What I Learned About Chanting From Carla Boni & Frank Sinatra

Carla Boni & Frank Sinatra

In a talk that he gave in the late 1970s or early 1980s, Swami Kriyananda said – I’m paraphrasing – “There’s a reason why there have been more saints in Italy than anywhere else in the West. It’s because they have heart, and if they can turn those feelings in the right direction it gives them the power to rise quickly.”

As examples, Swamiji mentioned two American singers of Italian descent, Frank Sinatra and Perry Como. He said – again, I’m paraphrasing: “I don’t know what kind of feeling Frank Sinatra had, but he sang with heart.”

There have been other American singers whose heart strings harkened back to their Italian roots: Frankie Laine (born Francesco Paolo LoVecchio), Tony Bennett (Anthony Dominick Benedetto), Vic Damone, Connie Francis, Dean Martin, and yes, Madonna (Madonna Louise Ciccone).

Because I follow Paramhansa Yogananda’s dictum “The experimental in everything!” after Swami’s talk I immediately ordered an eight-track tape of Frank Sinatra’s romantic songs from the early 1940s.

Wow, was Swami right! Whatever the vibrational undertones of Frankie’s crooning, it was abundantly clear why he had millions of early-Forties bobby soxers swooning in the aisles.

I was feeling a little dry in my chanting recently, and I remembered those old talks, so I went in search of swoon-worthy Italian songs on YouTube.

And boy, did I find them, particularly this song by Carla Boni, an Italian pop star singer of the 1950s.

Conclusions? Oh my goodness, after dipping my heart in “Viala d’Autunno,” my chanting took on red corpuscles. I guess I could say that the song “spoke to me,” and that I was able to turn the feeling in the right direction. At any rate, I had some fine meditations.

Ever the experimenter, I looked for other Italian songs that might inspire my devotion but sadly didn’t find them. I found lots of romantic Italian music, but nothing like “Viale,” which Carla sang at the San Remo Festival song competition in 1953, winning first prize.

This set me wondering: Why did just the one song have the power to thrill me?

I’ve always been troubled by something that Paramhansa Yogananda said about popular art. In response to some comment by Swamiji about the arts, the Master replied, “Oh, that’s Vaishya stuff.” (I’m paraphrasing.)

This prompted me to look up the passages where Swamiji deals with the Vaishya stage of spiritual development in his wonderful book, The Hindu Way of Awakening.

I was relieved to find that Swamiji’s exposition was aligned with my common-sense understanding, which told me that art is an instrument that can be used for good or ill, to express many levels of consciousness, from the marching songs of the Nazis, to “Mother of Wisdom” or Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus.

When I listened carefully, I realized that the Italian pop songs that failed to inspire me were tinged with a lower kind of Vaishya consciousness. In those singers’ voices, male and female, I heard a subtle note of selfishness that they couldn’t entirely hide. It said that they were singing with the expectation of a reward. There was a quiet message: “I’m singing this song well! And I expect you to reward me with your support and acclaim.”

In contrast, I continue to feel that “Viale” carries a more sincere kind of feeling, rare in a pop song.

I was cheered also to find that Swamiji’s thoughts in Hindu Way of Awakening are nuanced. He doesn’t say, “Master said that all art is ‘Vaishya stuff,’ and therefore as devotees we shouldn’t concern ourselves with art.”

All great spiritual movements spread through art. Swamiji speaks of Vaishya Dharma as an essential stage in the devotee’s spiritual growth. As the Vaishya’s consciousness becomes more refined, his art progresses from the crassly selfish, to an expression of a wish to share beauty, to art that uplifts because it’s born of self-offering in communion with God.

I’m learning the words to “Viale” and I’ll continue to hum and sing it when I’m feeling that my heart could use a little marinara.

Pop songs as spiritual practice? No, of course not. And yet…

When I was in SRF, Brahmachari Daniel was one of the ministers at the little SRF church in Redondo Beach. One Sunday he told us a story. He was strolling on the grounds of Mt. Washington, whistling a popular tune, when he glanced up at the main building, where he saw a senior nun watching him at the window, whereupon he hastily cheesed the whistling.

 The nun – I suspect it may have been Durga Mata – leaned out of the window and said, “Come inside – I want to talk to you!”

 When Dan entered the office, feeling a little sheepish, she exclaimed, “Master wasn’t like that at all! You can take a popular song and spiritualize it, if it has an uplifting meaning for your heart.”

Dan eventually left the monastery. He lived in Phoenix, where he married and had a career as a professional musician. Dan Hart was a sweet man – he was a lifelong friend of Ananda, and a staunch supporter of Swami Kriyananda.

I was present at a talk Swamiji gave, probably in the late 1970s; I think the topic was devotion. At any rate, he told us how Master and Dr. Lewis (Yogananda’s first disciple in America) were chanting together, and Master urged him, “Whip up feeling in the heart!” Swamiji commented, “That’s emotion, isn’t it?” The point was that you have to begin with emotion and then gradually refine the feeling as it becomes calm and interiorized. Swamiji said, regarding yogis who are secretly proud of not being swayed by emotion, “If you don’t have feeling in your heart, you’ve got nothing to be proud of.”

Here’s another song by Carla Boni. It was published by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans in 1955. Doris Day sang it in the Alfred Hitchcock movie “The Man Who Knew Too Much” (1956), and it became her signature song, rising to #2 on the American “Hot 100” list, and #1 on the UK Singles Chart.


Here are the words to “Viale d’Autunno.”

Lungo un viale ingiallito d’autunno

tristemente m’hai detto: è finito,

è finito l’amore più vero, il più puro,

il più splendido amor.


Ma una lacrima bagna il tuo viso,

quella lacrima dice al mio cuor:

non potrò lasciarti più, mai più,

mai più, perché nel mio destino ci sei tu.


Non ci lasceremo mai, lo sai, lo sai,

l’amor che ti giurai vive ancor di più.


Tutta una vita di dolcezze e di tenerezze non può svanir.

I lunghi baci e le carezze,

le dolci ebbrezze non san mentir.


Lasciam parlare il cuor che vive in ansietà,

che trema di timor, e vuole questo amor…

o ne morirà!


Non potrò lasciarti più, mai più, mai più,

la gioia ed il dolore sei tu!

Non potrò lasciarti più, mai più, mai più,

la gioia ed il dolore sei tu!

Along an avenue yellowed in autumn

sadly you told me: it’s over,

the truest, purest love is over,

the most splendid love.


But a tear bathes your face,

that tear says to my heart:

I will never be able to leave you again, never again

never again, because you are in my destiny.


We will never break up, you know, you know,

the love that I swore to you lives even more.


A whole life of sweetness and tenderness cannot vanish.

The long kisses and caresses,

sweet intoxications cannot lie.


Let the heart that lives in anxiety speak,

That trembles with fear, and that wants this love …

or it will die…!


I will never be able to leave you again, never again, never again,

the joy and the pain are you!

I will never be able to leave you again, never again, never again,

the joy and the pain are you!



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