When I first visited the Portland Ananda Church in 1996 and heard the small choir sing a few songs by Swami Kriyananda, I thought, “Oh, how sweet that this man has written some nice music.” The music seemed “simple,” and being a professional musician I was a bit condescending in my attitude.
I was thirty years old and had been playing the cello since I was six. I had played with symphony orchestras and string quartets, and was then playing in the Portland Opera Orchestra.
I had also explored other kinds of music: avant-garde, renaissance, new age, and rock and roll. Along with my orchestra job, I was in a band called Pink Martini, which played an eclectic mixture ranging from classical pieces to Latin, to pop, to “forties Hollywood.”
A complete change of consciousness
Soon after finding Ananda, I joined the choir and found myself slated to sing a solo in the Easter concert of Kriyananda’s oratorio, Christ Lives. I was driving home one day in a terrible mood after a frustrating orchestra rehearsal. Since the concert was nearing, I decided to practice my solo, This Is My Son.
I sang the song through once, and nearly had to pull over to the side of the road. Gone was the sour mood. My consciousness had changed completely. I was now feeling so uplifted that it mystified me.
How had this simple music been able to move me in thirty seconds in ways no other music had ever done? I decided then and there to devote my life to understanding this mystery.
Listening with the heart
Still mystified, the next day I purchased a collection of Swami Kriyananda’s printed music and began playing my way through it. Often I became so enthralled, and experienced such deep bliss, that I couldn’t move a muscle.
I went to the next choir practice humbled and ready to experience the music with an open heart and less of the classically trained “discrimination” that focuses on imperfections. I had spent years listening with the head; I now needed to learn to listen with the heart.
The power of divine attunement
A few months later, I played the cello at the oratorio performance in Palo Alto along side a hundred-voice choir of devotees from different Ananda colonies and elsewhere. Stunned by the beauty of their singing, I was shocked to learn that the choir had rehearsed together for only a few hours. How was this possible?
I was told that people who meditate regularly develop an attunement with the Divine, and with each other, that gives cohesiveness and harmony to their combined efforts. Since then, I’ve learned how to invite God’s grace into countless under-rehearsed performances and not to be anxious about what might go wrong.
That evening was my first time accompanying Swami Kriyananda as he sang two solos depicting Christ on the eve of his arrest. I realized as I played that Kriyananda was not an ordinary performer. He sang very freely, not adhering to a strict beat. It was poetic rather than mechanical.
As I followed along on the cello, it felt as if Kriyananda had tuned into how Christ himself had experienced those extraordinary events two thousand years ago. Kriyananda had “stepped aside” and allowed Christ to sing through him.
At the end of the concert, Kriyananda came to the front to acknowledge the applause and receive a bouquet of flowers. Having seen hundreds of musicians, soloists, and conductors on stage, I usually can get a good sense of who they are just by how they take a bow. Some are open hearted and humble, others more egoic.
In the few minutes that Kriyananda stood before the standing ovation, I witnessed true humility. He stood with his head bowed in humble appreciation, not gathering energy to himself but directing it upward to his source of inspiration: God and Guru.
Channeling divine inspiration
Since moving to Ananda Village in 2001, I’ve performed and recorded Kriyananda’s music, directed the choir and orchestra, and helped coordinate the music throughout the Ananda colonies. I now understand a statement attributed to Beethoven: “It is the power of music to carry one directly into the mental state of the composer.”
Swami Kriyananda’s music consciously channels divine inspiration with the sole purpose of uplifting human consciousness. To sing Kriyananda’s music with divine attunement puts you in touch with the divine source of his inspiration.
Our greatest joy as performers is to tune in consciously to that inspiration and channel it to the audience. At our choir rehearsals, we try to remain silent after each song, feeling the changes in our consciousness. Often we’ll sing the song again, this time with the feeling that we’re broadcasting that consciousness.
After we’ve connected with the source of Kriyananda’s inspiration, the music itself hardly matters because we’ve entered into that great divine flow. During one of the performances at the 2007 Joyful Arts Concert, one could feel the divine presence flowing through each musician. Another time, when performing in Seattle, I went into a state of deep timelessness where all that existed was the joy of the music.
Not a substitute for meditation
Musical performances are not, however, a substitute for meditation and other spiritual practices. For me and other musicians, this can be a challenge. I feel God’s presence most strongly when performing and conducting, and in the time period immediately after.
But I’ve discovered that, without regular meditation, I can have dry spells. It takes meditation and conscious tuning in—and putting that first—for the musical inspiration to flow. The deeper I go in meditation, the better the performance.
A unifying influence
Having played Kriyananda’s music on three continents, I’ve experienced its unifying influence. One of the greatest joys is to sing with someone who doesn’t speak your language. How is it possible to feel so close to someone with whom you can’t communicate?
It’s because sound, through the medium of music, is the connecting link between the mind and feelings of one person and those of another. All things not only respond to sound, they are sound and they affect one another by the subtle law of vibratory exchange. The divine inspiration, running through the hearts of all who sing, unites us through the music.
Children naturally tune in this way. Unhindered by an adult intellect, they can readily feel the consciousness underlying the music. At the Ananda schools where I teach music, I’ve seen repeatedly how receptive children are to the divine qualities expressed through Kriyananda’s songs.
The heart’s deepest feelings
At the end of a 2007 concert in Seattle, I was struck with how empty my life would be without Swami Kriyananda’s music. Tears of gratitude flowed as I inwardly tried to convey my thanks to him.
But alas, words cannot encompass the entirety of the heart’s feelings. Thanks to Swami Kriyananda’s music, however, we can find expression for our hearts’ deepest feelings: gratitude, devotion, joy, and longing for God.
When I found Ananda in 1996, I realized that deep down I had always been searching for a way to share higher consciousness through music, and for like-minded musicians. I am eternally grateful to be able to serve others in this way.