John Coltrane heard it when he wrapped his saxophone around his legendary “sheets of sound.” Michael Bloomfield heard it when he cracked the modal code on his Gibson Les Paul for his song “East-West.” The Byrds heard it as they attempted to launch a 12-String Rickenbacker on “Eight Miles High.” Ray Davies may have heard it before all of them one morning in India when he heard some fishermen chanting on their way to the ocean. These chants served as the basis for The Kinks on “See My Friends.”
Ravi Shankar heard it before all of us as his sitar perched on his knee and his fingers danced on the strings, tracing a new Raga for an Eastern morning.
George Harrison heard it on the set of “Help!” A scene in an Indian restaurant involving a group of musicians struck a chord within him. These musicians were playing traditional Indian instruments of sitars, tablas and tambouras. The music felt familiar to the Beatle Guitarist and he quickly picked up a sitar.
That sitar later found itself on “Norwegian Wood,” a Lennon-McCartney composition from the 1965 Rubber Soul album.
George Harrison, picking up the sitar, became more than a musician looking for the right tool for a song or an indulgent, passing fad. George’s embrace of the sitar became a lifelong quest for spiritual enlightenment, global understanding and inner peace. In seeking to learn more about the sitar, Harrison met Ravi Shankar. Shankar was a master of the sitar and became both a musical and spiritual guru for George Harrison. This influential friendship provided a deep catalyst for The Beatles and the rest of the world to look to the East for spiritual meaning.
Pre-Sgt. Pepper tracks like “Love You To” and “Tomorrow Never Knows” demonstrated the profound impact India had on the band. There were many influences The Beatles were soaking in during this time and the Indian impact on the music led to ground-breaking movements in musical expression. “Tomorrow Never Knows” served as a major quantum leap for the band with tape loops, sitar, tamboura and Ringo Starr’s unforgettable drum breaks. This particular closing song on Revolver serves as a powerful hint at the next steps The Beatles were taking in the studio.
The following pages from “Tomorrow Never Knows” in 1966 lead towards the roads of “Strawberry Fields Forever” to “Penny Lane” and then to the Sgt. Pepper album. Skip forward a few pages on the Sgt. Pepper album to Side 2 and its opening, mystical drone of “Within You, Without You.”
Flipping to Side 2 of Sgt. Pepper is another jump into hyperspace after an album that takes the listener on a paradigm shift from the onset. “Within You, Without You” is essentially a George Harrison composition. The song is overt in its Indian influence. Harrison unabashedly peppers the song with sitars, tablas and the musical lessons he learned from Ravi Shankar. Producer George Martin infuses the song with an orchestral arrangement that deftly blends the musical sensibilities of East and West. Strings drone and harmonize with fluid echoes of sitars and other instrumentation performed by the Asian Music Circle of London. On top of this mini-Raga, Harrison echoes the Hindu concept of Maya or illusion and proclaims that Love can save the world: deep philosophical truths that would dominate the majority of Harrison’s lyrical output with The Beatles and later as a solo artist.
The Beatles leave us with some many education and leadership lessons that do indeed connect in the schoolhouse today. Schools today are fast becoming platforms for students to develop global awareness in an ever-shifting world. The world is becoming a place where we are called to see beyond ourselves and schools are doing innovative things to inspire students in becoming “in tune” with the world.
Imagine George Harrison as a 21st Century Educator today…
If George Harrison were in the schoolhouse today, my guess is that he would stand as a teacher leader for Global Collaboration. Imagine having a Mr. Harrison as a teacher. His global awareness and understanding would be a definite gift for any student seeking to develop a meaning and action for the world. I can see George Harrison leading a Google Hangout on Sustainable Development Goals and collaborating with other educators around the world like Fran Siracusa. Perhaps, George would co-present at the International Literacy Association Conference with Jennifer Williams on integrating sincere technology integration for developing nations. Maybe, Mr. Harrison would be a guest moderator for a #GlobalEdChat with Heather Singmaster and the topic would be on engaging students’ cultural perspectives with the Music of India. Perhaps, Mr. Harrison would collaborate with a global ed tech company like Kahoot!, assisting them with strategies to bridge achievement gaps in developing parts of the world. An educator like George Harrison in this imagined scenario may develop meaningful planned lessons with Cleary Vaughan-Lee of the Global Oneness Project which could serve as a resource for other teachers learning how to inspire students with broadening world perspective. I envision this teacher like George Harrison collaborating with Brad Spirrison of Participate developing professional development ideas for schools to build intentional global awareness strategies.
I see Mr. Harrison in his classroom encouraging students to take global action for children in war-torn countries like Syria. Perhaps, they’d stage a school concert aimed at raising awareness for the tragedies their global brothers and sisters are enduring. It would be akin to the real-life 1971 “The Concert for Bangladesh,” where George Harrison organized the first true Rock charity concert for the flood-ravaged land of its namesake. The concert started as a plea from his friend Ravi Shankar. Harrison and Shankar gathered musicians from all over the world to perform. Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Ali Akbar Khan, Billy Preston, Klaus Voorman and Bob Dylan joined together to make a musical statement. Most importantly, it was a selfless giant step of global action for those suffering the flooded plight.