Even As The International Choir Gets Ready To Sing…You Raise Me Up!

With the International Overseas Choir getting ready for the grand show this afternoon on the Christmas Eve, we take a peek behind the singing scenes, as Ms Sue Kelly Christie meets up with the wonderful Gisela Sebastian from Germany, the Conductor of the show.

A Bouquet of Musical Flowers
For Our Beloved Lord
Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba

We Lift up Our Voices to YOU
with Love and Devotion

As Our Hearts Unfold Before YOU
like Petals falling
at YOUR Lotus Feet

May Our Love and Devotion forever Blossom
In YOUR Beloved Heart Divine

Swami has said since His physical disappearance “I have gone nowhere!” Well, on Thursday afternoon Our Beloved Lord Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba showed His omnipresence during one of the choir rehearsals, and proved His words to be true, by blessing the International Overseas Christmas Choir.

Someone was addressing the choir when suddenly there was a sharp intake of breath, followed by a sweet cry of elation — the Garland which was around Lord Sai’s photo suddenly and dramatically swung off to the right side of Swami’s dear countenance and fell down to the left side of the large photo of a smiling Baba.

It was pure balm for the soul of the singers, lifting up their voices for the Lord.

I would like to extend a warm welcome to our beloved Sai sisters and brothers to another wonderful opportunity to be a part of our chance to sing for our sweet Lord in this sacred Sai Baba land.

Come with me and take a peek behind the singing scenes. Yes, it’s that most beautiful time of the year again when we are reminded of the love of God as one of His devoted servants came to the earth and sacrificed his very life for the love of his Lord.

And as one looks around at the rehearsal room, one gets the sense that one or two of the souls here may also be willing to lay down their very lives for the love of their Lord, Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba.

One such soul is the darkly dramatic and intensely good looking brunette Gisela Sebastian. To many regular choir members this beautiful lady is a very familiar face. She was always there, modestly in the background, but ever supportive, when dear Slyvia Alden, her predecessor, was conducting the choir. As the conductor one has to very obviously be at centre stage. In the spotlight, the very hub of the vocal nerve, something which Gisela has no particular like for as she would much rather be behind the scenes, than standing out in front, facing hundreds of people and instructing them what to do. But our Lord Sai had other plans for his lovely devotee Gisela.

She told me: “I first came to Swami in 1979, at that time I would never in a million years have imagined that I would end up conducting the choir here. I never dreamed that I would be able to stand up in front of a group of people and talk to them, let alone conduct them!”

Gisela first heard a Bhajan in 1979 and immediately fell in love with this classical Indian hymn to God. She said: “I just loved it. I had to work hard at it, however. It took me one year to learn two bhajans. I had nine years’ training in bhajan singing.

She shakes her head in disbelief as she remembers: “In 2004 I was selected as a soloist singer and I never wanted to be.”

Gisela added: “It took months before I would accept the fact that I was to take over the job of conductor. But before Swami ‘left’ His form He gave me very strong indications that I should take over from Sylvia. One day I was sitting in front of Him in the Sai Kulwant Hall and He stared at me, His eyes just went straight through me. He looked so long at me. Then He communicated with me on the inner level, it was so strong. But even then it took me months. I had never had a choir, this was all new to me. All those years working with Sylvia, I never had the slightest inclination to get up. So one can imagine how challenging it was to get up and lead a choir. Then he told me and I realised, not to fear, to give it to Him. So I did, now I’m quite relaxed. I am so grateful for this experience. I just trust Him.”

I remark to Gisela what a beautiful voice she has; this naturally gifted musician replied: “You know, whatever people say about my singing and my voice, I do not really get it, I don’t understand what they hear, which I think is good. I mean, they are complimentary and I think, oh, okay, that’s what they think.”

I ask: “Do you have any strict regime – vocal exercises, warm ups?” She smiles philosophically. “No nothing, I just trust Swami.”

Indeed Gisela puts her words into actions: she married her husband, Giza, after Swami united them in an interview some 25 years ago. They are still happily married, achieving silver, going for gold!

