati Dhire Man Jangal

Dhire ati dhire man jangal
Bishwa prabhu khamar nayane hase

Slowly, very slowly in my mind-jungle,
The Forgiveness-Eye of the World-Lord
Is smiling.

* * *

Everest-Aspiration

Everest-Aspiration!
Gauri shankara dan
Open my heart’s silver door
Dao more aji amarar bhor.
O highest mountain peak!
Janame marane karo nirvik.

* * *

In some cases, the Bengali and English may not have been composed in the same instant, but appear close together in the same songbook, and are combined by the performers. For example, “Pit Pit Mit Mit Sanjher Tara” and “Twinkling, Twinkling Evening Star” appear nearby in the collection Your Face Is My Dream. But in “Everest-Aspiration,” we see the two languages tightly interwoven. After each English line, Sri Chinmoy pens a rhyming Bengali line.

A solo sitar medley by master of the instrument Adesh Widmer rounds out this section of the mix, underscoring the melodic interest inherent in the songs.

Sri Chinmoy’s music-world is rich in beauty, and there is always more to discover. I hope these notes, initially written in haste, will help you in your journey of discovery.

sri-chinmoy-mega-music-mix-artists

I began this article feeling tired and thinking that I could find no good words to say. I am grateful that some words did come, and that listening to Sri Chinmoy’s music inspired and uplifted me. May it do the same for you, dear Reader!

sri-chinmoy--vaasa-statue-finland-1

Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.


TRACK LIST

Start Time – Track No. – Artist – Title – Source

00:00:00 – 01 – Sri Chinmoy – “I Came To Your Lotus Feet” – from The Life-River (CD)

00:01:15 – 02 – Sri Chinmoy – “Ore Mor Kheya” – from Silence Speaks (CD)

00:05:51 – 03 – Temple-Song-Hearts – “I Give” – from Temple-Song-Hearts XIII (CD)

00:09:02 – 04 – Srinvantu – “Swarupananda” – from RadioSriChinmoy.org

00:11:25 – 05 – Temple-Song-Hearts – “Swarupananda” – from Temple-Song-Hearts (1st cassette)

00:14:28 – 06 – Sri Chinmoy – “Swarupananda” – from Music Meditation (CD)

00:15:24 – 07 – Temple-Song-Hearts – “Bhoy Kena Bhoy” – from Temple-Song-Hearts XII (CD)

00:18:44 – 08 – Sri Chinmoy – “Jaya Jaya Jaya He Niranjana” – from My Japanese Heart-Garden (CD)

00:20:15 – 09 – Gandharva Loka Orchestra – “Jaya Jaya Jaya He Niranjana” – from concert recording

00:23:55 – 10 – Arthada & Friends – “Jharna-Kala” (short version) – from Om Shanti (CD)

00:27:47 – 11 – Blue Flower – “My Sunlit Path/Ecstasy-Flood” – from Blossoming (CD)

00:31:35 – 12 – The Blue-Gold Shore of the Beyond – “Om Taranaya Namaha” – from Taranaya Namaha (CD)

00:34:08 – 13 – The Four Universals Singers – “Farewell” – from RadioSriChinmoy.org

00:40:04 – 14 – Temple-Song-Hearts – “Karuna Mayer Jyotir Dulal” – from Temple-Song-Hearts (1st cassette)

00:43:09 – 15 – Sri Chinmoy – “Ami Jabo” – from Silence Speaks (CD)

00:50:15 – 16 – Tanima’s Group – “There Was A Time” – from Songs of the Soul (CD reissue of 1975 cassette)

00:52:08 – 17 – Sri Chinmoy – “Chinese Gong Improvisation” – from 107 Blue Heart-Boats (CD)

00:53:41 – 18 – Shindhu – “Hasir Prabhat Sanga Habe” – from Eternity’s Dream (CD)

00:57:39 – 19 – Sri Chinmoy – “Finnish Harp Improvisation” – from 107 Blue Heart-Boats (CD)

00:58:18 – 20 – Aspiration-Flight – “Sabai Amai Pagol Dake” – from Ascending Cry (CD)

01:01:32 – 21 – Sri Chinmoy – “Hiya Pakhi” – from Flute Music For Meditation (CD)

01:03:30 – 22 – Sri Chinmoy – “African Wind Spinner Improvisation” – from My Prayerful Salutations To The United Nations – Part III (CD)

01:04:05 – 23 – Sri Chinmoy – “Piano Improvisation” – from 107 Blue Heart-Boats (CD)

01:10:32 – 24 – Ganga – “Monticello” – from Sacred River (CD)

01:14:00 – 25 – Archee & Friends – “Philadelphia” – from RadioSriChinmoy.org

01:17:26 – 26 – Temple-Song-Hearts – “Moskva” – from Temple-Song-Hearts Collection 1 (CD)

01:20:45 – 27 – Shindhu – “The Eternal Peace Flame” – from RadioSriChinmoy.org

01:24:48 – 28 – Mountain Silence – “Borobudurer Bhiti Stapan” – from Be Thou My All (CD)

01:25:44 – 29 – Akasha – “Borobudurer Bhiti Stapan” – from unidentified cassette

01:30:47 – 30 – Ganga – “Pit Pit Mit Mit Sanjher Tara” – from Sacred River (CD)

01:33:51 – 31 – Japaka Orchestra – “Gan Likhi Ami/Songs I Write” – from Songs of the Soul Compilation 1 (CD)

01:39:04 – 32 – Agnikana’s Group – “Dhire Ati Dhire Man Jangal” – from In My Heart-Sky (CD)

