That Haunting Sound

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Flutist Manose answers questions at a gathering during the Gayatri Festival on Corfu in July 2016. “When I was eight, one night I heard a sound come from Boudhanath, the stupa opposite our house. I sat up on my bed in the dark. I heard this amazing sound, amazing… so powerful that I could not sleep the whole night.”

Manose playing the flute in Gayatri Mandir, Corfu

When did your musical journey start?

My musical journey began when I was eight years old. I grew up in Boudha, on the outskirts of Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, at a special power spot. There are many power spots in that valley; so many temples, stupas and monasteries. I was born opposite a Buddhist stupa, in front of Boudhanath, adorned with many prayer flags, the same that you also see hanging here above our heads. I basically grew up among prayer flags!

I feel very humbled, very grateful that my soul decided to be born there. Boudha is a place where different kinds of people from all over the world come to study Buddhism and Hinduism. There are scholars, monks, Tibetans. It is a very interesting place.

Boudha has gone through a lot of changes in the last 30-40 years. Modern culture has taken over and it has become a really chaotic part of Kathmandu now. But this doesn’t mean that the energy is not there; the vortex is always there. I now live in Santa Cruz in California and am on tour most of the time but I try to go to back to Nepal every year because if I don’t go, I miss it. I love the people there. I love the culture. Last year I was afraid to go; I was worried about the food, that I might get sick and all this. When I got there, it was crowded, noisy, dusty and chaotic but it didn’t really matter. It feels to me that no matter what happens, the power is always going to be there. So if you get a chance I really encourage you to go visit Nepal sometime.

When I was eight, one night I heard a sound come from Boudhanath, the stupa opposite our house. I sat up on my bed in the dark; there were no lights because we did not have much electricity in Boudha in those days. I heard this amazing sound, amazing… so powerful that I could not sleep the whole night. It was so beautiful. It was… I can’t really explain it. The sound I heard called me to search; there was urgency in it. It had that urgency you feel before you meet your beloved.

“I need to find that place. I need to see that.” I remember going to look from where that sound had come from and when I walked to school I always tried to hear it. But, until now, I haven’t heard it again. I am still looking for that mystical sound that stole my heart. It wasn’t long after that when I bought my first flute from a street vendor for a few rupees and started to teach myself. The sound of the flute comes closest to that sound I was seeking and, when I play, I feel a little closer to it but still it’s not the sound I had heard.

From whom did you learn how to play the flute?

Close to my home there is one of the oldest Shiva holy sites, called Pashupathinath. Every full moon, music is played there; public kirtans and bhajans, also classical music. When I was about fifteen one of my cousins told me, “In the temple people are playing such amazing music. You should check it out.” So I ran to the temple and I remember looking through the perforated wooden window screens and saw a man playing the tablas.

I thought, “Wow! Amazing. That is cool. I want to study music if I can.” My cousin told me that following month there would also be a teacher who could teach me to play the flute. I could hardly wait, I was so excited! There I met my first teacher, Mandan Dev Bhatta, who then gave me my formal musical education. I practised a lot and afterwards performed in the temple every month.

I was completely devoted to the sound of the flute and I was practising flute five to ten hours every day. I think it was about a year before I gave my first performance. The monthly full moon concerts always started with the junior students, and then the senior students and teachers performed late into the night, once the moon had risen.

I remember you once told a beautiful story about walking through a paddy field as a child, playing the flute.

Near my house there was a big paddy field. You know Krishna? The mythical God Krishna who plays the flute? When he plays the flute the entire universe becomes one. No matter if you’re a man or a woman or an animal or a plant, he is so attractive. The attraction is so powerful that everything becomes one when he plays the flute.

So when I was playing while growing up people used to say, “You play like a Krishna.” All the villagers really loved me and wanted me to play all the time. If I didn’t play one night friends would come the next day and ask, “Why didn’t you play last night? I was waiting to hear you with my door and windows open.” So I started to think, “Oh, maybe I am Krishna!” Just a little child’s ego.

