Adarsha's diary of a singing tour of Australia/NZ

Adarsha Kelly from Glasgow has been singing Sri Chinmoy's songs for over 40 years. Sri Chinmoy regarded him as one of the best singers in the Centre and would sometimes invite him to perform during his own Peace Concerts around the world. Here, Adarsha talks about his recent singing tour of Australia and New Zealand.

Audio: Adarsha sings one of Sri Chinmoy's songs - this recording comes from Adarsha's first album, downloadable at Radio Sri Chinmoy...

Initially, I had assumed I would be singing solo as I normally do, but it was suggested that I sing with piano accompaniment. With this in mind Vapushtara, a piano virtuoso from Holland,  was invited. During our concerts, we would be joined by Alap and Lucas and the group Monk Party. We started referring to ourselves collectively as the ‘trio of duos’.

Singing with Vapushtara is a great privilege but also a big challenge. It meant learning new songs and a new set of arrangements which in turn meant lots of hard work during the autumn - particularly as the arrangements included vocal improvisations. Still, come the middle of October, I felt ready to perform, in large part because the arrangements are so striking and beautiful. By the 23rd of October I felt that I was prepared for the tour.

Auckland 25th Oct

After a 24 hour flight, I arrived in Auckland at 5am on October 25th. and was met by Jogyata. We had a very early breakfast but fairly soon I was catching up on my sleep in a very striking, split-level house in the northern part of Auckland.

That weekend there was a New Zealand Joy Weekend - a weekend of meditation, singing and spiritual practice but also of joy, games and spiritual friendship  - so Sri Chinmoy's disciples from Christchurch came up to join us and a few Australians flew over. The venue was a spiritual centre north of the city called Aio Wira. It is set in an area of really outstanding beauty and we had the place to ourselves and made use of the grounds for the Joy Weekend games.

It was during the games that I first realised I was coming down with a cold - who knew that Auckland was even damper than Glasgow! All the disciples were really kind and I must have tried at least half-a-dozen cold remedies. But to no avail - during the sound check for the concert it was clear I had no voice. So Vapushtara the Great played and sang - and did a excellent job. Like me, the audience were suitably impressed. But a false start to the tour for me. No singing in Auckland.

Christchurch 1st Nov

If Auckland looked a bit like a tropical Scotland, then Christchurch is quintessentially English. The Sri Chinmoy Centre (along with the Lotus-Heart café/gift shop/and Gandharva Loka music store) is located in imposing building and will always be associated in my mind with turmeric latté, a speciality of the Lotus-Heart Cafe. The hospitality in Auckland and Christchurch was spectacular and the meals in the café were superlative.

Lukas playing the Udu

My voice started to come back just in time for the concert. While it wasn’t perfect I was able to sing with Vapushtara for the first time. The venue was modern and very intimate. Some members of the audience spoke to me afterwards to say that they had enjoyed the singing and that they loved the combination of voice and piano. I was really happy I hadn’t left New Zealand without singing.

Lukas was less happy: during the sound check, Budhsamudra accidentally kicked over and broke the lip of his Udu - his percussion intrument. However, Anurakta came to the rescue and repaired and repainted it so perfectly that, I (for one) couldn’t see the break.

Audio: Alap and Lukas in concert

On the road to Akaroa

As a reward for practising and performing hard, we headed down to Akaroa a pretty town of French origins, for a break. The town is popular with artists and it was easy to see why, the light is so clear and sharp. As it was warm and on the coast and the sparkling aquamarine water was very inviting, the boys jumped off the peer and had a swim!

Brisbane 5th Nov

Whereas there had only been two concerts in ten days in New Zealand, the frequency became more like one concert every three days in Australia.

The Brisbane Sri Chinmoy Centre

We started in Brisbane in a local church. The programme had settled down; Alap and Lucas started us off and played for about 25 minutes, then Monk Party played for about 40 minutes and then Vapushtara and I performed for around 20 minutes.

Audio: Monk Party

We all stayed at the Brisbane Sri Chinmoy Centre, which Sri Chinmoy visited in the 1970’s. It is like a scout hall split over two levels and sub-divided to great effect into bedrooms, plus a kitchen and shower rooms - and a very useful laundry! On the lower floor, there is a very big Meditation room, plus a room where classes are offered to the public. Amalendu, and Pushpendra in particular, looked after us very well.

The Birdhouse

There is a new enterprise run by Sri Chinmoy's students in Brisbane - the Birdhouse - and there I found the next best thing to turmeric lattes - acaí! It’s like a smoothie with muesli, peanut butter, and berries added. It’s fantastic. And even better when you find yourself with Animesh and Unmilan - longtime disciples of Sri Chinmoy - in story telling mood.

The Brisbane concert was fairly well-received. One woman, whose father was also a singer who came from Glasgow, said that when I sang she heard his voice for the first time in forty years. Very touching.

Canberra 7th Nov

Prachar found a great venue for the Canberra Concert at the Wesley Music Centre. The acoustics meant that there was no need for amplification. Other than when we were rehearsing, we spent most of our time in My Rainbow-Dreams cafe or in the Canberra Sri Chinmoy Centre, which is just upstairs from the cafe.

Unlike Brisbane, which was hot, Canberra was dull and cool. We visited the statue of Sri Chinmoy on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin; it is in a beautiful location.

