The Songs of Francis Brabazon
These days Francis Brabazon would be called, more than likely, an ethnomusicologist or have a degree in singing and musicianship or theory and composition. This love of music and song are constantly singing throughout his many wonderful books. His love of the poem and respect for meter are such that a singer can put most of his work to a tune. I use the word tune as that is what Francis would call his melodies. The word tune was used with the appreciation and humility that every tune is influenced by another tune. His tunes were designed to give importance to the words in accordance with Meher Baba's requirements: "Good words, good music, and a good singer: the tune should tickle the ear so that the mind becomes attentive and the message of the singer reaches the heart."
Francis used a musical notation that is displayed through numbers and not notes on a bar line. "The musical notation employed is designed to give primary importance to the words. It will also be found that this notation is much easier to read for one unpracticed at sight singing," said Francis. I entered the following into my song book in 1972 as related by Francis: Baba said, "All the music in the world is only to tickle the ear to let the words into the heart."
Francis' notation system also made it easy for the musician or singer to transpose to different keys. And it gives a clear picture of the form and structure of the music. Pitch was indicated by the notes being given numbers 1-7, flattening or sharpening of notes is indicated in the usual way: "b" or "#". Octaves indicated by a dash under or above the number. Time and rhythm is done the usual way with time signature at the start of the first bar. Duration is indicated by semiquavers, quavers, crotchets or minums (sixteenth notes, eighth notes, quarter notes, half notes) and they are below the pitch numbers. Harmony is indicated by roman numerals. This is a very brief description but gives the idea.
Many of Francis' songs were written in India and actually the above notation resembles the Indian Raga Notation system called Saregam. Francis would sometimes see Meher Baba delight in a melody and would ask Mani how the tune went. Mani Irani (Meher Baba's sister) would hum it to him and he would be able, due to her knowledge of Saregam, and his invention of the number system, to jot it down fairly accurately. Roshan Kerawalla also tells a similar story of Francis wanting a melody from her of the song "Pilay Pilay" that Baba loved and says he came to Bindra House to have her sing this song and Francis jotted it down, then based the idea for "The Blacksmith Song" on it. This story is on her CD "Songs Meher Baba Enjoyed." In David Fenster's Mehera-Meher, A Divine Romance, we read: There was a time when Baba asked Mani to practice "Begin The Beguine" and Francis to accompany her on harmonium, such a lovely scene to imagine. Rano Gayley (fellow resident Western Mandali) was the typist for the first drafts of Francis' English ghazals and The Word at World's End and some of the songs from Four and Twenty Blackbirds and she would cry whilst typing, "The words were so beautiful," Rano said.
Francis touched on all types of music in his songs: Latin American, Middle
Eastern, Ghazals, Bhajans, Qwaali, Mantra, Folk, Blues, Gospel, Country and
Classical Art Song. Among his many books I will mention the song books
mostly. We have the beautiful songs in Let Us The People Sing written in
1962 at a time when Baba asked Francis for more songs. Francis composed
more, and sang one to Baba every day. Francis then gave them to Baba as a
Birthday gift. Baba set the limit to 25 songs and then expressed His wish
that they be published as a book (Family Letters). Three songs that come
to mind from that book are "Someone," "Meher's Necklace" and "The Journey."
Francis says of these songs "Through His Song of Creation God came to
know Himself: By singing His praise men come to know who He is Whole
God Perfect Man. Let us the people sing. The business of real art has
always been to entertain God with praise of God as Man and with tales of
the love relationship of man to God. The journey is learning to sing and
the path is within His Song."
Francis removes the sandals from Baba's feet.
In my early days at Avatar's Abode in late 1969 when Francis returned form his 11 years in India, I heard Jenny and Marie LePage sing "Tears Come Into My Eyes" and "What's This Gay Scene to Me" so purely and innocently with such wonderful lyrics, and I realized Francis wrote music. We had been introduced to his poetry Seven Stars To Morning, Stay With God, and of course Baba's books, at weekly readings, but I had not heard his music until then. Six months later we heard more of his music at my first Anniversary in 1970 including Robert Rouse's "Star over Maroochydore" and from The Birth of a Nation, "Waiting for '56." I plucked up the courage and sang "Eileen," my first song to Beloved Baba. We also realized Francis had written many plays by staging "The Moon" from Singing Threshold. We found out he wrote essays and talks when hearing him read at the opening of the Anniversary, and heard him read You Who Marry Today at the first wedding at Avatars Abode in 1971. We formed a singing group under the direction of Sam Saunders and Francis and started singing songs at monthly meetings and practicing for the Anniversary weekly. Over the next couple of years we heard Chris Grey sing songs including "Meher's Necklace," Robert Welsh and Richard Lockwood's presentation of a musical interpretation of The Quest (this had been performed for Baba when He came to Australia in 1956). The late Rod Brown wrote a song with the words "let us the people sing" in the chorus and we all sang it. After hearing Francis play for us his record of Beethoven's "Pastoral Symphony," Rod gave the musical theme Baba words; Francis was very happy with him. In 1973, Cantos of Wandering, A Singing to the Eternal Beloved and Being Is Dying By Loving were performed.
