The Song Remains the Same
It's been recorded as calypso, jazz, techno, reggae, choral, even as a Beatles-style pop tune. Only months after it was composed, one simple song has been heard around the world, in a way that sets it apart from most popular songs.
On a brisk April evening in Queens, New York, Sri Chinmoy called upon one of his students, Adarsha Kelly, and sang a few words of his latest song. Adarsha, from Scotland, is renowned for his smooth baritone, and Sri Chinmoy has hailed him as the best singer of all his students. This time, he repeated Sri Chinmoy's lyrics through a microphone: "Run, run, run, run, run, run! World-Harmony-Run."
It was the night before the World Harmony Run was launched at the Dag Hammarskjold Plaza in Manhattan, so there was some excitement in the air. The ceremony was mostly in place, but one vital thing was missing: a theme song.
Sri Chinmoy has composed 19,000 songs (that's not a misprint), including theme songs for many of the humanitarian projects and sports events that he has founded. Therefore, Australian Salil Wilson, global coordinator of the World Harmony Run, had already requested a song from Sri Chinmoy. He did not hear it until the night before the event, when the composer taught it to Adarsha and his other students. The melody and lyrics were both deliberately simple, something that a young child or a non-singer could learn in minutes. This simplicity, however, belied the depth of the lyrics in the second and final line: "We are the oneness and fullness of Tomorrow's Sun."
These clearly were not the average lyrics of a children's song. Indeed, it encompassed the lofty dreams of the World Harmony Run. Even those uncertain of its meaning can appreciate the sadly uncommon but wonderfully profound words and phrases - "oneness", "fullness", "Tomorrow's Sun" – raising to a musical crescendo.
As his students cluttered the seats, Sri Chinmoy then asked for the better (or more confident) singers to come down and sing the newly composed song – loudly and dynamically, with "no soulfulness". He also called musicians to bring their instruments – as a few dozen singers came down from the bleachers. As they sang those two lines repeatedly, the crowd of singers became more and more enthusiastic, improvising vocal arrangements and handclaps, as musicians gradually moved in. More of the audience, even some of the less able singers, were inspired to move from the bleachers and join the choir. It was clearly not an elite singing group. This was a joyous free-for-all, hootenanny style.
As the song was repeated, the musicians gradually moved in with their instruments in hand, squeezing their way through the assembled chorus. A guitarist would move towards a microphone at the front, adding their accompaniment to the song. A tabla player or esraj virtuoso would join in the fun, five or ten minutes into the song. A drummer would move in with a partial drum kit, assembling it in front of the singers as they kept singing. As all these embellishments arrived, the group sang and sang for some 40 minutes. "Amazing how two lines can be repeated, over and over, and still you just want to keep singing them," said one of the singers. "Of course, Sri Chinmoy's students have a feel for his music. But this time, we knew it was very special indeed."
At the World Harmony Run launch the next day, legendary singer Roberta Flack performed a haunting rendition of John Lennon's ode to world harmony: "Imagine" – a song known to almost everyone. Following that, she joined Sri Chinmoy's students in the first public performance of a song that, 24 hours earlier, did not even exist. Once again, the chorus of singers was accompanied by an impromptu band of musicians. The power and foot-stomping joy of the song suggested that world harmony is not only meditative and sweet, but also inherently dynamic.
In the space of three months, the World Harmony Run song has become one of Sri Chinmoy's most commonly heard songs, performed in most of the 70 nations which the World Harmony Run has visited, carrying the burning Harmony Torch into thousands of schools and special events. The original version was recorded a few days later, and the CD went into a second printing almost immediately. This song is not merely an adjunct to the event, but something that has taken a life of its own.
Due to its simplicity and its catchy tune, it is unlikely ever to have a "quintessential" version, but has more chance of remaining a popular standard. In Australia, a competition has been launched among schools, to determine the best arrangement of the song. Already, many versions have been recorded, many of which can be downloaded from the song's own website: Sri Chinmoy's World-Harmony-Run Song. From here, listeners can enjoy the cute, tuned-percussion arrangement of Palicky, an all-female, Czech ensemble (whose name, appropriately, translates roughly to "musical sticks"); or the celebratory sounds of a steel drum band from Dominica. The toe-tapping arrangement of Canadian guitarist Pavaka Ritchot is on the rapidly increasing play list, alongside the jazz arrangement of Austrian musician Vidyutonnati Spitzer.
Australian musicians have provided some of the more interesting versions. One local band, the Freeloaders, performed as the Run travelled through Canberra, providing reggae, salsa and Beatles-inspired (think "Twist and Shout") versions of the song. (These live performances are not currently on the website, as the Freeloaders plan to make a studio recording.) A Canberra school has entered a rap version into the competition.
While it is in no immediate danger of overtaking "Yesterday" as the most recorded song in history, it shares an infectious simplicity with the Beatles' classic that leaves potential for countless versions. As the World Harmony Run is set to become a regular event, the past few months might provide just a hint of the ways in which this eclectic song will be heard.