Songs of the Soul: Canadian Tour 2015

Interviewer: What part does music play in the spiritual life of an individual?

Sri Chinmoy: The role of music in the spiritual life is extremely important and significant. God is the Supreme Musician, and His entire creation is His divine Music. At every moment we can be his conscious instruments. And spiritual music itself is an instrument to show us our universal Reality.

Interview: Then you agree with the traditional idea of man being a hollow bamboo flute that God plays?

Sri Chinmoy: Yes, that is what we are all striving for- to be the instruments of the Supreme.

Sri Chinmoy, What I need from God, Agni Press, 1982

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I am sitting with Projjwal on a wide green sofa in a little room tucked away backstage of the DB Clarke theatre in downtown Montreal. He is the producer of an extraordinary musical tour. Just outside the crew for Songs of the Soul are busy readying for the nights concert. Even though this is but the first of 4 concerts, in 4 different cities, everything seems to be progressing incredibly well.

Each crew member, as well as each musician, has been working and performing in concerts, just like this one for several years.   Most of the sound equipment travels with the tour. Tonight the stage has all the necessary lights, good news for Harkara the lighting specialist.   There is the usual systematic clatter and banging sounds that goes with setting up for a well-organized concert. Everyone seems relaxed and happy, including Projjwal.

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I ask Projjwal what exactly is ‘Songs of the Soul’?

“It is a concert series that has traveled the world for the last 7 years.” In fact this year there have already been 19 concerts in 8 other countries. Though not present for all those concerts he has been the overall producer of the project since its inception.

With the passing of Sri Chinmoy, his spiritual teacher in 2007, there was an enormous void that immediately opened up within his life. It was an emptiness that of course all of Sri Chinmoy’s students and friends universally experienced. An incalculably great loss, that seemed in the beginning, one that would be impossible to fill.

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For how do you replace someone who was truly irreplaceable? Sri Chinmoy, who was active and prolific in so many areas was perhaps best known and well respected for his Peace concerts. A series of musical performances that he had singularly performed and done for many years all around the world. Projjwal says that for him, “it was always the biggest thing that Guru did.”

“So the idea came up that we could follow up on Guru’s concerts. So we started with the idea that we would have disciples perform and play Guru’s music. In that way we could present Guru’s consciousness, Guru’s love, his writings, his Jharna Kala art in a very professional setting.”

When asked where the name ‘Songs of the Soul’ originated he points clearly to Homagni, who is also a regular member of the tour. “He is the first to have the idea, for the celebrations in New York in 2008. It was a very appropriate name.”

Projjwal’s tells me that his history of first producing a concert dates back to a a much earlier conversation he had at an airport in China in 2005. Sri Chinmoy asked him to organize a large concert tour for him in Germany. One in which the goal was to have at least 30,000 people attend.  Projjwal tells me that concert ended up with even more than that number.

“He put a lot of faith in me and a lot of confidence in me. “ Out of this experience he says he developed the qualities he needed to be able to continue on as he has done now for the past 7 years organizing and producing the tour.

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Projjwal says the inspiration to get involved did not come immediately. He says that it was only after seeing the first New York Songs of the Soul concert in April of 2008 that he realized it could also be done as well in Europe.

When he presented the idea at a joy day there, he says, “people totally embraced it. Immediately I had 3 or 4 music groups who said I definitely want to do it.”

In the fall of 2008 the Songs of the Soul concert tour began in Europe with 8 concerts in 8 days. Without having any real experience producing concerts he got a tremendous help from Ketan, who had much more production experience. “He taught me, what you can do on a stage.”

Now he says, “we have a format that works quite well. You learn by doing. In the beginning there were disastrous things happening.” (None of which were mentioned) Projjwal says that the most important aspect of what the concerts are striving to achieve, “is to present Guru. To present his music and to attempt as best they can offer up his consciousness.   That is the most important thing to me.”

“When people go home after 2 hours they feel they have had an experience with Guru. That is my goal.” Projjwal says that generally most people who come to the concerts have no real idea what to expect. Afterwards he says, that through their reactions and their generous comments it is clear to him that the concerts are succeeding.

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He feels that for those who come they are taken on a spiritual journey. “Constantly things are happening. I always feel that Guru is very present.” It is an experience that occurs he feels, not just with the audience but also as well with all those who take part in any capacity with making the free tour happen.

There is no magical formula of how the cities are picked or the countries chosen. The tour now in Canada was a logical selection Projjwal says as it is so close to New York and the gathering of disciples that took place a few days earlier there for October 11th. Which is the anniversary of Sri Chinmoy’s passing.  As a rule he says, “I am never imposing or trying to talk people into it. It has to be embraced by the organizer.”

Overall there is no far-reaching goal for the number of concerts and the number of countries. “It is a beautiful thing we do.” It seems to all come about due to grace he feels. “It just goes along the path.”

Projjwal at the end of our talk describes a feeling that all of those who take part in the tour feel, and want to express. “I am still trying to serve Guru, and really follow what he would like to see us do on stage. That is what I am sincerely and humbly trying to do.”

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Songs of the Soul Link:

http://www.songsofthesoul.com/en/songs-soul

*(With the Winnipeg Concert there is now an official total of 149 concerts in 36 countries. The total audience has been84,900.  Projjwal was involved with 121)*

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The Self-Transcendence Ultra Classic….Ottawa 35 Years On

There is not very much about the very first Self-Transcendence 24 hour race held in Ottawa that anyone now associated with organizing the race can still remember.  The kind of exact records and details associated with nearly every current day race have somehow slipped away. It was after all 35 years ago.  A time when hard drives were what you did when you got in your car and went from Halifax to Vancouver.

No one today even knows which track it was held on, or the exact date in May when a brave band of runners appeared on starting line of a 400 meter track to do something that the world had rarely seen before. The little that we do know however is still pretty impressive.  Starting in May of 1981 the Ottawa race has an unbroken streak, except for one year, that now stretches back 35 years. It just may be the longest continually held 24 hour race in the world.

For the past few years the race, which now also accommodates a 6 and 12 hour event, has been held in the Louis Riel dome.  49 participants came to take part this year on September 26.  The winner of the race will be the Canadian 24 hour champion.

One thing that makes the research a little easier on the history of this race is that the indisputable fact that the great Canadian/Scottish Al Howie was one of the runners that first year.  He not only won but he also set Canadian and North American records at the same time. His distance for the 2nd race in 1982 was even greater.  He ran an astonishing 150 miles and 233 yards (241.726 KM) which pushed the record out even further.  He was so intent on improving himself when he came again, that in the 3rd race in 1983, he ran all the way from Winnipeg to Ottawa as part of his training.

Al Howie, an icon of endurance events would run a lot of miles and engrave some serious running history at the event for its first 5 years, and for a lot of other years afterwards in ultra races all around the world.

What becomes clear when you attempt to gaze backwards across the many years, is that something so unique and challenging 35 years ago is now dwarfed in comparison to some of the huge distance races that are being held elsewhere. Multi day running, though still not commonplace, is no longer shocking when brought up around most runners today.

Picture taken In New York

Picture of Sri Chinmoy and Al Howie taken after a race in New York

Sri Chinmoy, the founder of the marathon team saw early on that distance running would become much more common all around the world.  That people would use the challenge of long races to test a runners capacity in every way.  He first asked the members of the group in Ottawa to put on their first 24 hour race in May of 1981.

Long-distance running gives us a real feeling of accomplishment. We can run 100 metres forty times during the year and not feel the same sense of accomplishment as when we run one marathon. But speed and endurance are both important, especially in the spiritual life. If one has only speed, then one cannot ultimately succeed; we need endurance because the goal is quite far. Again, if one has only stamina and no speed, then it will take forever to reach the goal. Only if someone has both qualities will he be able to make very good progress in his spiritual life and achieve something really great in life.

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