(Continuing our ongoing series, Swami Kriyananda on Art & the Artist)
In 1964, Swamiji had spent a weekend camping in Yosemite. One evening he joined an impromptu songfest with some guitarists. His contribution was the American spiritual, Swing Low, Sweet Chariot. After that, he had no other appropriate songs to offer. Schubert? Puccini? Indian bhajans? Not right for the audience.
He had always loved singing. His high school choir director told him, “Son, there’s money in your voice!”—not realizing that money was the last thing that would motivate Swamiji. In college, his elderly singing teacher said, “I’m living for just one thing now, to see you become a great singer.” Swamiji never took another lesson from her. He was seeking truth, not fame. When he became a disciple, he dedicated his love of singing to Master’s chants, spending hours every day with his harmonium. SRF issued a recording of him chanting.
Driving home from Yosemite, Swamiji thought, “Singing is a wonderful way to share with people, but what could I sing? Perhaps I could write my own songs!” In that moment a love song to Divine Mother was given to him, both melody and lyrics—Farther Away Than the Stars.
Master had written songs, put new words to old melodies, and translated or adapted music from India for American audiences. Writing music was following Master’s way, but not competing with SRF, since no one there was doing it.
Over the next few years, Swamiji wrote several dozen songs. Melodies were effortless. “All my life I’ve been hearing melodies in my mind,” he said. “It is not my music; it is given to me.” Writing poetry that fit took more time. As a break from the effort of writing lyrics, in one day he wrote melodies for eighteen of Shakespeare’s songs. He learned to play guitar and in 1965 made a solo album: Say “YES” to Life! (Swami Kriyananda: Lightbearer, 1973, pp. 58-59)