At the Birth of a New Song
Guru really loved to compose songs. In fact, he could compose songs quicker than anyone could learn them. During his lifetime, Guru composed approximately 23,000 songs (both in Bengali and English). Like anything Guru did – he tended to go far beyond what anyone else would ever consider doing. I would have been very grateful for just a hundred of the songs Guru had composed. But, that wasn’t Guru’s style; if something was good, why not keep doing it more?
Guru would teach songs in a very spontaneous way. He would just start singing, perhaps accompanied by a simple keyboard or harmonium. Good singers would then start singing the song back, and someone would transcribe the music into Western notation. Guru could be very specific about how a song should be sung; for example, he would really want the end of a word emphasized. In music, Guru strove for both soulfulness and perfection. But, definitely soulfulness was always the most important quality.
The remarkable thing is how quickly Guru could both compose and teach songs. He expected good singers to be learning a song after repeating it a few times. It was like Guru felt that if you went away and planned and thought about it, it would take you several days to learn a song. But, by being very present and in the moment, we could learn songs from the heart much quicker.
Guru never really planned ahead very much. If a well-known celebrity was coming the next day, Guru would often be composing a song about them – either the day before, or even on the same morning. The singers would then be learning that song to sing the next day. I remember one evening. It was the day before the start of the World Harmony Run in the US. Someone asked Guru, ‘What song should we sing for the start of the World Harmony Run?’ Almost straight away Guru started humming a tune, adding a few words, and then adding a few more lines. Perhaps a few small changes, but basically the song was composed in the matter of a few minutes. It was very spontaneous, and fascinating to see Guru’s creative process in action.
It started with a very simple straight repetition of the song; more singers came down to sing, and soon the song was gaining an increasing energy. The World Harmony Run song embodies great enthusiasm and hope. After the good singers had mastered the song, Guru invited ‘any singer’ to come down and sing. I thought I could fit into the ‘any singer’ category, so went down for the song. I felt it was a very special song, which embodied so much; very simple and spontaneous, it created an infectious energy which couldn’t help but make you smile. This particular song has gone on to be sung in thousands of different locations around the world, by thousands of different people – with a variety of arrangements.
That is typical of what life was like living with Guru. You felt new things were always being created. Guru was a source of so much spontaneity and creativity. It was great to be part of that in a small way.