Worship Refreshed

There’s something so uplifting about listening to good worship music. This morning I woke up and switched on the Hillsongs YouTube channel and it’s been playing ever since as I have continued to get on with my weekend chores.

imagesCAS9HOEOMusic has always spoken to me. I can still remember the songs I learned as a child in Sunday school and the lyrics that spoke to me as a teenager as if they had been written just for me to understand the stuff I was experiencing— and I remember exactly how I felt at the time. I remember the joy and the tears, the peace and the discontent. And the longer I journey with the Lord, the more I believe that He intended for me to attach music to my life experiences in this way. That’s what the book of Psalms is for, isn’t it? There is literally a song for every life experience.

I miss the worship from my church back home. Not the songs, not the instruments but the experience – the feeling of being in the presence of friends and family as we sing about our faith, our hopes and aspirations and our collective gratitude and praise.

Worship helps me refocus my life on Him Regardless of what I see or what I am feeling inside. You see, when we take our eyes off of ourselves and fix them on the Lord, everything around us looks different, doesn’t it? I don’t know about you, but I have walked through some tough experiences. I have been humbled and tested over and over. Worship songs somehow capture my complete and utter dependence on the Lord and remind me of His strength and faithfulness months and years later. When I sing those songs now, I’m transported to those moments when every step I took depended on His strength, and my faith is strengthened and refreshed anew.

Anyway I don’t have anything deep or serious to say this morning. I woke up feeling a little down and the weather outside did not help make me feel better. But like always, I tuned on some worship music and I was instantly reminded of how blessed I am and how His grace will always be enough for me.

Whether it was singing in the choir, being part of outreach music programmes or simply humming along to Paul Blaoche or Sandy Patty’s songs while I was growing up, the language of music is an integral thread in the fabric of the person I am today.

If you’re feeling down, give it a try – it will uplift your spirit too.

“Don’t let life affect your worship; let your worship effect life”—LaMar Boschman

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Wise Words From Jimi Hendrix

zap_hendrixEven though Jimi Hendrix is widely associated with the overuse of psychedelic drugs, he was quite the thinker wasn’t he? Or maybe the cannabis had something to do with it. I mean, all you have to do is Google ‘Jimi Hendrix Quotes’ and you’ll discover that he was quite an intellectual and some of his words continue to resonate long and loud just like the haunting tune of ‘Purple Haze’.

One quote that has been on my mind quite a lot lately is ‘Knowledge Speaks but Wisdom Listens ‘

While this can be interpreted by several people in several ways, I think the line speaks volumes to the plight of teachers in a world where they seem to be relentlessly racing against the clock. Taking the time to listen to others, whether they be students, parents, or colleagues, can make or break the effect you can have on a conversation and in that particular relationship.

In a school day that is governed by a dozen activities, hectic teaching periods, break time duties, substitution minutes, documentation, countless e-mails, irate parents and long term planning, it can often be very difficult for a teacher to consistently find the time to actually listen to his/her class and their ideas or spend time with someone who needs a friend or teacher to talk to.

I don’t mean that teachers today are ignoring their students and pushing ahead with the million things that deserve their attention, but I do mean that the really important stuff, like emotional support, or guidance and intervention in a personal issue – you know, things that really matter to students can often be negated into the background in a work day. I know there have been days when I’ve gone home at night and as I lay in bed in those minutes before sleep comes calling, I’ve realized that there was that one boy who tried to say something that seemed important or a colleague who looked like he/she needed to get something off their chest.

Wisdom will always tell us to listen. What we are told by people matters. It is these conversations that make our lessons all the more worthwhile and help to forge lasting relationships through the rapports that we build and the people we invest in.

Teachers have all kinds of subject knowledge, but it is through their commitment to really listening to the things that often go unsaid or need a gentle goading to be discussed that give them a sense of strength and purpose.

