“If You Want to Know Me, Listen to My Music”
“It is said of the Chinese emperors in ancient times that whenever they toured the provinces, they asked to listen to the music. They didn’t look at the financial records. Nor did they inquire into the honesty of the officials. If the music was right, everything, so they believed, was as it should be. But if something was not right with the music, not only did this deficiency mean there was something wrong in those other areas of activity, but it was the music above all that needed correcting. Once that had been set right, everything else would improve also.”
from Art as a Hidden Message
by J. Donald Walters (Swami Kriyananda)
The music of our times
Yogananda used to say that “chanting is half the battle.” When he came to America, he created an entirely new form of chanting, taking the best India had to offer and adapting it to Western sensibilities and needs. Kriyananda has given similar emphasis to the importance of music, and extended his Guru’s work into the realm of popular music. There’s surely a great need for it! Music in our time has become increasingly dissonant, nervous, violent, and out of touch with the source that used to nourish it and give it meaning. If this trend continues—and it shows no signs of reversing itself—the costs to our society will be enormous, even explosive.
Singer and composer
Before coming to Yogananda, Kriyananda had been urged repeatedly to make singing his career. After his ouster from SRF, he found himself increasingly in demand as a singer (in part because of two albums and one 78-speed recording of Yogananda’s chants he’d recorded for SRF). Finding no popular songs that he was inspired to sing, it occurred to him to reach out to a general audience by writing something himself. Since then Kriyananda has composed over four hundred musical works, including numerous songs and choral pieces, a string quartet, and a full-length oratorio. The Ananda World Brotherhood Choir sings his music, and has been well received internationally. They have been awarded several prizes, and have also sung for the Pope.
Importance of melody
The melodic line in a piece of music, Kriyananda has said, is what speaks most deeply to us. It represents our inner aspirations. Most of today’s music is sadly lacking in melody. (“New Age” music is a case in point; it compounds this failing by limiting itself almost exclusively to instrumental music. As India has long understood, the human voice is the instrument par excellence for expressing human feelings and emotions.) Kriyananda’s music is characterized especially by its beautiful melodies. Often he simply wakes up with them in the morning. At other times, when he prays with clarity for a specific melody, it’s given to him at once. He’s said he doesn’t write down a single note unless it’s given to him. And so, he says, the music is really not his at all.
Role of harmony
Kriyananda has written harmonies to some of his music, but has focused more on the melodies. His emphasis on melody expresses, in the sphere of music, the consciousness of Self-realization that Yogananda brought to the West. In a fascinating paragraph in his book, Art As a Hidden Message, Kriyananda states:
“Chords express a dependence on group thinking and interaction. This emphasis will diminish, I believe, as individuals increasingly assume responsibility for their own lives. As faith in higher values returns and is perceived as a personal, not an institutional, issue, greater importance will be given to melody.”
Music is AUM
Visitors to Ananda over the years have often said that it’s the music there (Kriyananda’s) that has uplifted them the most, and, in many cases, changed their lives. Among all the arts, Kriyananda has said, music is the most powerful in its effects, because it is vibration itself, and so a manifestation of the AUM vibration of which we’re all made.
“I like your philosophy,” someone once said to Kriyananda after a lecture, “but I’d like to know more about you, personally.” “To know me,” Kriyananda replied, “listen to my music.” Would you like to make a new friend? We’ve provided a representative sampling for you here of some of Kriyananda’s compositions. (Here is another collection, at Swami Kriyananda on Music.) Happy listening!