Gisela told me: “Giza is wonderful, he is always supportive of me every step of the way and he encourages me at every opportunity, he is very much devoted to Swami.”

In 2010, during the North European Choir Conference, our Lord Sai called an astonished Gisela up to Him. With trembling breath she knelt before Swami and he materialised for her a golden Lakshmi medallion. She knelt, bent down, almost putting her head on Divine Mother’s lap so that He might do up the clasp; one of the students had to tell her to look up so that he could place it over her head. She told me: “I just wanted to rest there forever.” She went on to say: “I had for many years, always got sick and I would have many problems with a sore throat, colds etc, before I had to sing, but since that day, when Swami hung that Lakshmi medallion around my neck my throat problems have disappeared.”

A very beautiful cultural awareness that is deeply embedded in the Indian culture is the love of singing and the awareness that when one sings or plays music it is to be dedicated to God. The late great Ravi Shankar was a wonderful example of this. He always saw music as a gift from God and dedicated his music-making to God.

I noticed this similarity within Gisela, as she was instructing us how to reach a particularly high note. She said: “Do not do it with your will.” To emphasise the point, she told us that whenever she used her will to sing, it would play havoc with her voice. The will of course is the ego, thinking it is the doer. Of course, it is the breath that in fact produces the note and in truth the breath is the breath of God. When one empties oneself of one’s one will and allows God’s will to be done, the channel becomes clear, a beautiful clean instrument for God’s breath to pass through. A few years back I remember how Swami, in an interview, especially singled out one song. He told Mary the American choir mistress: “I liked song number three that you sang.”

Afterwards, I rushed back to look up the song in my programme. It was You Raise Me Up!

So it is very fitting that this beautiful melody is included in this year’s programme, for indeed, He is still raising us all up, only He is still raising us all up.

As you look around the rehearsal room, you will see many nationalities, from Russia, America, Italy, Poland, Ukraine, Germany, England and South Africa.
Almost half of the devotees are from Russia – Have you ever noticed, that the word Russia is also an anagram for: U R Sathya SAI!

Gisela is aided by lovely Krishna Veni and Stan Zaidea who are Gisela’s right and left arm. Whilst we were there Gisela hugged Krishna and told me that she was her rock! Krishna’s mother took her to Baba way back in 1970, although Krishna looks as if she could not have possibly have been born until at least a decade later. Now living in the United States, where she has been attending the Sai Centre in Seattle, she is actually a native of Andhra Pradesh and her father was a first class Judge in this state.

Stan Zaides, who plays the violin for the choir, hails from Russia. He first came into Sai Baba’s fold in 2001. He is a professional musician by trade and he plays the piano and sings in a piano bar to earn his living. He started playing jazz at the tender age of five years.

Another musical light is the tender twenty year old from Leicester in the UK, Vikesh Tailor and he is proving to be a stalwart support at the keyboards. Gisela told me that he was the best musical talent of his age that she has ever worked with. He tirelessly and effortlessly plays, and replays so that the choir members can retain the melodies praising the Lord.

Vikesh is a charming young man and is studying to become a sound engineer– something he will obviously do well in, as what better place to be for Christmas than here in Puttaparthi, where the Blessed Name of the Lord resounds around every nook and cranny and every Sai filled corner.

Not the least Harry, the avid music lover from the Netherlands who sits like a rock behind the jazz drum. He is earnest, to beat in synchrony, as for him it is one chance, as in His immediate Divine Presence, you never get a second chance and it has to be perfect if you want to excel…Harry is a familiar name in Puttaparthi, a soul-friend for the Prasanthi Students’s Band, whose untiring and passionate approach was the biggest motivation for the band boys. Harry is ready, earnest hands ‘full’ of sticks to go for a blast with the word go..and Prasanthi is sure to go ‘wild’ with Harry ready to come down on the drumhead with passionate force.

So on behalf of The Prashanthi Reporter – We wish YOU a very Merry Christmas and a year filled with the Love of our Beloved Mother Sai! And don’t forget the Russia anagram – YOU are Sai!

II Samastha Lokah Sukhino Bhavantu II