Yesterday I took part in a birthday anniversary celebration of A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada at Bhaktivedanta Manor. Though he passed away in 1977, as an eminent teacher of bhakti, his birth is celebrated with great love every year. Traditionally, tributes are offered, mostly in the form of spoken word – speeches, poems, anecdotes and impromptu heartfelt prayers or apologies. I was inspired to try and offer something that would live on past the one day’s celebration, and so chose it as reason to begin a long thought of project – a Bhakti Choir.
We formed the choir only five days before this performance, and almost all members have little or no experience with formal singing. To me that’s one of the wonderful things about it. There are currently over 35,000 choirs in the UK, and after sport it is the second most popular way for people to come together and connect in a fulfilling, positive way. I was overwhelmed by the enthusiasm of all the participants and I really hope that this can be a project that brings devotional music that little bit further.
Though traditionally there is no harmony in Indian classical music, and the present day bhakti tradition tends to favour the musical style of its cultural roots, I really feel that choral music can carry the spirit of devotion like no other genre. A choir beautifully demonstrates and facilitates the experience of co-operation. If the old adage is true, that how you do one thing, you do everything – then musical co-operation gives the experience that can permeate every other area of life. Amen to that.
The song we are singing here was written by Michael Cassidy, an American from a family of singer-songwriters who became a student of Srila Prabhupada when he was a young man. His poetic songs have lived on, mostly for their poignancy and beauty, but also for the fact that very few translate the sentiments and teachings that appear in ancient Indian texts into modern day English.