01:41:48 – 33 – Bartika’s Group – “Dhire Ati Dhire Man Jangal” – from RadioSriChinmoy.org

01:43:54 – 34 – Sri Chinmoy – “Everest-Aspiration” – from The Peace Concert/Concert De Paix (CD)

01:46:13 – 35 – Adesh Widmer – “Everest-Aspiration/Rama Raghava” – from Joy of Sitar (CD)

01:48:09 – 36 – Temple-Song-Hearts – “Chinta Amar Amai Kare” – from Temple-Song-Hearts (1st cassette)

01:51:07 – 37 – The Sri Chinmoy Bhajan Singers – “Jago Paran Jago” – from Songs of the Soul Compilation 1 (CD)

01:53:45 – 38 – Sri Chinmoy – “Peace In My Flying Soul” – from My Prayerful Salutations To The United Nations – Part I (CD)

01:56:37 – 39 – Shindhu – “Peace: Humanity’s Flower-Heart” – from Sacred Dawn (CD)

02:02:18 – 40 – Sri Chinmoy – “Rainstick Improvisation” – from India: World-Cynosure – Part 2 (CD)

02:03:45 – 41 – Ananda – “Sundara Hate” – from Ananda (CD)

02:07:02 – 42 – Sri Chinmoy – “Medley with He Gopal” (bowed/plucked psaltery)” – from My Japanese Heart-Garden (CD)

02:10:43 – 43 – Sri Chinmoy – “He Gopal” (singing with electronic keyboard) – from Bhajan Balika (CD)

02:12:11 – 44 – Sri Chinmoy – “Ocarina” – from 107 Blue Heart-Boats (CD)

All compositions by Sri Chinmoy, except “Rama Raghava” (traditional text), “Jago Paran Jago” (words by Ahana Chinmoy). “Moskva” originally in English, translated into Russian by a student of Sri Chinmoy.

* * *

Happy 55th Anniversary, Sri Chinmoy!

Shedding new light on the contributions made by this immortal teacher and his musical oeuvre

I am so grateful today, April 13th, 2019, to write something about Sri Chinmoy, the great and good spiritual teacher, musician, poet, and artist who came to the West exactly 55 years ago today.

I am grateful because I feel that Sri Chinmoy saved my life many times over (though I hardly deserve it). I was and am a poor student, but Sri Chinmoy always reflected such an effulgence of light that even the dullest student could not fail to absorb some of it and be changed by it.

And by God’s Grace, I think I have some inkling into how much he willingly suffered in order to be of help to those who sought out his spiritual guidance. As human beings, you might say we are half-devil, half-angel. Or you can say that when we try to go one step forward and become spiritual, then we discover the destructive tiger within us that wants to keep us in its den at all cost.

By challenging humanity to change for the better, to embrace ideals of peace and divine love, Sri Chinmoy had, at times, to endure the hatred of the world. And in offering a helping hand to those who specifically asked him to help them change their nature, he had to endure hatred, at times, even from his own disciples — from the destructive tiger within them.

Human nature is fickle. Today, and for a few days (or weeks or months or years), someone wants to become spiritual. But after a time, the same person may lose interest and intensity, or may fall victim to desire. At that time, they may hate and blame the spiritual teacher for taking them away from worldly life — forgetting that it was they themselves who asked the spiritual teacher to guide them, and they who assured him that they were ready and eager for the spiritual life.

A simple truth: Those who wrong or betray a spiritual teacher may hate him because deep down they know they have wronged him. I was reminded of this simple truth by a scene from an old movie: Ice Palace (1960), based on the novel by Edna Ferber.

Sadly, it is human nature to sometimes hate those whom we have wronged. But today, April 13th, is a day of celebration. And to celebrate the 55th anniversary of Sri Chinmoy’s arrival in the West, I want to offer 5 songs by Sri Chinmoy. These are not just any songs, chosen casually. Rather, they are a gateway to understanding the richness and depth of expression found in his artistic oeuvre.

The 5 songs lay the groundwork. But in addition, there’s a sixth bonus track, and what a track it is! — a medley incorporating all 5 songs, strikingly arranged and masterfully performed by Gandharva Loka Orchestra. This is a large international ensemble of singers and instrumentalists dedicated to performing Sri Chinmoy’s music on a grand scale:

As a lifelong student of music, I’m very excited about sharing these songs in this particular format. It’s so gratifying to hear the individual songs, then see how they’re combined contrapuntally and polyrhythmically in such a powerful and joyous fashion. If there’s one concept that shines brightly from this experience, it’s the idea of call and response. Whether in gospel music or jazz, call and response is the essence of communication. And in the lives of great spiritual teachers, we see that it’s also a matter of call and response. The message of one enlightened soul is so electric that it lights the way for thousands of seekers who then take up that call and lend their own voices to it in richness and harmony.

When I hear Gandharva Loka Orchestra’s striking arrangement of Sri Chinmoy’s songs echoing through the large hall, and met with thunderous applause, I feel dynamically energized, but also I feel a sense of completion. I hear over a hundred people crying out (in essence): “We have heard your call, and now we are singing back to you, with immense gratitude, the songs you have taught us.” The cycle is complete.

More About The Songs

Sri Chinmoy was a prolific composer of spiritual songs in Bengali and English. These five songs are in Bengali, with English translations for two of them given by the composer:

Sukhero Lagiya

I lead my poor vital along teeming roads
To discover happiness birthless and deathless.
I see Your Beauty’s Feet
Shining and scattering their radiance
Inside a tiny twig of my hope-world.
A perfect stranger am I now
To the tired and sleeping life.
The confines of the hope-empty Sahara
Will never be able to imprison me.

