Joy knows no bounds when you sing your heart in praise of His Glory. On the auspicious Christmas Eve after an hour-long singing of His Glory in His immediate Divine Presence, the International Choir had an unusual word of appreciation, from none other than The Lord on whom, to whom “they” sung. Towards the end of the session, calling one of His students, Bhagawan asked him to announce that the songs sung by the choir were touching and made Him very happy. ..And after a two hour long session, the International Choir walked out of the hall with joy in their hearts that knew no bounds!
Prasanthi Nilayam, the Abode of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, brings to light a diverse perspective of the festivity called Christmas. As rightly echoed by Bhagawan in one of His Christmas Divine Discourses, the festivity is celebrated in its truest sense in Prasanthi Nilayam. Bhagawan, addressing a huge concourse of devotees from around the world during the 1998 edition of the celebration, exhorted: “True Christmas is celebrated only in Prasanthi Nilayam”. "Elsewhere people drink, eat non‑vegetarian food and make merry in the name of Christmas. But Christmas in Prasanthi Nilayam is celebrated in a holy atmosphere".
Christmas in Prasanthi Nilayam is unique not only because people of all religions join together to celebrate it, but also because it is celebrated in the true spirit of Christ in the Divin
e Presence of the Avatar, Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. That is why people from United Nations across the globe as
e in large nu
mbers to celebrate Christmas in Prasanthi Nilayam.
Christmas Eve finds a greater mention in the Christmas legend. The Eve traditions vary from country to country and region to region. The greater anticipation of the holy birth and its preparatory run make the eve a momentous one in the history of the festivity.
…and the Christmas Eve in Prasanthi Nilayam is distinctive over the years with a unique choir comprising representation of united nations singing His glory in His immediate Divine Presence. The overseas choir has been a part of the Christmas celebrations for over a decade ever since the wonderfully graceful Sylvia Alden from the United States was given the mantle by Bhagawan to conduct the show.
This unique choir for this year had over 950 voices singing a spirited collection of songs on His, of His Love....
Once Sylvia Alden took over presenting the programme to Bhagawan, the choir sang 18 hymns, precisely for an hour, presenting a disciplined devotional show of Love for their Beloved Bhagawan. Singing their hearts out, the choir used all the available adjectives heralding the glory of the “Born Little Divine”. As sonorous notes from an array of musical instruments rendered the air, with hundreds singing in chorus, the sun in the western horizon slowly fading off giving way to a beautiful twilight, they sang…”Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee God of glory...” The choir sang and made it a befitting evening paying homage to the Master of masters while remembering His chosen son, anticipating yet another Divine Advent…a glorious Christmas 2009!!!
The compositions sung were, Christmas in Prasanthi Nilayam, Carol of the Bells, Silent Night, O Come all Ye Faithful, O Little Town of Bethlehem, Away in a Manger, Sanctus (Italian), Here I am the Lord, Jesus Born on this Day, Jesus What a Wonderful Child, Angels We Have Heard on High, When a Child is born, Glory Hallelujah, Turn Your Eyes, We Love You Bhagawan, Joyful, Joyful We adore Thee, Amen -Hallelujah and O Holy Night.
The Choir that was conducted by Sylvia Alden from the United States was ably supported by graceful Gisela Sebastian from Germany, whose glorious voice truly inspires the ladies to reach even greater crescendo. Gisela who has composed many a song for Bhagawan, lovingly went through the pieces, note by note, chord by chord and semi-breve by semi-breve while training the choir singers. The artiste who has been involved with music in Prasanthi for the past 29 years, whose demeanour talks about her greater love for God was involved in training sopranos (refers to the female singing voice range) for ladies and tenors (refers to range of men) for gents.
The choir that consisted of sopranos and altos for ladies, tenors and bass for gents was also assisted by various musical instruments, namely, harmonium, violins, saxophone, santoor, flutes, chello, guitars, box-drum, trumpet, drum-kit and accordians apart from tablas and naal and an electronic key-board. A unique instrument in the shape of a bird was used to produce typical bird-sound, that was generated while blowing “air-through”, perfectly matching the joyous occasion of His Advent, while singing the song, “Sai Baba You have come on earth....”
Some of the prominent names behind the instruments were, Gisela Sebastian (Ger) on Harmonium, Stanislav (Ger) and Golbert on Violin, Peter (Den) on Key-Board, Prem on Saxophone, Martina (Ger) on Santoor, Shira Taylor (Can) on Flute, Dorothea (Swiss) on Chello, Douglas Sanders (Newzealand) on Guitar, Adam on Drum-Kit, Sergio on Box-Drum, Mano on “Bird-Sound” etc.
The choristers had only ten days to familiarize themselves with 18 musical pieces – 17 of them in English and one in Italian - and many of the devotees do not have English as their first language. In addition, there were over 45 musicians and to add a final twist of complexity to this ambitious undertaking, most of the people involved were not professional singers or musicians. The troupe with their greater determination and love for Bhagawan has been practising 5-6 hours a day for ten days, skipping darshan sessions. Additional sessions for sopranos and tenors were also conducted fine tuning the entire show to make a perfect offering at His Divine Lotus Feet.
A beaming Sylvia Alden had limited words to share after a most successful venture of conducting a perfect show, under most testing circumstances, wherein she had to train these vocal cords, coming from varied cultural and racial and linguistic backgrounds, numbering over 900 in just about ten days. She said, upon reacting to our quest about her share of experience for the evening, “Sai, You are The Light of our lives” reaffirming the credit to the Master Beloved.
...and the climax came when Bhagawan called the student to announce that the songs that were sung by the choir were touching and made Him very happy... It was kind of “Oh! Ghosh! Does He really want a student to tell us that He is happy with our singing” was the reaction many of the choir members who exclaimed that the entire show was a “Perfect Show of Love”. Indeed the appreciation that came along most unexpectedly was received with awe and greater excitement and it would take time for these choir members to sink in with this ecstatic feeling.
The third block that was occupied by white clad men and women of International Choir was the reflection of this pure love, wherein their surge of emotional and devotional ecstasy was contained in their folded palms, fixed glare and glances that talked about their musings from within, Love for The Lord! The student was commanded to express grateful thanks to the International Choir on behalf of the University for their wonderful “conduct”. The student while praying for their turn on the Christmas morning for singing as well as their regular band display prayed that Bhagawan should bless them to come up with the best of their performance as was done by the International Choir.
Earlier, Bhagawan arrived to a fully packed Sai Kulwant Hall just after 16:30 Hrs. Wetting many eyes, filling and fulfilling many hearts, the gracious Lord moved through the assemblage of devotees in the ladies side to take a detour to ascend the dais. Soon after ascending the dais, the Lord lighted the special candles to officially inaugurate the Christmas celebrations. The entire Sai Kulwant Hall was aesthetically decorated with a specialised group of devotees from the US, from the Atlanta centre, working meticulously on the same for many days in the run up to the festivity.
Christmas Celebrations International Co-ordinator, John Behner was asked to announce the three-day Christmas Programme. While the Christmas morning programme would commence at 9 am. in His immediate Divine Presence the evening programme would be having two – three speakers including himself, who would be reading the report delivering vote of thanks to various hands involved in the entire Christmas preparations and the third day afternoon would feature an International Choir conducted by Alma Badings followed by a Drama on Life and Love of Jesus Christ, by name “Jesus comes to our Hearts” by Children from Latin American countries.
After the entire show that lasted for more than two hours, members of the International Choir walked out of Sai Kulwant Hall, gracefully, with joy in their hearts that knew no bounds.