Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Silence & Sound

Rageshri smiles as she tells me, “It was not easy, I was not a professional. I am a massage therapist.” It is a cool and rainy afternoon, on a spring day in New York. I have just heard her, and her friend Kushali, perform a song, composed by their spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy, in a conspicuously empty Panorama cafe. Their musical group, called Silence and Sound, have been performing for 8 years. They are closing in on their 600th concert and I, an audience of just one, not counting Phillip, who is washing dishes off in the distance, have just heard one of the most amazing musical performances of my life.

To be honest, if most people had known, that they were going to be playing their music on this wet and nasty afternoon, the place would have been packed. I had asked the girls to come here, so that I could video one of their arrangements and have this interview. I was selfishly happy to not have any others around to interrupt, but could not help but think, “who wouldn’t enjoy this exquisite music.”

Rageshri tells me, about receiving her Soul’s name, on Sri Chinmoy’s birthday in 2003. She tells me, that she was so surprised when she heard the meaning of her name. It was, “The Beauty and fragrance of Soul Melody in Aspiration Heart, in boundless measure.” She says, this confirmed for her, her whole connection to Sri Chinmoy’s music. She says, that since becoming his student, she would often wake up in the morning hearing his music inside her. She says with confidence, “This is the mission of my soul, to spread Guru’s music, to share it with the world.”

Kushali who has been sitting quietly next to her nods with approval. She tells me how they feel it is a great privilege to perform Sri Chinmoy’s music, and because the music has so much within it, and is so rich with possibility, that it is an easy task for them to do. I nod at this, but also remember, that earlier, I helped carry a very heavy keyboard into the café, and that giving roughly 100 concerts a year is no joke.

They tell me about their joy, in performing in front of audiences large and small. Please note, I, as a private audience of one, do not count in their impressive record keeping statistics. Rageshri who has given many talks on Sri Chinmoy’s philosophy tells me how difficult it is for people to understand, what he is all about, just through words. They feel, that performing his music does it all, faster and easier, and does it immediately. They tell me, that when they perform, they can see the audience out in front of them as flower buds. As they play their music, they see these buds opening, until before too long, there is a whole garden blossoming in front of them.

Their route to playing Sri Chinmoy’s music was not a direct one however. When they first started playing together, they played only classical music, their first arrangement, that of a version of Ave Maria. Rageshri, who had only 4 years of formal musical training, while Kushali was a full professional, was not confident at first, playing with her more experienced partner. Kushali says though, “When I heard her the first time, touching the keyboard, it was amazingly professional. Technique was not important.” She felt that her touch was deep and delicate. She was so confident in her friend’s ability, that when she was hesitant of her abilities, she would tell her, “just remember your last incarnation, PLAY It, that’s all.”

Kushali tells me, that during an interview once, she was asked the meaning of her name. She told the interviewer, that her name meant, The most powerful the most surprising in aspiration dedication activities to please our Lord Beloved Supreme in his own way. The interviewer said to her then, “so, that means you are the boss.” Both girls laugh at this.

They had been playing classical music exclusively for one year when in 2001 a friend asked them, “why don’t you play Guru’s music?” They describe their friends question as an obvious next step for them. They describe her as an instrument, in their musical careers, and wondered at the time, why they had not done it before. Very soon after, they were asked to perform at a concert in Moscow. They live in Kiev in the Ukraine. They had just 2 months to prepare a program. Each had full time jobs, Rageshri was selling software, and Kushali was teaching music to kids. Their predicament at the time, was that neither of them had any experience in arranging music. They quickly learned however to find an intuitive approach to Sri Chinmoy’s music. They quote for me, one of his aphorisms when describing what this meant, “My Gratitude Heart, always knows the way.” They felt that Sri Chinmoy himself, was guiding and showing them, how to arrange his music inwardly. Now they have arranged something like 100 songs.

In June of 2001 they performed 2 of his songs for him for the first time in Oslo. They were on the same stage as he was. At the time he was drawing pictures close by on the small stage. They describe how afraid they were at the time, to perform Sri Chinmoy’s music in front of him. They laugh as they describe how much they were shaking only to realize that the shaking was being caused not by their own nervousness but by the power of Sri Chinmoy’s hand on paper as he drew pictures.

In August of that year, they describe their challenging and difficult first concert, at the Aspiration ground in New York. It was to be a short instrumental performance and Rageshri admits to being in a bad consciousness before the performance. In the minutes before they were to go on, she just did not want to perform. Kushali says now, that she told her friend, “You will go, I am the leader, if you do not play now, or we will never play again.” Reluctantly she went forward and performed.

At the end of their performance they say, Sri Chinmoy folded his hands and bowed to them. They both describe it as a “WOW” moment. They say that it was significant, and that it confirmed for them, that he knew what was going on inside them at that moment. They realized, that in performing his music, everything changes. That a transformation takes place within them, when they are able overcome obstacles and to self transcend. In being able to get through this hesitancy in performing, they had gone beyond a personal barrier and he was as much pleased with that, as he was with their musicianship. This was for them the practical evidence of surrender. They say, that from that moment on, for them, “only Guru’s music matters.”

In 2002 their music went in another surprising direction for them, when Sri Chinmoy asked a friend of theirs, whether or not they sang, mentioning how proud he was of them. By August of 2002 they were incorporating singing into their program. By April 2005 Sri Chinmoy asked them after they had performed for him in New York how many concerts they had done. At the time it was 420. He said that they were super excellent musicians, and asked the assembled group that was watching, why could they not invite them to perform outside of the Ukraine. They were shocked at the level of generosity and appreciation that he had for them. They mention that other countries in Europe quickly set up concerts for them, and that in particular Austria was very supportive.

I remind them, as they now sit sipping hot chocolates, that not too many days ago I had witnessed them both doing something quite unbelievable for full time musicians. Rageshri had run 240 miles in the 6 day race, and Kushali had run 407 miles in the 10 day race. Rageshri describes how that she had helped, one of the girl runners in 2004, and had just caught the multi day bug. They felt at the time, that performing 100 concerts a year was already an ultra.

Yet when Rageshri saw how proud of her Sri Chinmoy was, after her first multi day race, it confirmed for her, that ultra running would be part of their lives. Kushali joined in shortly afterwards. She says of Sri Chinmoy that, “He inspires self-transcendence in every field.” They describe the running as a, purification for them. Then they laugh and say, it is also a vacation from music. They call the multi day races, “a real rest, the only place we don’t play.”

They have no doubts about them being unlikely poster people, for multi day runners. But they also recognize, that when others see them run, they have to say to themselves, “If they can run what about me.” They say, that like they celebrate after every 100 concerts, they also celebrate after each and every 100 miles during the race.

Sri Chinmoy has composed thousands of songs and many have been inspired by this impressive catalog of music. There is no other group of musicians, like Silence and Sound however, that have committed themselves to such an extensive and rigorous program of concerts, that is now extending itself to many countries. Clearly, they feel a commitment to the music, that is unparalleled. They tell me, “we felt Guru’s music was not in the professional world enough.” They wanted to fill this hole, with free concerts, wherever they could be invited to perform. However, they do prefer, that they be invited to beautiful venues, where the music can be better appreciated.

I ask them about the name of their group, Silence and Sound. They tell me simply that from true inner silence comes sound. They tell me that a few years ago when Sri Chinmoy was told, that they had given a performance in front of an audience of 900, that he was not surprised. He said, “what do you expect from them, they are super excellent musicians.” When someone tried to remind him that they had run in multi day races as well, he said, “You think I don’t know.” On many occasions he referred to them as the, “2 Ukrainian Greats”, or simply, “violin and piano.”

As they push on towards their 600th concert, and beyond, they tell me they feel that Sri Chinmoy is guiding them. They admit, that a few times they have wanted to give up, but always have found a way to continue. They are really relaxed and enjoying themselves as they reflect on their lives. They tell me, that humor is their savior. Even during some of the wet cold days of the recent race, they held onto their sense of humor. Dipali, who went on to win the women’s race told them in fact, that she appreciated this about them. That in the midst of such a challenge of running 100’s of miles, they could still laugh.

Kushali tells me, that their concert total at this point is 584. Just 16 shy, of 600 performances. I ask the obvious, how many more? They just laugh and tell me, “we will go on, and on, and on.”


Anonymous said...

Hi Utpal,
Like you, I love their music!!! I own three of their CDs - my favorite is "Playing My Heart Violin." I feature an audio clip of them singing Nirab Amare on my blog post:

Anonymous said...

It is like home, a very sweet and simple home, "My Heart Violin".
These two musicians bring something
"home" in you.

Anonymous said...

from time to time I'm listening to their music on 3100 mile race. and it works!
with gratitude,

Anonymous said...

Great story Utpal. I had no idea about their touring schedule. certainly gives one inspiration to get out of one's chair and do stuff!