(Continuing our series, Swami Kriyananda on Art and the Artist)
When he and the singers returned to Ananda, Swamiji continued to work with them. He wrote choral arrangements and four-part harmony for many of his songs. “I didn’t write this music just for listening; it is for everyone to sing,” he said. “Ananda is a community.”
When the group began to perform at Sunday service, or before his satsangs, Swamji would often correct them in public, frequently asking them to sing the song again with the changes he had suggested. Sometimes he even stopped them in the middle of a verse, especially if the rhythm was wrong. Practice makes permanent; he didn’t want them to reinforce their own mistakes.
In order to sing Swamiji’s music correctly, the singers had to raise their vibration to match that of the songs. For some, it took more energy and concentration than they were used to putting out. Whatever singing they’d done in the past was mostly folk music or rock and roll.
One of the few who was classically trained had a different problem. “My focus has always been on the beauty of my voice,” she said. “The song was there to serve me. Now I am the servant of the song. I have to deliver its message, not my own.”
Many of the lyrics took will power and conviction to sing properly.
Give life your heart! Bless everything that’s grown;
Fear not the loving: all this world’s your own.
Before the light the veils of sorrow rend;
In inner freedom all delusions end.
Sing when the sun shines, sing when the rain falls, sing when your road seems strange.
In a tempest, seize the lightening flash, and ride the winds of change!
“Melody in music represents your aspirations,” Swamiji said. “When I am clear about what I want to say, the melody simply appears. Most modern music has a beat, because there is an urge toward self-expression, but no clarity or aspiration, and therefore no melody.
“The heavy downbeat, so popular today, is ego-affirming. Even when the lyrics are positive, even spiritual, the music itself affirms worldly consciousness. It says, ‘I don’t have to relate to anyone but myself.’ Carried to an extreme, it declares, ‘I can be as irrational as I want.’ Communication doesn’t matter. At its worst, that kind of music forces the listener to stop thinking, but in a subconscious, not a superconscious way.
“Even if you aren’t aware of its message, the message still affects you. Music not only expresses states of consciousness, it helps create them. The early Christian church was held together by its music. The Gregorian chants perfectly expressed the vibration of their mission. Repeatedly singing them together kept them in tune with what they were doing.
“Music is its own language, as specific as any other. You can’t always translate it into words, but you feel it intuitively.”
Melodies were given to Swamiji, but sometimes afterward he could see why that combination of notes was exactly right. Taking his song Hello There, Brother Bluebell! as an example, he showed the singers three possible endings:
First, was the stock ending, with a regular rhythm, going down in pitch, into a strong, harmonious resolution. “That ending affirms the reality of this world and one’s own place in it,” Swamiji said. “That’s why so many people would choose it.”
The next was to end on an upward, melodic phrase, but slowing way down. “This gives a soaring feeling, but the slow rhythm leaves you clinging to this world. You drift toward subconsciousness, rather than soaring into superconsciousness.”
The final choice was the one he had received—an upwardly soaring melody in a regular rhythm right to the end. “This takes you into higher consciousness,” he said.
The singers learned to welcome Swamiji’s input, any time, any place. Some of the audience, though, were appalled when he corrected the singers in public. Swamiji responded, “I’m not a dictator, but I do reflect back to people—and to the community as a whole—what I know they are capable of doing. It wouldn’t help anyone to settle for less.” (Swami Kriyananda: Lightbearer: 1973, pp. 59-61)