Chitta Dolai

My heart-door is completely open.
O my sweet Lord Supreme,
Come and enjoy Your Ecstasy’s Dream
On my heart-swing.
Do come driving Your Light-flooded Chariot,
On the flower-decorated purity-road.
And the moment You come,
Do make me lose my division-self
And make me one with Your
Infinity’s Immortality-Self.

The character of these two songs is completely different. In the first, the seeker is still wandering through the desert, and only catches a glimpse of the spiritual Reality that will eventually liberate him. In the second, she is well along the path of Bhakti Yoga, and with open heart is enjoying a feeling of sweet devotion and oneness with her Lord Supreme.

These contrasting moods are strongly developed in the arrangement by Gandharva Loka Orchestra. There are elements of world music and jazz fusion: a large orchestra and chorus, tabla accompaniment, a Chinese erhu solo, and an amazing soprano sax solo by Premik Russell Tubbs, who listeners may know from the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Like any great band, Gandharva Loka Orchestra combines fantastic arranging skills with tremendous freedom on the part of individual soloists. Yes, it’s spiritual music, but it also swings.

These tracks collectively comprise a half-hour odyssey into Sri Chinmoy’s music-world, and begin to get at the variety of musical expression he fostered, both in his own compositions and performances, and in the way he inspired his students to form groups reflective of their individual style and musical experience.

There is always more to discover about Sri Chinmoy’s music, and I hope this brief introduction has sparked your interest. Thank you for reading!

Michael Howard

Track List

0:00 “Sonali Jyotir” performed by Arthada and Friends
2:42 “Mishe Phulla Dale” performed by Sri Chinmoy
3:56 “Oi Akashe” performed by Akasha
7:01 “Sukhero Lagiya” performed by Sri Chinmoy
9:34 “Chitta Dolai” performed by Mountain-Silence
11:39 Medley performed by Gandharva Loka Orchestra

Links

Sri Chinmoy Songs (sheet music, translations)
More Gandharva Loka Orchestra on Radio Sri Chinmoy
God, The Supreme Musician (Sri Chinmoy’s influential book on music)

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Happy 87th Birthday, Sri Chinmoy!

Remembering the beloved spiritual teacher, musician and artist with a joyful music mix and slideshow

Sri Chinmoy’s birthday was always a joyful occasion, a perfect opportunity to celebrate. The celebrations continue, although he passed away in 2007. He lit a bright torch, carried it for many years, and taught others to hold it aloft. So many people around the world are celebrating on August 27, 2018, the day when Sri Chinmoy would have turned 87.

My way of celebrating was to make this video as an introduction to Sri Chinmoy’s music world:

I say “music world” because Sri Chinmoy is a world unto himself, and his music is best understood by listening with an open heart, rather than theorizing with a critical mind. Listening brings its own rewards and leads to understanding.

I say “music world” because inside Sri Chinmoy’s music is his art — his painting and drawing. All his creations emanate from a deep spiritual well, and one can approach that well from many directions, like a circular fountain which has a myriad of little footpaths leading up to it.

Music, art, concert posters, and photographs are all ways of making inroads to reach that centre of consciousness from which Sri Chinmoy always acted. But the divine secret is that this centre of consciousness does not belong to any individual, but is our collective consciousness, to be realized. It is the Supreme’s consciousness of Light and Delight.

It is fitting, then, that the music mix begins with “Supreme Chant” — a melody which Sri Chinmoy composed to the word “Supreme” — and that it ends with Sri Chinmoy chanting the word “Supreme.”

In between, we can begin to glean something of the vastness of Sri Chinmoy’s musical oeuvre from the main selection, which is a medley of his songs performed by Gandharva Loka Orchestra, culminating in a magnificent counterpoint. Truly, his music is “vaster than the sky,” and a thunderous pipe organ improvisation from Riverside Church punctuates this point.

There are many facets to Sri Chinmoy’s musical manifestation — so many that we can only catch a fleeting glimpse in the 38 minutes of this video. I hope to create other videos which bring out different aspects. A great wealth of Sri Chinmoy’s music is available online at Radio Sri Chinmoy. Special thanks to them, and to the musicians, photographers and videographers who made this non-commercial production possible.

A very happy birthday to Sri Chinmoy! Wishing peace and joy to everyone around the world who is celebrating this day!

Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.

Peaceful Morning Meditation Music April 13th

Celebrate the dawn with the music of thirteen different artists…

I hope you enjoy this peaceful morning meditation music:

The styles and instruments may differ, but these thirteen artists are all performing variations on the same song: “Usha Bala Elo” by Sri Chinmoy. Judging by the number of recordings, it’s one of the most popular songs among his students.

Lyrics:

Usha bala elo
Dhire aji dhire
Hridaya gabhire

Translation:

Slowly, very slowly,
The virgin dawn appears
In the very depths of my aspiration-heart.

Source: SriChinmoySongs.com

This beautiful song with its simple melody is very enjoyable to sing. Usha means “dawn,” and can also refer to the Goddess Usha, who is celebrated in the ancient Rig Veda, where she is identified with the dawn and described as a bringer of light.

In poetry and song, we need not choose a single meaning. We can enjoy the superimposition of the outer and inner meanings. In the outer world, we can imagine the first rays of the dawn softly illuminating the sky, and in the inner world we can feel a new dawn, new light, new consciousness appearing in the depths of our heart.

April 13th is a special day for those who admire Sri Chinmoy (1931-2007). On April 13th, 1964 he arrived in the West and began a remarkable decades-long career as a teacher, composer, musician, poet, artist, athlete, and humanitarian.

He composed thousands of songs, but “Usha Bala Elo” is certainly one of his most beloved.

Of the versions performed here, two merit special attention because they are medleys. Master sitarist Adesh Widmer begins with “Usha Bala Elo,” but also works in other tunes by Sri Chinmoy. And arranger Paree Atkins creates a rich tapestry for large ensemble, beginning with another of Sri Chinmoy’s dawn songs: “Andhakarer Bakka Chiri”:

Lyrics:

Andhakarer bakka chiri
Khulche ushar toran oi
Jaya dhwani kare sabe
Khoka khuki achhish koi
Arun ranga charan phele
Usha rani ese
Khelar chale anlo tene
Ajana ei deshe

Translation:

Behold, tearing the heart of darkness,
the door of dawn opens.
O children, where are you?
Sing, sing the divine glory.
The queen of dawn descends
with her morning rays.
She has dragged me down
into this world unknown.

Source: SriChinmoyLibrary.com

Paree incorporates both the original Bengali and the English translation into her choral fantasia, adding a welcome dynamic element to the mix!

Artists and Links

These are the artists performing “Usha Bala Elo”:

1. Silence-Hearts
2. Phulendu
3. Hiya Bhasha
4. Akasha
5. Utsava and Friends
6. Purnakama
7. Song-Waves
8. Adesh
9. Adarsha
10. Paree’s Group
11. Ananda
12. Sri Chinmoy
13. Satja

Many, many thanks to Sri Chinmoy, to the artists performing his music, and to Radio Sri Chinmoy, where much of this music is freely available. (It is truly a treasure trove.)

This year, April 13th happens to fall on a Friday. But after a peaceful morning meditation, we need not surrender to bad luck or Fright Night. The light of the dawn can carry us through to the evening, and at day’s end we can enjoy sweet, peaceful dreams.

Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.

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Salvation – a short film exploring NYC snowscapes

Now released on YouTube

Although I made brief mention of it in a post on Storm Emma and the Meaning of Snow, I’d like to officially announce the YouTube release of my short film Salvation:

While I’m only an amateur videographer, and the means brought to bear for Salvation are exceedingly modest, I can nevertheless point out a few things about the film.

It first and foremost uses the language of visual images, sound, and music to say what it wants to say.

Though my primary purpose was artistic, it does call attention to the plight of New York City carriage horses, who work in all kinds of harsh conditions (including snowstorms).

The film begins by showing a dense crush of passersby on a midtown Manhattan street during a blizzard. We hear the tinkling of a bell, and as the crowd thins out, we see that the sound is coming from an African-American Salvation Army worker with a collection box to which no one seems to be contributing.

The next sequence is of Pomona, the Goddess of Plenty, who stands atop the Pulitzer Fountain there in Manhattan’s Grand Army Plaza. Like the Salvation Army worker, she looks cold, forlorn, and forgotten in the snow. We can still hear the bell tinkling faintly in the distance.

The third sequence shows carriage horses; and just as we saw clouds of steam coming from the nostrils of the Salavation Army worker, we likewise see clouds of steam coming from these equine nostrils, and hear the metal clink of their fittings. One horse hollows out the snow around its front hooves to push back the cold.

In the middle of the carriage horse sequence we cut away to Nike, the Goddess of Victory, as she appears high up in a gilded-bronze sculpture by Augustus Saint-Gaudens depicting William Tecumseh Sherman.

The fourth sequence begins with a brief shot of two men fencing indoors during the same blizzard, adjoining tall picture windows from which we can still see the snow falling. We hear the metal clink of blade on blade, but the men are tethered to body cords (as is the custom in sport fencing), just as the horses are tethered to their carriages. We cut briefly to more shots of the Goddess of Victory, and then to the final sequence, which is vintage footage of black stallions running free in an open field in the midst of a snowstorm. (This less than 30 seconds of film is adapted from the BBC documentary The Big Freeze about Britain’s harsh winter of 1963.)

After completing the final edit, for those who might ponder the meaning I offered these words:

What does salvation mean to a man? To an angel? To a horse? Is snow the great equalizer?

About the music

From 30 seconds into the film until the end, we hear the music of spiritual master Sri Chinmoy arranged and performed by the duet Silence and Sound, consisting of Kushali Tarantsova (violin, vocals) and Rageshri Muzychenko (keyboard, vocals). The song is “Param Pitar Charan Duti Barai Madhumoy” from their 2006 CD Playing My Heart-Violin, recorded and mixed in Kiev, Ukraine and released on the JRC label.

I’m so happy with their music, which could not be more perfect if they had produced it specially for the video (they did not).

Sri Chinmoy wrote thousands of songs, mainly in Bengali and English. Ten years after his death, not all of them have been translated or made readily available — though many have, due to the diligent work of his students.

This song is one of 150 from the 2002 songbook Bahir Jagate, Part 1. Most of these have not been translated, but the Bengali reads:

Param pitar charan duti barai madhumoy
Param pitar dibya ankhi asim kripamoy

To aid us, here are some Bengali words and phrases with their English equivalents:

param pitar – Supreme Father or Absolute Lord
charan – feet
barai – great, intense, or deeply
madhumoy – sweet or blissful
dibya – divine
ankhi asim – infinite Eye
kripamoy – compassion

So we can guess that this is a mantra invoking the Father Supreme, taking refuge at His feet of intense bliss, and His divine, infinite Eye of Compassion.

Sri Chinmoy wrote this song on December 26, 2001. Many of his “param pita” songs written during the Christmas period are Christ songs. Indeed, there is a whole book of them from 1990 called Jesus the Seeker, Christ the Saviour with a mix of English and Bengali entries.

If the recording I chose for Salvation is plaintive or even sad as rendered by Kushali and Rageshri, this need not be true of other “param pita” songs. Sri Chinmoy’s students organize Songs of the Soul concerts around the world. While visiting Mongolia in 2017, Pavaka and Nelson recorded this sunny version of “He Param Pita Bishwa Bidhata Ami,” accompanied by a beautiful HD video in which horses also figure prominently:

It’s so good I want you to see it, even though it puts my video to shame. (In fairness, mine is based on analog footage shot in 1995, when Hi-8 was thought a fairly good “prosumer” format.)

Here’s a medley of two more “He Param Pita” songs by Sri Chinmoy:

The titles are “He Param Pita He Param Pita Ami Je” and “He Param Pita He Param Pita Dharar.” (A quick search reveals about three dozen such songs to his credit). These two are performed in monastic style by an unnamed group, though it could be Oneness-Dream, which in 2016 toured churches in Ireland performing Sri Chinmoy’s songs in a manner like to Gregorian chant:

Conclusion

So how does all this relate to the concept of salvation? Well, people use the word in different ways. To truly achieve salvation (from ignorance, bondage, and death) is an extraordinary achievement. I cannot claim any such thing. But in the small, human sense of what salvation means — or perhaps in the sense of what salvation means to a horse tethered to a carriage — I feel that knowing Sri Chinmoy has saved me from a life which would have been as dull and plodding as a workhorse’s. By his Grace I have seen and felt things beyond my imagination, and he has given me hope that I might one day at least grasp the concept of salvation, even if achieving it is presently beyond me. I gratefully dedicate the film Salvation to Sri Chinmoy, who inhabits my dreams (the best ones, anyway).

Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.


Sidebar: Sri Chinmoy’s universal teachings

For the sake of clarity, I should explain that Sri Chinmoy’s teachings are universal in nature. He embraces the Neo-Vedanta view that there is truth in each religion. He emerged from the Hindu tradition, but composed songs honouring many spiritual figures, including Sri Krishna, the Buddha, the Christ, Sri Ramakrishna, Sri Aurobindo, Mother Teresa, and many others.

Sri Chinmoy is a teacher who epitomizes vastness. This post brings out one small facet, namely his “param pita” songs. Broadly speaking, his philosophy is Eastern philosophy. (See, for example, his Eastern Light for the Western Mind.)

His path includes an emphasis on meditation on the heart.


Of Further Interest

The Sound of Music in Bengali
Jesus is Born – in a world of many faiths
Radio Sri Chinmoy – Songs Devoted to Jesus Christ
Shindhu performs “Param Pitar Charan Duti Barai Madhumoy”

Barber’s Adagio For Strings (YouTube)
Hearts and Flowers (version 1) 1908 Orchestra (YouTube)
Hearts and Flowers (version 2) Mahavishnu John McLaughlin (YouTube)
Alice in the Snow I

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Temple-Song-Hearts 1991 Concert

Celebrating International Women’s Day with Music

The contributions made to daily life by women around the world can never be quantified. Some women contribute to their local communities, while others go a step further by spreading their peace and joy to other nations through music.

Such is the case with Temple-Song-Hearts, a women’s music group which first formed in 1987 in the United Kingdom, and has since developed an increasingly international flavour.

As noted in People Are Good Everywhere, governments and political leaders may often fight, yet there is a countervailing force of good within each human heart. Some nations may be historical rivals, yet their people can still share good wishes and be moved by the same art and music, as these are universal constants.

In 1991, Temple-Song-Hearts toured the Soviet Union, which at that time was just dissolving into Russia. The Russian people, often starved for spirituality during the Soviet era, welcomed Temple-Song-Hearts in a spirit of oneness, and delighted in their soulful singing and performances on all-acoustic instruments. This video is part concert footage, part travelogue, with music always the uniting factor:

Temple-Song-Hearts is a group which combines the eternal with the ever-new. Their music radiates a deep sense of truth, while their arrangements are fresh and reflect our contemporary world.

Temple-Song-Hearts exclusively performs the music of Sri Chinmoy (1931-2007), who wrote thousands of spiritual songs which are prayers to God for peace, harmony, progress, the liberation of the individual soul from suffering, and the liberation of the entire world from the tyranny of ignorance. What more fitting source material for a group which has performed concerts throughout Eastern and Western Europe, as well as the U.S.A.?

The meeting of hearts and minds commingled with love of God often occurs far from politics or the glare of the mass media. It occurs in small halls where people who share a common longing for truth sit quietly for an hour, and take in sounds which are gentle, yet carry a powerful message of world-transformation. Many things flow from this experience: the recognition that deep within we are one, and a time will come when our diversity is not a cause for warfare (hot or cold), but when we will recognize oneness in diversity as the principle which informs us as human beings and divine beings. To quote Sri Chinmoy:

Being a spiritual man, I must say that there is only one religion. You call it Christianity, I call it Hinduism, somebody calls it Judaism and somebody else calls it Islam. But there is only one religion. So when there is one religion, there cannot be nearness or distance. There are many branches of the religion-tree, but there is only one religion, and that religion is God-realisation. The ultimate Goal of all religion is God-realisation.

Religions may fight on the way to the goal, but at the end of the journey they become most intimate friends, and then they feel that they were all the time together on the same journey, only following different paths. True, sincere followers of any religion, either Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism or Judaism, will never find fault in the truths of other religions. They know that the ultimate Truth exists in each religion. But in the field of practice or manifestation, human thoughts, human ideas, human vibrations can alter the truth. This is at the root of conflict between religions. The moment we go deep within, however, we see that there is no religion, only Truth. India’s greatest political leader, Mahatma Gandhi, said, “Where is religion? To me religion is just Truth.” The word “religion” can cause conflict and fighting. But when we use the word “Truth,” the conflicting parties remain silent.