More often than not, wisdom can elude us. It is a challenge to execute control in a crazy class room and yet show that you care and you are willing to listen but, I’ve made this part of my teaching philosophy and cannot overemphasize the importance of Hendrix’s words.

Listen intently and wisdom will find you – comments that fall on deaf ears can often be the ones most in need of our attention. So don’t get caught up with the ‘hurly burly’ of all those lessons – take time to breathe, take time to slow down. Take time to listen.

The Wizard of Oz

This year marks 73 years since the cult film The Wizard of Oz with a sixteen year old Judy Garland made its debut in the United States of America. This simple tale about Dorothy and her eclectic set of companions has captivated audiences for decades now and has prompted critics and intellectuals world over to analyze it and try to figure out what makes it so popular with people. It isn’t uncommon for children’s stories to have deeper subtexts, so many of them do and this one too has been read and re-read for various interpretations. Whether or not The Wizard of Oz was intended as such is beside the point, if it now can function for that purpose, why not?

But, thats not what prompted me to suddenly write about the story. You see, led by some exceptionally gifted musical mavericks that I can call my colleagues, this week the kids at my school put up a wonderful theatrical rendition of this story and like everything my school does, it was spectacular! The magic began as soon as the lights dimmed and the orchestra began to serenade the audience with the soulful version of Somewhere over the Rainbow. And that was just the beginning of the pizzazz and excitement that the middle school kids brought to The Wizard of Oz, a show in which limitations do not exist and boundaries are limitless. A show that teaches them to let love, wisdom and courage be their guiding lights. What a fabulous message to leave our children with.

I was able to walk into the show on several occasions and watch the kids come alive on stage and each time I watched it, my heart and chest swelled with pride. I felt so much satisfaction and sheer delight watching these young children transform in front of my eyes. All across the auditorium sat captivated participants in this fantasy world, interacting with the characters on stage, laughing or screaming and engaging with the performance.

What natural little stars they were…and you should know this, not a single one of them needs a stage in order to shine. They do it every day, but nevertheless the journey they have undertaken in the last few months has been inspiring, to say the least. They have shown unbelievable growth in just a few months.  They left their hearts on that stage and I was amazed to see how committed some of them have been, dancing and singing as if their life depended on this performance.

To anyone who thinks magic can only happen in the movies or on the hallowed stages of the West End or Broadway, or thinks that it can only be accomplished through special effects and giant machines, I challenge you to come watch the kids at my school performing. They fly, they sing, they dance and they inspire everyone who chooses to let them do all that…and if that’s not magic, what is?

P.S: I must make special mention of the main cast: Mathew Jose, Anush Singh Arvind, Ananya George, Ali B, Zahan Barucha and Aditi Umashankar….. you kids were amazing. You are so talented and so blessed. Your futures are as bright as the sun and I am so proud of you.

Eagles – “In the City”

Last night I had one of the most spectacular experiences of my life. After months of waiting and counting down the days, I finally got to watch the Eagles perform live in Dubai – and damn! What an awesome show it was! One could imagine that after four decades beyond when their hits were first declared hits, the Eagles would be more like ageing doves by now, but thankfully, they are still going strong and sounding better than ever before.

I have been to several great concerts in the last few years ( Celine Dion, Maroon 5, Backstreet Boys, Beyoncé, Jay Sean, Usher, Westlife and even Rakhi Sawant – don’t ask me about that last one…that’s for an entirely different blog post) but the sound of the Eagles has by far been the very best. In fact the songs weren’t just the best, they were awesome. The only thing better would have been getting to go out for some beers with them afterward.

The combination of talent in the band is unbelievable, with the force of Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Joe Walsh, and Timothy Schmit. Between them they are able to compose slices of life, which the whole world can relate to. Aren’t you so grateful that Hell finally froze over?

As we were entering the arena, we could already hear the strains of Take it Easy hitting the airwaves and in about 15 seconds flat, beers in hand we were all singing along. The ambience was electrifying and the Eagles seemed determined to play note, after note, after note, after perfect note, just like they are on the original recordings.

Joe Walsh was undoubtedly the star of the show. I didn’t realize until recently, what an integral part Walsh has played in the band, directing them to move away from mellow hits like Take It Easy to the iconic Hotel California and Life in the Fast Lane. In fact all the best notes and the hypnotizing guitar solos in Hotel California are played by Walsh himself.  What talent, what a voice, such an attitude – a complete maverick!

And then it finally happened, though the song started off with an air of mystery, it soon stepped into the instantly recognizable. And every one of the twenty thousand  individuals there stood transfixed through the 7 minutes of sheer auditory pleasure. The only conscious thing I remember doing during the song was to turn my phone camera on in video mode. Everything else was a transcendental blur. Once Hotel California (which I believe to be even more superior to Stairway to Heaven) was done; we knew the end was near and in a fitting finale to their note-perfect performance came the most brilliant display of fireworks I have ever seen.

As the luminous lights lit up the desert sky, I stood there mesmerized realizing that I was experiencing something that will last with me forever – I was a tiny part of the Eagles musical journey!

Like my pronouncement on Hotel California being superior to Stairway to heaven, I have one concluding point to make. It has been more than forty years since the Eagles started churning out hits and album after brilliant album. And though they took a 13 year siesta here they are still playing together as masterfully as when they first began. All around us musical careers are made and broken in quick succession, artists spend a few months in the spotlight and then disappear into oblivion forever, so it is high time we give the Eagles the respect they deserve and call them the “Greatest Band still performing” and when I say that, I’m not afraid at all of any stones that may be rolling threateningly in my direction. Bring it on! The Eagles are by far The Best!

Whitney Houston

I woke up this morning, switched on CNN and was shocked to learn that Whitney Houston had passed away suddenly on the eve of the 2012 Grammy awards. As I took in the startling news I felt even worse when I learned that she was only 48 years old.

Growing up in the 80’s, I was introduced to Whitney’s music at an early age. My mum is a diehard fan and I even remember how upset I was when my mum and dad went to watch ‘The Bodyguard’ and left me alone at home one evening.

In an industry flooded with artists who disappear after scoring one hit single or album, Houston’s longevity was unquestioned and unparalleled. Starting young, she dominated the charts for over two decades with one platinum selling album after another. Her songs always displayed her soulful church-choir roots while also celebrating her pop sensibilities. Every single or ballad had meaningful lyrics and haunting tunes that reverberated long after the album had released. Her sound was distinct. It was heartfelt. It was moving.

Sadly in her later years, Whitney’s tumultuous personal life overshadowed her professional brilliance. In the early 90’s her music suffered and her album sales plummeted and she continued to make headlines for all the wrong reasons. An abusive husband, drug problems, and bad publicity combined together and sent the diva spiraling out of control. It was quite a while before she eventually emerged restored and healed.

Today I watch numerous teens trying to find a foothold in the music industry. So many of them attempt to recreate the magic of ‘I Will Always Love You’ or ‘When You Believe’ and fail miserably. There can never be another Whitney. Ever.

I was so happy when she made a comeback alongside Enrique Iglesias with the track ‘Could I Have This Kiss Forever’. I assumed it was time for the comeback of ‘The Voice’ but sadly that was not meant to be. Regardless of her many troubles and fall from grace, I will always remember her as amazing woman behind hits such as “I Will Always Love You” and ‘Dance With Somebody’.

To say that Whitney Houston influenced my own musical sensibilities – is an understatement. I grew up listening to her music and being amazed by her talent. Though she is no more, her memory will live on through her music and through the lives of those who were touched by it. I hope that this legendary woman who sang so bravely and so vulnerably about the power of love will also be remembered and celebrated with much love.

R.I.P Whitney, you will be missed.