Sri Chinmoy's statue on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin

The concert was good, but with a couple of unforced errors from yours truly. Still the audience were appreciative in the oddest of ways. One young guy complemented me on my singing and said he was particularly pleased that I had used a recyclable water cup!! It’s the details that are important, always remember that.

Though details are not so important as meals and the performers greatly appreciated being taken for some slap-up Thai food on the lake front (different lake from the statue) followed by a trip to an ice cream parlour. Then we were on the road -or rather, in the air -again.

Melbourne 9th Nov

I really liked the city of Melbourne. The architecture is interesting (mainly Victorian with lots of wrought iron) and the feel is European, maybe French or perhaps North Italy. The hotel was only about 100 metres from Kishore and Prashanta's (the Melbourne Sri Chinmoy Centre leaders) house which is beautiful and is set off perfectly by a statue of Sri Chinmoy in the front garden. We started with food, as usual, in a great Italian restaurant which, even by New York standards, had more desserts (counter after counter) than I had ever seen before.

The concert was probably my best of the tour. Vapushtara had a grand piano here so perhaps that explained why the arrangements were so powerful and I was able to respond - although it was just as well that I was amplified and the piano wasn’t.

Adelaide 11th Nov

Adelaide was a really pleasant surprise. Melbourne, like Canberra was a bit dull and cloudy but Adelaide felt like Australia should feel - hot.

We were all staying with Padmanandana and Padmalaya in their beautifully renovated house up in the hills (where the temperature is about five degrees lower than in the city). On the way up, Padmanandana pointed out the little pieces of netting which straddle the concrete central reservation of the road. The koalas use the netting to climb over.

The concert was in a big church in the centre of town and it was the most spiritual one that I felt we gave on the tour. This was the only concert where I sang acapella at the beginning and that may have helped make it a more intense experience for me. At the end the audience didn’t want to leave and a number of people thanked us. There were even some tears.

Perth 13th November

Perth is set in a stunning location with two massive rivers creating large lagoons before flowing into a natural harbour and then the Indian Ocean. We stayed in a big chalet about a mile or so from the centre, except Vapushtara who stayed with Prabuddha (short straw).

At short notice, we asked Prabuddha to find a rehearsal space with a piano and he came up trumps -locating an upright in a Community Centre close by. However, when Vapushtara went to play it we discovered that the middle two keys were stuck together. In seconds Vapushtara had the sounding board off and had extracted the two keys from the keyboard. He said that the lead seals at the back of the keys had expanded, hence the problem. They needed to be sanded down. While he was wondering how this might be achieved, Prabuddha grabbed the keys and started rubbing them against the brick wall. When he had finished, again, within seconds, Vapushtara had put the piano back together - this time with 88 working keys.

Grahak had an article printed in the local paper to advertise the concert; his copy had been used almost verbatim and in it he referred to me as having a ‘Highlander Voice’. Whatever that is, I am fairly sure I don’t have it. On the first morning we went to Cottesloe Beach where we swam, ran (or walked). Beautiful light, great weather and stunning seafront condos, spoiled slightly by swarms of flies.

Soundcheck at the concert venue

The Perth Concert was the best attended and took place in the most professional venue - we had both a sound engineer and a stage manager. The only downside was that backstage was air-conditioned so it felt like a fridge, and having only just recovered from one cold I was worried about starting another. Rather than surrender to this, I took to wearing a scarf and running all the showers to get a hot damp atmosphere. I doubt anything I did made much difference, but it was certainly our best performance of Tomari Hok Joy which was the last song.

I talked to the audience in the foyer afterwards and met a chap from Falkirk who was well-impressed with the concert and a woman who I had apparently inspired to re-start her singing career.

Canberra 15th November

The Perth Concert marked the end of the tour. Everyone else headed back home but, at Prachar’s invitation, I went back to Canberra. The Australian Sri Chinmoy Centre are famous for their organisation of endurance sporting events, and they need all the volunteers they can get. The Sri Chinmoy Triple Triathlon was taking place, and registration was at My Rainbow-Dreams Cafe the day after I got back; the sun shone outside and the athletes were very nice (and patient), so Satyakarma and I had a fairly easy time with the registration.

On the day of the race I teamed up with Kishore and found myself ticking off swimmers and getting them to sign disclaimers beside a lake in the pre-dawn, while Kishore started the whole event off. It was a long and rewarding day, the most memorable story concerns Prachar, who flits about the event like the Scarlet Pimpernel. At our last changeover he turned up to collect the time sheets from our previous changeover (they re-use disciples a lot -I suppose that’s good for the environment).About twenty minutes after he left two little kids came and gave us the time sheets back. Followed a few minutes later by a very nice man who gave us Prachar’s mobile phone. He had left everything in the toilets of the local Burger King. So much grace -or dumb luck.

After the triple triathlon I gave a singing workshop in the same hall we had performed in a couple of weeks earlier. I told the story of how I developed as a singer, punctuated by songs. Sri Chinmoy's disciples as well as interested members of the public were there and it seemed to go down very well. Just before I left I also did a solo recital at the same venue.

Finally, on Sunday 25th, exhausted and happy - but mainly exhausted - I flew back home, just in time for my Birthday!

Adarsha Kelly

Cross-posted from