– Sri Chinmoy, The Spiritual Journey: Oneness in Diversity, Agni Press, 1977

Writing about a Temple-Song-Hearts tour of the South of France in 2005, longtime member Shankara Smith says:

It’s been a fair few years since our group last performed for the public, and I had forgotten what a rewarding experience it is. Since the group gained a new pianist — the excellent Eshana from Serbia — plus a number of other musicians headed up by the multi-talented Utsava of Germany, we have been concentrating on improving the sound of the group.

Montpellier proved to be the ideal place to get together. It is a beautiful and mostly traffic-free old city. We had great fun checking out the local shops, particularly an exquisite chocolate shop (not great for the voice, but wonderful for the spirits!). But most of our time was dutifully spent practising.

On the second evening we performed in a lovely little theatre, to a full house of friends, meditation seekers and the general public. The concert went almost without a hitch, and I felt the spirit of Temple-Song-Hearts was well and truly back with us. I find there is nothing more satisfying than singing your heart out performing Sri Chinmoy’s music; the feeling of joy that comes from these pure, beautiful and prayerful songs. It was a joy we were able to share with our audience, who all seemed to enjoy the concert.

The following day we were off to Marseille. This time we were in a beautiful hall without the bright theatre lights, and it was nice being able to see our audience. The concert went very well, and afterwards some people stayed behind to chat. When a man approached me and said he was a professional pianist, part of me went “Oh no, he will have noticed all our little errors.” But instead of criticism, we received generous praise and I was very touched when he said how moved he had been by the music. This was followed up by a lovely lady saying that the concert had brought tears to her eyes and that “Today God has come as a woman.” I knew that once again Sri Chinmoy’s music had got right to the hearts of its listeners.

Read Shankara’s full report here, or view a gallery of photos from the French tour.

More About Sri Chinmoy’s Music

Sri Chinmoy was born in Bengal, India (now Bangladesh) in 1931, and moved to New York City in 1964, where he lived the better part of his life. Most songs performed by Temple-Song-Hearts are sung in Sri Chinmoy’s native language of Bengali (though it was also his custom to honour each country he visited with a song in that nation’s own language). His songs often include lines of different lengths, as in “Nil Akasher Alor Tari” from the 1991 video:

This can lead to arrangements which are very fresh and dynamic. Here are the lyrics in Bengali and English, courtesy SriChinmoyLibrary.com:

Nil Akasher Alor Tari

Nil akasher alor tari hridaye mor bhase
Kusum kalir mauna bhasha byatha amar nashe
Amai jara dake mago ami tader daki
Moder majhe tomai jena nitya mago rakhi

Translation:

O boat of light in the blue sky,
I see you floating in my heart-river.
I see the flowers that you are carrying.
The fragrance of these flowers
Has destroyed all my sufferings.
Like you, I call those who call me,
I see in you the bond of all-loving,
All-illumining and all-fulfilling unity.

No mortal words can add to this call to the infinite, this call to all-fulfilling unity. Needless to say, this unity of peoples, unity of spirits, can never be achieved by force. It dawns gradually as each person gains insight, develops spiritual vision, and longs in their heart to join in the festival of light which is carried on ceaselessly in the inner world.

Sri Chinmoy playing the Indian esraj, a bowed string instrument with a sound similar to the better-known sarangi. Photo by Abakash.

Personnel on the 1991 Tour

– Santoshi Hodgson
– Abi Timberlake
– Kate Hirons
– Dipika Smith
– Sudhira Hay
– Sangvad Keaney
– Udasina Hansford
– Shankara Smith
– Bithika O’Dwyer
– Rachel Merry
– Sahana Gero

Bithika O’Dwyer from the 1991 video

Bithika O’Dwyer with the World Harmony Run, 2009

Bithika O’Dwyer with friends from the Cambridge Sri Chinmoy Centre, 2009 (bottom row, left)

Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.

Of Further Interest

Temple-Song-Hearts Tour Europe
Temple-Song-Hearts web site (by the most excellent Sumangali Morhall)
Temple-Song-Hearts on CD Baby

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Easter Thoughts on Mercy

station-cross-002-todayThis is the first Easter since it was announced that Mother Teresa will become a saint. It’s also the ninth Easter since Sri Chinmoy passed away. That makes it a tenth anniversary of sorts.

Easter means resurrection, but the joy of resurrection comes with a knowledge of crucifixion built in. So in Bach’s B Minor Mass, we are led through the slow agony of crucifixion to experience the overpowering joy of resurrection:

We may think of the B Minor Mass as a long work, yet the crucifixion and resurrection are compressed into a few minutes of music. We know that in the ancient world, the crucifixion of Jesus is said to have taken six hours, with the resurrection occurring two or three days later.

The future is a foreign country — they do things differently there. So in our modern world the crucifixion comes after someone has died. This is true of both Mother Teresa and Sri Chinmoy. While they both lived, they faced some opposition, true. But their living presence on earth made it difficult for detractors to eclipse their profound achievements. After they died, it became easier for critics to torture them with unimaginable lies. Why do they do it?

For very ancient reasons, as I discuss in “Self-Interest, Self-Giving, Low Ethics, and High Ethics.” Low ethics loves to torture high ethics because low ethics feels it will be shown up by high ethics. It cannot compete fairly, so low ethics cheats or says that the goal is not worth reaching.

What is the goal that both Mother Teresa and Sri Chinmoy reached? The goal of compassion, mercy, and self-giving. Mother Teresa and Sri Chinmoy knew each other and understood each other well. It was because they both spoke the same language, the language of compassion, mercy, and self-giving, that they could easily be friends.

Mother Teresa and Sri Chinmoy

Mother Teresa and Sri Chinmoy

Sri Chinmoy composed songs honouring Mother Teresa, and some of his students performed those songs for her. Here’s the group Mountain-Silence performing two Mother Teresa songs (link to follow):

In the first song, Sri Chinmoy sets Mother Teresa’s own words to music:

The fruit of Silence is prayer.
The fruit of Prayer is faith.
The fruit of Faith is love.
The fruit of Love is service.
The fruit of Service is peace.

— Mother Teresa

In the second, he refers to her as “Affection-Sister, Compassion-Mother Teresa divine.”

According to Pope Benedict, “Mercy is what moves us toward God, while justice makes us tremble in his sight.” The Pope has declared 2016 a Jubilee Year of Mercy. What better time to stop torturing Mother Teresa and Sri Chinmoy with unimaginable lies? Let us instead bow to them, to their achievements, to their good hearts and immortal souls.

Mother Teresa receives a visit from Sri Chinmoy and his students

Credit:
The image at the top of this post is a child’s drawing of the Stations of the Cross, from “3 ways to teach your children the Christian meaning of Easter,” by Rachel Campos-Duffy. What an interesting piece of art!

See also:
“Easter Reflections” by Sumangali Morhall
“The Sound of Music in Bengali!” (about the group Mountain-Silence)


Sidebar: David Amram on the B Minor Mass and Religious Experience

Source: Vibrations: The adventures and musical times of David Amram, 1968, The Viking Press

During that summer with Holly I had my first conscious religious experience in music. Although my background as a Jew conditioned me for a whole other kind of expression much later on, at this point in my life I was not aware consciously of my Jewishness in any musical sense. With the exception of hearing the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, and an occasional record of Near Eastern or Jewish music, I cannot remember being aware of music in any way evoking a specific religious feeling until the summer of 1948 when I was performing in the Bach B Minor Mass at the Carmel Bach Festival.

I was allowed to take ten days off from my job as a carpenter’s helper to go with Holly to this exciting festival. I played horn for some of the concerts and sang in the chorus the rest of the time. Although I had sung the choral music of Bach all through high school and had performed the trumpet parts in many of his cantatas, I only thought of the music as music and had never had any apocalyptic visions. In fact the only apocalyptic vision I ever had was at the age of seven on the beach in Florida with my mother at sunset when I told her I saw God in the sky and went racing up and down the beach until she calmed me down.

During the final rehearsal of the B Minor Mass, I noticed the pause following the unearthly harmonic progressions of Bach’s musical invention during “Crucifixus,” the part of the text where Christ is finally nailed to the cross and dies. These harmonies had always moved me in a peculiar way since the first time I had heard them, but I never gave it much thought except as part of the wealth and genius of Bach’s mind and music.

During the following section, the “Et Resurrexit,” the trumpet players had taken it easy during rehearsals because of the extremely difficult entrance for the three trumpets in D. The first trumpet player that summer was so temperamental that he would not play the part most of the time. At the final rehearsal, however, the trumpet players decided that they would really do it and after we sang the final chorus of the “Crucifixus,” there was an unearthly silence. Then the trumpets came soaring in with the great golden sound that seemed to come from heaven.

Suddenly it was as if I had seen a vision. The moment that the trumpets came in, I was overwhelmed by the feeling that someone who died had been resurrected by a God in heaven. I realized it was a combination of the impact of the harmony at the end of “Crucifixus,” the very crucial silence during which time I was able to feel Christ being taken from the cross, the sadness of all those believers who watched him and then the great glorious moment that all the believers must have felt when they knew he had been resurrected.

I went back with Holly to the broken-down rooming house we shared with other young hopeful musicians and singers. We talked about this amazing moment in the Mass for most of the rest of the night. Holly was Christian, but her religion was nothing more than a kind of relaxed area of social life. Church was a place for her to go for weddings, funerals and get-togethers. But because of that unconscious near-madness that so many Jews possess and because of the necessity to discover everything in and out of music for myself as a personal experience, I actually had a vision of what the first Christians must have felt when they discovered that Christ had been resurrected. It was the closest I ever came to being converted to Christianity.

During the performance of the B Minor Mass I waited for this moment to see if it would happen again. It occurred even more strongly this time, but after the first few measures, the first trumpet player in his excitement and egomania played so loudly and ferociously that he missed about five notes in a row. He turned to his right to the other two trumpet players as if to indicate that it was their fault and they began missing too, and his face, which had begun to turn purple from overblowing, now began to blacken with rage. Still, the moment was there and has remained in my mind ever since.

Most of the rest of the Mass I felt was much more eloquent than any speech or sermon that could be preached. I began then, at seventeen, to think seriously of how I could write a piece someday that would lend itself to my religious convictions, even though I was not sure what they were. I knew that they were Jewish, but I was not sure what the Jewish experience was and more important what my Jewish experience was or how it could be expressed through music.

David Amram

 See also:
“Bach’s St. John Passion: Crucifixion”

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Temple-Song-Hearts Video!

More of the spiritual girl group, whose unique blend of voices and instruments is truly enchanting. Plus Sahadeva Orchestra!

Temple-Song-Hearts at the Oxford Songs of the Soul Concert, November 2010

Temple-Song-Hearts at the Oxford Songs of the Soul Concert, November 2010

I’ve previously posted about Temple-Song-Hearts, the wonderful all female ensemble performing world music in such a natural style. This time we have full video taken (I think) from the Oxford Songs of the Soul Concert.

Cheerful, soulful, and dynamic are words that come to mind here. Percussion is a new feature of their music, and Chintamani (who usually plays cello) seems amused to be doubling on conga.

Because I’m something of a loner (perhaps even pathologically so), I’m always amazed to see what can be done when people come together to share their spiritual joys, hopes and longings through music. Sometimes I feel like a perpetual wannabe, so I take much inspiration from those whose have the courage to go beyond personal practice and join in the life of a community.

For those interested in comparative religion, I think an excellent question to ask about any spiritual group is “What does their music sound like?” In the case of Sri Chinmoy Centre, it can sound a hundred different ways. But I have a special place in my heart for the sound of Temple-Song-Hearts. Each person in the group expresses herself in a unique way, through her own personality, yet they blend together beautifully when performing Sri Chinmoy’s songs.

Please support them by buying their music on CD Baby:

Temple-Song-Hearts on CD Baby
http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/templesonghearts

Or visit their home page designed by the most excellent Sumangali Morhall of Pure Web Designs:

Temple-Song-Hearts Home Page
http://templesonghearts.org/

After Temple-Song-Hearts, the video has a big ensemble number based on a song by Sri Chinmoy:

O Heavenly Bodies

O twinkling stars,
Do take me home!
I am all ready.

O sweet moon,
Where is my Eternal Father?
I am dying to see Him.

O brave sun,
Can you fight for me?
I must conquer ignorance-night
With your unparalleled might.

— Sri Chinmoy, from Transcendence-Perfection

The spirit of courage and determination shown in the music is something astonishing to behold. I believe the arrangement is by Sahadeva Torpy, who’s also a talented actor. See “Meditation music by Sri Chinmoy’s students 2013,” which has an assortment of arrangements by different groups, including another recording of “O Heavenly Bodies” by Sahadeva Orchestra.

We all need more beauty in our lives, as well as the courage to conquer ignorance-night. Fortunately, Temple-Song-Hearts and Sahadeva Orchestra can guide us on our way.

Temple-Song-Hearts: Just Another Girl Group NOT!

Start your day with the cheerful sounds of Temple-Song-Hearts. If your soul is crying out for nature and the sounds of natural living, you’ll appreciate their all acoustic sound.

Temple~Song~Hearts is an all female vocal and instrumental ensemble in a new age/meditative vein. Those labels fade in significance, however, when one actually hears their music. It’s not any kind of mindless noodling, but full arrangements for vocal ensemble, piano, and diverse acoustic instruments which these women play beautifully.

Gentle and soulful are the two adjectives which come to mind. Their music reflects that special sincerity which springs forth from a life lived in harmony with nature and the universe.

To learn more or support them by buying their music, please visit them on CD Baby:

Temple-Song-Hearts on CD Baby
http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/templesonghearts

Or check out their home page designed by the most excellent Sumangali Morhall of Pure Web Designs:

Temple-Song-Hearts Home Page
http://templesonghearts.org/

The Sound of Music in Bengali! (videos and commentary)

The scenic Swiss Alps, a church, a group of nuns playing their instruments and singing — in Bengali. What could be more natural? Nothing, as it turns out…

Do you believe in serendipity? Only last night I watched The Sound of Music for the first time. I was touched by some of the scenes, and by a world which arguably doesn’t exist anymore. (Oops! The YouTube video doesn’t exist anymore, so here’s the film trailer from DailyMotion):

I had been familiar with the music, especially the John Coltrane version of “My Favorite Things” recorded live at Newport, which hangs like a moment frozen in time in my imagination:

Then today, I stumbled on this video:

It’s the girl group Mountain-Silence performing a medley of songs at a church in the town of Zermatt, nestled at the foot of the Matterhorn in the Swiss Alps. Everything is very monastic and nunlike, but if you listen carefully you’ll realize that the nuns are singing in Bengali! They’re students of the late Indian spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy, who composed the songs. The third song in the medley (at 4:00) is “Jishu Avatar,” a song honouring Jesus and Mary.

There’s an old joke that there are two kinds of people in the world: those who divide things into categories. 🙂

While some people are busy defending their categories, others create a synthesis based on what they believe and feel, and what their intuition tells them is a truth worth living. As the world has grown bigger and become borderless, the Neo-Vedanta philosophy of Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda (which is also embraced by Sri Chinmoy) has become a blueprint for innovation. This is a world view which is non-sectarian and sees oneness in diversity. It therefore gives people the freedom to synthesize forms of spiritual practice which combine the ingredients they need. Sri Chinmoy writes:

My personal opinion of Jesus Christ is that he is God’s Son. If you feel that he has not achieved anything, unfortunately I cannot see eye to eye with you. On the strength of my own realisation, I know that he is a real Son of God and a real world-Saviour. He was God-realised and fully illumined. He had a heart full of compassion; his heart was a flood of compassion. He was, he is and he will always remain a Saviour to mankind.

— Sri Chinmoy, from The Avatars and the Masters, Agni Press, 1979

When I look at Mountain-Silence, I see souls who are drawn to meditation and Eastern philosophy, but who also have tremendous devotion to the Christ. This is reflected in their music and pure lifestyle. They’re a living embodiment of what religious freedom looks like, for they could not exist in a world which is rigidly secular, or rigidly Christian, or rigidly Hindu. Religious freedom is ultimately the freedom of the soul to express itself with subtlety and grace.

Mountain-Silence-Soloist

Special thanks to videographer Kedar Misani and to Mountain-Silence. The song “Jishu Avatar” is from their album Christ-Songs. Listen online for free at Radio Sri Chinmoy.

Mountain-Silence-Christ-Songs