“Let it be, everything is as it will be. No need to hope for heaven or worry about hell. Just sing the praises. Wealth is not to celebrate, adversity is not to cry about.” It is a powerful love when faith, trust and acceptance dwell in the heart. Finishing the shabds in rāga mājh and moving into rāga gauri this theme is threaded throughout the shabds. In the first mājh shabd in Gurbani Sangeet, Guru Nanak describes the power to change in an instant, the meat eaters eat grass, the dry land runs with water, the powerful king turns to ashes, even the “natural order” of things is subject to change. And in rāga gauri, the devotees sit steady within their own homes, in fearless acceptance, trusting that the benevolent Doer sets everything right.
I woke this morning from a dream in which the kirtan teachers had delivered the verdict, “she sounds too American.” As a student of kirtan, who came to this practice after the age of forty, I have wondered about the ability to learn to hear, learn to sing this music. When you learn a new language as an adult, you always speak with an accent. Culture and language are imprinted in the first few years of life. What the child experiences becomes a part of the fiber of their being. The mother tongue is one of these things, and music is a kind of language. No matter how sincerely one converts later, or how faithfully one adopts a new language or culture, will there always be a trace of the old, the first love, the first language, the first culture? I can hear the difference in the sound of the original, the traditional, and I do not know if I will ever lose the cultural “accent”, express the actual nuances, or if it is possible. Remembering Guru Nanak’s bāni, by the Grace of God, even the laws of nature can be overruled and maybe this American will sing kirtan. Either way, it will be just right.
As if in response to the morning’s reflection, the evening’s bāni in gauri purbi was presented not once, but twice. Two beautiful compositions, one a dhrupad in the asthai-antarā-sanchāri-abhog format, and one an ashtai-antarā compostition in jai tāla, 13 beats, which I learned from Bhai Baldeep Singh. Whether or not the American accent remains, I am so grateful for the learning which has unlocked these treasures. “By what virtues will I meet the Lord of Life oh my mother? I have no beauty, wisdom or strength, I am a foreigner, without wealth, without youth, without a master. Have mercy! Searching and searching, becoming bairāgan, for your sight I travel and thirst. Merciful to the meek, kind Lord, Nanak’s water is the sādh sangat, my thirst is quenched.”