On the way to school I always saw the cows grazing. I knew that Krishna is also Gopal, the mystical cow herder. I said to myself, “Maybe I can play the flute for the cows and they will come to me.” I put my school bag down, pulled out my flute and played ‘Woo-hoo-hoo’. And the cows looked at me surprised, almost in shock and just ran away! I still remember their expression. They were so surprised, and never returned. They just ran and ran.

Can you tell us a little bit about your formal music education?

My formal musical education (of about 20 years) is mostly in raga music, the Indian classical music, and Nepali folk music.I was drawn to raga music because it expresses a longing similar to what I felt in searching for that sound I heard as a child. I could not find it in pop music – I did try to play some popular music; I enjoyed it but then I would say to myself, “Hmm, I don’t find that longing in this sound.” I found that Indian classical music has the depth that comes closest to that calling; it has that invocation.

I was on track to becoming a traditionalist. At age 18 I received the award for ‘Instrumentalist of the Year’ – my career was already taking off in Nepal. At 19 I was invited to perform at the Sorbonne University in Paris. But, as much as I loved raga, I wanted to have a full range of musical experiences.

When I was 24 years old I moved to the US. I played with a jazz group, a pop band, bluegrass, Celtic – experimenting! It was fun! At that time (2001/2002), yoga was taking off in the US; I met the Bay Area musician Jai Uttal and started playing for him too.

That was when I met Deva and Miten; they were in the US for a visit and to record a new CD called Embrace. I went to the studio in San Rafael, near San Francisco, saw this couple and those very big blue eyes (Deva’s of course) looking at me. They asked me, “Do you know the song Om Tare Tuttare?” They gave me the headphones and said, “Okay, this is the song. You play.” I played straight, without practising and recorded it. Deva and Miten fell in love with me right away, and for me all I could say was, “This music is so beautiful.”

Om Tare Tuttare  – “Why are they singing mantras?” I thought that mantras should be sung in a temple or a monastery. I was a little confused. But when I heard Deva sing the mantra it was incredible! When I heard her vibrato for the first time it was clear to me that this was something different.

Is anybody in your family musical? Or is it just in you? Is it kind of a calling? And when did Osho come into your life?

I didn’t grow up in a musical family. Nobody told me about music schools. I’ve learned so much just through travelling, being with people, being and most of all listening. By deep listening I have learnt what I have so far and, of course, there will always be more to learn and to be listening even deeper.

I used to give concerts for Guru Purnima at the Tapoban Centre in Kathmandu; I knew about Osho but I was more focussed on music. My parents used to listen to cassette recordings of Osho’s talks in Hindi when I was a child. What a remarkable figure he is!

Even though I haven’t formally taken sannyas, after being so close to Deva and Miten for so many years, I feel intimately connected to Osho and the Buddhafield. It astounds me to see what an amazing community we are.

A question about your voice. When I hear it, it’s enchanting. There is something mystical about it. Was that part of your training? Did you have to match the voice to the flute?

In Indian classical music they teach you also how to sing. Singing is good; they say that as an instrumentalists if you sing with the instrument then you can really play. Even when you are playing the sitar or the flute you sing with it. You become one with it. So, in a way, the singing is seeded. It is inside me. I always felt a little shy to sing because somebody told me, when I was a kid, that flute players shouldn’t sing. So I told myself that I am not a good singer or that it would interfere with my playing.

But why sing now? When I started giving classical Indian vocal lessons to Deva, she and Miten encouraged me to sing more. I was shy but they always pushed, “Come on, Manose. Sing, sing, sing, sing.” It’s been a journey for me to sing more and more. And now I love singing. I love singing and I encourage everybody to sing more. Sing more, play the ukulele. Sing with your family, kids. Sing! Even before you eat a meal sing something… anything. Like a children’s song.

ManoseManose Singh, born in Boudha, Nepal in 1977, began studying the bansuri as a child and completed his formal music education at an early age. In 2002 he met Deva Premal and Miten with whom he has been touring globally and recording albums since. He has released six solo CDs and is a contributing artist for various musicians.

Manose is also involved in the Gayatri Fund for Nepal, see our article: Gayatri Fund for Nepal

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