Conversation with Arthur Lee

Arthur Lee, a professional musician, recording artiste, music instructor and Eckankar youth class teacher had a vision that he could master his instrument as a boy. In this interview with Amechi Chukwujama, he lays bare the principles and practices that assists him in finding joy and adventure in making people happy…

Can you recall the earliest time you handled a musical instrument?

When I was probably about three years old I used to set up pillows on my couch. I would play with chopsticks – like I was drumming. I started early in life from previous incarnations of drumming in this lifetime as a drummer. When I was 17 I started playing guitar.

What other musical instruments do you play?

Guitar is my main instrument. I can play a little bit of mandolin. I can play some bass guitar.

How will you describe what you do to a four-year-old?

I will say that I play music to make people happy.

Where have you played?

All over the United States. I’ve played in Canada and Belgium. I’ve played now in Africa – Togo, Ghana, and Nigeria.

How do you get inspiration for your songs?

Mainly from the ECK or Spirit. In my life, there are different ways that the Spirit teaches me lessons. Then I write songs, expressing spiritual principles in ways that can teach people about Spirit and open their heart to God’s love. The inspiration can come through life. It can come from the words of my spiritual teacher, Sri Harold Klemp, the Mahanta, the Living ECK Master. Sometimes it can come through my wife. We write songs together, too. She writes the words as I play. I get inspired by the innovations Spirit gives her through the music.

Is your wife a professional musician, too?

She is a musician at heart. She is a poet and a lyricist. She is very gifted and very intelligent.

From the time that you get the idea or inspiration, what’s your process of translating it into music that people listen to and appreciate?

A couple of different ways. This is something that will be of benefit to musicians and people who write songs. What I do is to write the words first. Then I’ll take the words and sing without my guitar, without any musical instruments. Then you go to your instruments and figure out what the chords are. Then you get to harmonize it. You can come up with interesting chords that go along with melody notes. When you come up with the melody first it becomes very strong. It’s like the melody is where you’re going from.

Another way of doing it is the approach I use when co-writing with my wife. I’ll play the guitar and she can do a spiritual exercise a form of contemplation]. She’ll close her eyes and go into the music – go into her experience of the music and the visions that she gets from listening to the music. That’ll inspire her to write words that go with the melody. You just keep doing it over and over and ensure right words that go along with the melody. As you sing it the visions will come from the music.

If you have somebody who is very good with words and another who is gifted with music, you can do the process at the same time. The musician starts improvising and creating songs and melody, and recording the melody. The writer starts writing the words, closing their eyes, and letting the music take them to whatever space that Spirit is showing them.

Don’t you sometimes get the melody or chords first?

Sometimes that happens too. That’s the third way. I can be humming a sound down the street…. [demonstrates by singing]. Then you begin to figure out the words, like, “I am Soul. I’m sitting down right now talking to you. I am Soul…” That’s another great way to do it.

What type of music do you play?

It’s eclectic. Folk, rock with country, funk, blues, African, reggae… a little bit of everything.

Do you love what you do?

(He gave a hearty laugh) That should be so obvious!… Yes!

If you were not doing this, what else would you be doing?

I don’t know. I can’t see myself doing anything else…. If I had to, I can do other things, but that’s not what I’m here to do.

Before you go on stage to play, what preparations do you make? What do you set as your goal, in terms of what you expect of yourself and the value you want to offer to your audience?

My number one intention is always to open people’s heart to love. To do that I always sing HU before I go on stage to open myself as a channel for Spirit or Divine Love. Then I go on stage and do the very best that I can. I also focus on connecting with people, connecting with the audience, so that they feel like I’m singing to them, that I’m singing to every person in the audience.

How did you sustain your interest in music?

Love. Love is what sustained it. And I have a very really supportive wife. There was a time that I wasn’t working. I was just practicing and recording, and she’d work two jobs, thereby helping me by allowing me to do what I was doing. There were other times that she wasn’t working. I was working, playing music, and making enough money so that we can survive. It’s always been a give-and-take process. Teamwork.

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