By 1975 Francis wrote to a friend "You will be pleased to know that there was a new singing at the Anniversary last month," and that was the first presentation of some of the newly published ghazals. The Avatar's Abode Singers also had instrumentalists, Joanna Bruford on recorder, Gary Lindsay playing clarinet and Sam Saunders playing other instruments as well as guitar. Richard Lockwood had some fabulous renditions of Francis' Four and Twenty Blackbirds (nursery rhymes), and we performed the play Squares. These were early impressions of Francis' diversity and musicality. Now, I will stop this brief reminiscing about early days and speak more about Francis' music in song.
The East-West Gathering, sublime and unique for it's combination of prose, poetry and song, commemorates the occasion at Guruprasad when Lovers from both East and West were invited for Meher Baba's Darshan on the first of November, 1962, in Pune. Amidst the whole lovely historical account we find 29 songs, mostly for convenience put to known tunes, but some new tunes also. In the middle of "The East-West Gathering" is a narration and song section, an aside, based on a talk by Baba. This is "The Eight Sorts of Lovers." We are encouraged to think of Baba as the King who lives in His Palace with His Mandali of the inner court and different lovers and workers of the City of Love, as His subjects. "Now there are 8 sorts of lovers: Desirers, Workers, Resigners, Builders, Simple-praisers, Quiet-dwellers, Proclaimers and Servers; each type of lover has a narration and his own wonderful appropriate song. These can be heard on the CD "The 8 Sorts of Lovers of God." The Simple Praisers have "O glorious eternal ancient one" as their song. When Baba heard this He proclaimed "This is the first English (language) Arti" and at another time Rano told us Baba said, "O glorious eternal ancient one is a true Western Arti." The use of known tunes in the East-West Gathering was also due to the speed with which Baba wanted this book published. These songs were sung by Francis for Baba at Meherazad. In the preface he says, "This is the song story of an event unique in History, yet it is an event for which man has long prayed and worked in the coming together of people from many parts of the world in the Name of Love and Truth. One day mankind will gather for Love's sake and the main agenda will be song-stories on the Life of the God Man." Mani said of this book, "It is not merely a shore account of that oceanic event in history Francis has sailed beyond the horizon to reveal a breath-taking expanse of the beauty of God as Man" (Family Letters).
A Singing to the Eternal Beloved was written for Baba on His last Birthday in this body and presented to Baba on 25th February 1968. In the preface Francis says, "The repetition of the Name of God Man and the praise of His attributes has always been known to be the most interesting and beautiful path to the door of the Beloved. It has been found better to sing His Name to simple tunes which give it buoyancy." This song cycle with recitations is meditative and it's progression gradually more difficult in words and melody. Tucked in the middle of it in section "e" are three ghazals revealing, in a deep and humorous way, the journey to God and many of it's secrets. (These are also published posthumously in The Beloved Is All In All, pages 70, 71 and 72.) I remember thinking in 1970 when first learning the songs in A Singing To The Eternal Beloved from Francis himself that they were too easy. Yet as time goes by I realize it is as difficult to sing pure simple songs as it is to sing complex songs. To keep ones attention focused and keep the intention clear and interpret the beauty of the words in a simple melody is a challenge. This piece is an introduction to a new kind of English chant written to be sung by the people, not by the priests, about Baba' s messages concerning evolution, involution, the traps of maya and ego, and the beautifully resounding Mantra of His Name. This wonderful medley of seven songs is available on CD, "A Singing To The Eternal Beloved," recorded at Meherazad by The Love Street Singers.
As a group we sang it many times and when we went to Meherabad and Meherazad with Francis in 1973 we sang it on the stage at Amartithi. The Mandali were so happy to hear it again. Our group sang many songs at Mandali Hall, Meherazad, two of which were "Whole God Perfect Man" melody and words in classical song form written by Francis, and "Baba Now We Stand Before You" to the melody of Beethoven's "Ode to Joy." About this business of often borrowing melodies: When once asked, Francis said that one is writing lyrics to a tune which more often than not has had several sets of words written to it over time, as in the case of "Londonderry Air," a very old Irish folk melody, "Danny Boy" and Francis' song, "The Dawn Light Breaks" are set to it. He also said that he feels he is doing the composer a favor in presenting the tune to the Avatar come again.
