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Transcribing Sri Chinmoy's Piano Playing

Article by Kamalakanta Nieves

Many years ago (1985, maybe), I was at home, and realizing I needed more income, my thoughts turned to music. My older brother is a professional musician and has his own commercial studio. One of the skills which he has developed is the ability to transcribe music from a cassette or CD. But I am not talking about a single melody; he can transcribe a whole production by Madonna or Michael Jackson, and make new scores for all the musicians. It is not uncommon in Puerto Rico to do this, and often to do a Spanish version of a hit song from the U.S.
So I thought, maybe I should learn how to do this! I decided to start learning by listening to the radio and slowly playing a chord here and there, until I got the hang of it. Little did I know what was in store for me! I was invited to come to New York that very week, and listen to Sri Chinmoy's first recorded improvisation on the piano. Now, for those of you who have never heard Sri Chinmoy improvise, it is very free and powerful and fast. He gently asked us to listen with the heart and not with the mind. So I tried to do that, and then, as soon as the music finished, he said to me, "Kamalakanta, I would like you to transcribe this." I thought he was kidding, because I considered it impossible. I mean, it was a cascade of notes! Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think of doing something like this!
As we left that night, he winked at me and said, with a smile, "Let us see what you can do!"
I remember going to bed, and my mind trying in vain to understand Sri Chinmoy's intentions. Why would he ask me to do something which is impossible? The answer hit me like a thunderbolt. Of course! He wants to get rid of me! Obviously, my mind thought, he wants me to leave, since I will not be able to do what he wants me to do. Why would he otherwise ask me to do something impossible? Perfect logic, but wrong! Isn't it funny how our mind can dig our own grave? Well that's what mine did that night. I went to eat breakfast the next morning like a man having his last meal before his execution.
Anyhow, to make a long story short, I did try, with tears rolling down my cheeks, to transcribe this music, and slowly I felt the Grace of God opening my ears, so that I could literally feel the density of each chord, and feel the tempo changes within the piece. Eventually I transcribed about three minutes of music, and it was performed by a pianist in New York. People said it sounded like the original.
I learned a few things from this experience: First, the capacity is given before you start doing what you have been asked to do. Second, that capacity will remain, if you can be grateful and cheerful while doing it. Third, we have many hidden talents that the Teacher will help us to bring forward, if we dare to try and have faith.

Joy to all! -Kamalakanta

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