Un-thinkable

Hi everyone, I hope you’re all doing well. It’s been three jam-packed days since my return from Cape Town and I have not even had a chance to unpack. I’m literally living out of my suitcase! ( for some reason, I love how that sounds…)

So, this evening while I was walking home from the barber shop, my ipod was on shuffle mode and I found myself listening to the soulful voice of Alicia Keys. Her song titled ‘Un-thinkable’ has some really thought provoking lyrics and with all the rubbish out there, a song like this is a refreshing change and is so worth listening to.

So that got me thinking and I decided that it would be the perfect material for a blog return.

One of the lines of the song goes like this… “if we do the unthinkable would it make us look crazy…?” 

I think the answer to that question is, yes.  Always yes.  Hell yes. To do anything out of the ordinary, to experience anything unique or rare will call on us to step out of our comfort zones, to do whatever it takes, to push our personal limits and to have guts and conviction in equal measure. Those things generally do make people look crazy. Everyone from Newton, Bell, Shakespeare, Steve Jobs and even our modern day tycoons have all at some point in their lives, been accused of being crazy mavericks.

But, a little later in the song comes what I feel is the most important line of the lyrics … a loaded statement that makes all the difference and separates those who can think the unthinkable and those who can’t.

The line goes – “if you ask me I’m ready”

Alicia Keys claims to be ready – ready to think the unthinkable. Ready to dare. Ready to dream. Ready to be.

What about you? Can you say the same? Are you willing? Are you ready? Does it bother you that people will have opinions? Does the fact that people may laugh, jeer, mock and insult deter you? Remember there will always be people who encourage and strengthen you too. Which voices will you choose to listen to?

Writing this post was like talking to and advising myself. I had secretly promised myself not to make too many resolutions this year for I rarely keep my word. Breaking promises you make to yourself is always the easiest. However, I’m going to find one unthinkable thing to do in 2012. Just one. It may happen now, or months later. But I’m going to make sure I find a way to make it happen.

Alicia Keys says she’s ready. What about us?

Music, Courage and Death Threats

I just watched an incredible documentary on Fox Traveler of how young people in Afghanistan are risking their lives to take part in ‘Afghan Star’ – a talent/reality show that has mesmerized music lovers in war torn Afghanistan. Once upon a time, music was outlawed by the Taliban, so the show has unsurprisingly found itself the target of violent religious extremists. Anyone who participates in ‘Afghan Star’ does so at their own risk putting not only their own lives but the lives of their loved ones at risk as well.

Launched a couple of years ago, the show which was dismissed as one that would never take off, has seen unprecedented participation with as many as 2000 people from around the region flocking to its auditions each season. Many of the participants from previous seasons are now in hiding. Their lives are under threat.

The documentary was an eye-opener for me. I find it so incredible that pop culture has permeated through, to even the most volatile places on earth – Afghanistan, a country where until just a few years ago, music was banned. Inspite of every threat, very tangible danger and palpable fear, these gutsy young people are gradually mustering up tremendous courage to follow their dreams.

I found the story so compelling and so inspiring. Inspite of everything these people have gone through, the decades of oppressive rule and the heinous crimes committed against them by the Bush government, their spirit remains strong and unflinching. They continue to hope, to dream and to aspire towards a peaceful future.

Clearly dreams, hopes and aspirations are the common factors among all of humanity. After decades of musical censorship, people in Afghanistan can still be imprisoned for owning a cassette, people are beaten regularly for possessing handy cams and compact disks and yet a new generation of fearless, bold Afghans are coming out of the woodwork, albeit temporarily, to give vent to their dreams. In a short period of time they have resurrected and revolutionized the musical landscape of a war raved nation.

The wounds of Afghanistan’s brutal wars are still raw and bare, and this fearless minority has still to deal with so many challenges, the worst I imagine is being torn between traditional Islamic beliefs and western liberalism. But for once, it’s not a deadly explosion that’s rocking the Afghanistan – its music and that I think is a positive sign of upcoming social change.