Upon returning from India Francis finished writing what he called a "serious revue," Being Is Dying By Loving. This revue has 25 scenes and almost every scene has a song. All lyrics and melodies by Francis (except two) and all set within a scene of poetry, play or narration. It opens and closes with "The Dawn Song:" "Being is dying by loving, this is the song which I the dawn am bringing. Awake, arise for love's dear sake, Awake and sing." The songs are mostly in the classical Art Song tradition and are the culmination of many ideas Francis had in this musical direction for a long time; One of the songs, "A Thousand Times," was sung to Baba in 1968 and Baba, beaming with pleasure, said as he would always say to Francis after he sang him a new song, "This is one of the best you have done Francis you have surpassed yourself" (The Family Letters). The play is rich with truth and invites one to enter the heart through song, prose and poetry. At the end we are invited to join in "making it new" for Baba, to begin our own attempts at the art of trying to entertain Him: "Baba is making it new, Baba is making it new for you, Baba is in your hands to do." Most of these songs can be found in "The Golden Book Of Praise" and on the CD "Being is Dying By Loving," recited and performed as originally sung.
The Golden Book of Praise is notated and published by The Awakener series organized by Filis Frederick. In 1979, when I went to America, Filis found out I was traveling around with the original song books which were often the only record of songs that Francis handed out over the years. Filis said she had not realized Francis wrote music, she felt every one should share in knowing his beautiful songs once she heard them. Filis approached Francis in 1981 when she visited Avatar's Abode about publishing his songs in a song book as an Awakener edition, and Francis was pleased about the idea and he and Sam selected songs with the help of copies of those old song books of mine.
Another lovely selection were songs Francis put to Swedish Folk Music at the request of May Lundquist: "Come Hear My Lovely Song," "On Kiel Mountain," "In The City," "Rains & Droughts," "Come And Dance," "Not Yet Is The Song Sung," "Let Us Make A Singing," "Joyful Song," "Distant He Lingers," "Love & Reason," the first verse of which says: "When friends gather in His Name Jaya Jay, Jaya Jay, and He puts in song His flame Jaya Jaya Jay, Love comes stealing though the door, Jaya Jay, Jaya Jay, Reasons voice is heard no more, Jaya jaya jay." These songs are evergreens, beautifully crafted by a fine knowledge of tone, rhythm and line.
There are amazing collections of different genres of songs: Blues and Gospel songs such as "Turning from Side to Side," "Handsome Rider," "4 Day Week," "Weary Man," "Sea of Tears," "Cry Song," "Shining Road," "O When the Brave," "Israel." The Latin American songs like "Love Street," "Go Ask of The High Stars Gleaming," "But Ah Me," "White Dove" etc., the reams of Folk Songs and Love Songs and the more Classical and Art songs, including "House in the Rain," "O Sun In Splendor," "A Thousand Times," "Journey" and "Journey's End," "O Man" and "The Australian Arti." Again, many of these songs can be found in The Golden Book of Praise. In the preface of this book Francis says, "The business of great song has always been the praise of the object and person of Love. I have tried in this song book to fashion these songs accordingly; but God knows how poor (when compared with a master singer such as Leadbelly) have been my attempts."
Francis loved the songs of Bellini, Ralph Vaughn Williams, Pergolisi, Scarlatti, Schubert, Faure, Beethoven, Mozart, Debussy, Villa Lobos and others. Francis had diverse taste in music. He also liked Percy Grainger, he admired his diligence in collecting English Folk songs and between him and his friend and mentor Grieg, causing a revival of them. He liked Palestrina for his freer rhythms and inclusion of the influence of older modes and yet also liked Bach due to his adherence to the major and minor systems and more strict rhythms. These influences in his melodically rich songs about the lover-Beloved relationship requires study and interpretive skill. Francis influenced some of us to find good teachers and study singing and music. Once Baba told Francis at Meherazad when he seemed glum and frustrated with writing at Baba's request: "Do not worry Francis, one day a singer with a touching voice like Jim Reeves will come along and sing your ghazals" (Mehera-Meher, A Divine Romance). Francis said of Baba, "He was a silence that broke into a thousand melodies then returned to itself so that we could sing and dance and be happy along the road to His door."
Francis noticed that Baba would light up in different ways over different musical presentations, and that He seemed to light up the most when a good ghazal singer would come along to entertain Him. Francis then thought to write ghazals in the English Language. "For this new lovely song a billion years I had toiled, I used oceans of ink, and continents of paper had spoiled." The ghazals in In Dust I Sing were all written in India before 1964 and presented to Baba in batches, and Baba had them read to Him many times. They were finally published in 1974. Francis said the form was a combination of the Sonnet and the Persian Ghazal. In regards to Baba, Hafiz, Francis and ghazals here are some things that Baba said: to Filis at Myrtle Beach, "Francis is like Hafiz." To Francis "You are my modern Hafiz." Francis relates the story that Baba asked him to recite his own ghazals three times, and when asked why three times, Baba replied that He was memorizing them for when He returned in seven hundred years. Once when someone had asked Baba for material things, Francis looked annoyed. Baba turned to Francis and said, "Ask for anything Francis and you can have it." Francis replied with a twinkle in his eyes, "I do not ask for anything, but if I did, a bloke wouldn't mind if he did not have to hear the name of Hafiz again," which made Baba laugh.
Francis did not put any of the ghazals to music from his English language books of ghazals; he has left it to us new musicians to do so. Once when someone presented a new version of one of Francis songs someone said, "that tune was not the real one." Francis replied, "A poet could not be happier if there was one hundred tunes to each poem (or ghazal)." Regarding Francis' ghazals set to melody: I recently heard that the Argentinian group have done a few; Robert Welsh has recorded two CDs: "Singing Dust" and "Hammers In The Sun;" David Miotke has his CD "In Dust I Sing;" Sam Saunders has his cassette: "The Dust in Love Street," and his group Muzica's CDs: "A Box of Dreams" and "The Street of Barefoot Lovers" which include his tunes to Francis' ghazals and there are his tunes to ghazals on the great old Avatars Abode albums. Peter Davies has a new CD including some, called "A Song Or Two Ago." There is my own new, "I Dwell In Dust" and "Sing," with Robert Welsh, Sam Saunders, Heather Nadel, and my own melodies. We musicians are still busy having a go at it and hopefully many others will join in.
Sam Saunders also has many melodies to Francis' ghazals from The Beloved Is All In All, sung by himself and his group, The Wine Shop Singers. Francis in a ghazal in this book says, "Francis, tell them your secret: The Beloved cannot resist good singing for long That's been His weakness ever since He sang the world into being with a song." Sam has also put to melody the magnificent "Hymn To God The Man" from Word At World's End. He began his work on this piece in 1974 with the earlier version of "How Beautiful You Are," so Francis had heard some of it while alive. John Isaacs and a friend sing "A Dream of Wet Pavements" from the same book. In the preface of this book Francis says "To entertain the Beloved is the only valid reason for a poem."
Francis was very encouraging and became a musical mentor as well as a friend. He would have us gather together at Avatar's Abode for musical appreciation evenings and we would hear selections from his vast record collection. Over the years one could not have had a better musical education, a more thorough overview of true musicianship, the history of music, notation, and lyrical depth explained to us: Bellini, Monteverdi, Ravel, Palestrina, Beethoven, Bartok, Bach, Villa Lobos, Latin American artists, Troubadour songs, Madrigals, pianists, choirs and soloists. He also played us the album of Gerald Moore "The Unashamed Accompanist" and encouraged us to buy his book, "Am I Too Loud," pointing out the importance of subtle accompaniment and how it should not dominate the song but enhance it, the need for interpretation as well as clear enunciation of words. He began to hand out more and more of his words and music to various ones in the group and some branched out and became soloists. He would listen to us rehearsing every weekend and make us stop at around 9:30 PM for a cuppa and always treated us lovingly.
Mani said in The Family Letters of Francis' music: "At Meherazad, Baba's Bard, Francis, sings to Baba the songs in which the words tell of the lover's delight in the Beloved and of the difficulties which the lover experiences, in which the melodies so fit the words that the flavor of the words is fully brought out. Many a song Francis weaves for Him from the sunbeams of his love, that the burden of his songs may ease the Beloved's burden to the extent of each refrain." I have only mentioned some of Francis' songs and books of poetry here and this really could be a prelude to a book about his music. In his autobiography The Wind of the Word Francis says, "All that matters is the love with which one does what one does the love and the song in ones words." Francis did his utmost to create and bring about new music and new poetry for Baba and as His resident Poet-Mandali had every opportunity to get that job done. His music, songs and ghazals will last 700 years until the Beloved returns to us. As Francis said of good songs, "With that, even 700 years will soon pass."
"Sing the songs of complaint and praise which the Beloved so relishes for in essence that is what every one is, a song of complaint and praise."
His unpublished plays:
Books to read: