Amber Gurung's legacy will live on
By NLRC Staff, June 8, 2016, Category: Music
One morning, Amber Gurung found himself listening to school kids singing Nepal's national anthem as they started their school day. Gurung could not describe the emotions he saw in the eyes of the little kids. As the kids sang the national anthem that he had composed, Gurung could feel, to some extent, the impact his work had made. In their sparkling eyes, he found the respect they had for him. Gurung got overwhelmed with joy and found it hard to control his emotions. For Gurung, that was one of his biggest achievements. The name, the fame, and the jobs he had or the many accolades he had received seemed so trivial and insignificant compared to the satisfaction he felt watching the energy radiating from the kids' eyes. "Everything is in the eyes," Gurung said, "a true love can be seen in the eyes, so can a feeling of hatred be seen there; we simply have to recognize and feel the expressions reflected in those eyes." Moments like that, Gurung thought, were the greatest moments of his life and they instilled in him a sense of profound satisfaction and happiness. "Not everyone gets the opportunity to experience such a feeling," he thought and he found himself not being able to describe the joy such little things had brought to him.
Amber Gurung was more than a musician. To many, he continues to be the inspiration that transforms their lives. His life continues to be the lesson that teaches about how following a passion despite any hardships is more meaningful than working for fame or money. Gurung himself wondered about the circumstances that had made him to persevere, and believed that the life events, the ups and downs in his life, had actually taught him and had played important roles to shape him to be the person he had been. He thought there was some sort of a force, which he could not really comprehend, that kept him going even when he had felt like a disoriented person who had lost his way and when he had faced extreme hardships. He would recall one of such hard times he had gone through and how, despite the hardship, he had not lost hope. The government spies would harass him, he was made to resign from his job. There would be no food at home, kids would be asking for food. With no job, the situation would get dire and hardly sustainable. But even in such a scenario, he would manage to continue his practice sessions in the mornings. When he sat down with his Tanpura [a string instrument], he would forget everything and it used to appear to him as if there existed no such hardship at all. In his own words, he had fallen in love with a beautiful lady, about whom he neither cared about how well-off she was nor about anything else; and that beautiful lady, he explained, was music. When there was true love, everything else did not matter. "It probably is because of this attachment and devotion," humble Gurung recollected, "that I have been able to produce a few compositions that people have liked."
Throughout his life as a musician, Amber Gurung stressed on the need to improve the quality of Nepali music and the need to make music a part of the curriculum in schools. Referring to Sarangi, a violin-like traditional Nepali string instrument, he expressed the need to improve such local instruments, "Our Sarangi is probably a thousand years old or two thousand years old or may be even more but it has not modernized. Look at the Western instruments," he compared, "they had the violin, then they made the viola, the cello and they made the double bass." He thought we should not take music simply from its entertainment value, but also take it as science and keep on improving it over time. "Music also needs to be nurtured, we need to make it a medium to convey our feelings," he continued to show his love for Nepali music and his wish to modernize it, "music also needs food, meaning we need to keep on playing our music, otherwise, it will starve to death."
Gurung's works show that he made tremendous efforts to modernize Nepali music. His compositions show that he was the pioneer Nepali musician who understood traditional Nepali music as well as Western music and had used his knowledge of both sides to modernize Nepali music. Even his first composition, which went to become a masterpiece, introduced such a blend and its popularity marked a new dimension and a new beginning in Nepali music.
For Amber Gurung, it was music, but his story is not only about music. His life is a story of dedication and devotion, a story of struggle and perseverance, and a story of love and passion.
In addition to his contributions to music, Amber Gurung's life has also showed that the notion of being a Nepali cannot be constrained by the geographical and political boundaries. Gurung, who had moved to Nepal from Darjeeling, India, felt that he was always a Nepali musician no matter where he lived - in the beginning a Nepali musician living in India and later a Nepali musician living in Nepal. The impact that he had on the community has helped promote the feeling of being a Nepali among the Nepali community living in different parts of the world.
As the Nepali community recovers from its grief at the death of Amber Gurung, Gurung's contributions have again come to the forefront. One of Gurung's biggest wishes, which he had stressed throughout his musical career and which is, ironically, yet to materialize, was the creation of a national orchestra. He thought a Nepali national orchestra would go a long way in modernizing Nepali music.
A proper tribute to Amber Gurung would be working towards making his dreams come true, especially modernizing Nepali music, making music a part of the curriculum in schools, and establishing of a national orchestra. Direct involvement to create such music or indirect involvement to promote it, may it be by listening to it or by supporting artists, or by simply introducing the positives of the Nepali music to kids, will prove to be valuable contributions, no matter how small they may be, towards making his wishes a reality.
When asked about how he would like to be remembered by the Nepali community, Gurung had said, "I had not thought about it, but if few people felt that I had made a small contribution to Nepali music or had done a little bit of something to them [made a positive impact on them], I'd be very thankful to them and I'd feel that my life has been a successful one." Generation after generation will cherish his contributions and will thank him and feel indebted to him for what he has done. The greatness of his unparalleled contributions, which he humbly mentioned could qualify as a small contribution, will produce many new and emerging artists who will not only fulfill his dreams but will also take Nepali music to new heights.
Note: Quotes presented in some parts of this article are based on an interview Amber Gurung gave to Nepal's national television in 2009. Gurung passed away in June 7, 2016 in Kathmandu, Nepal.
Mero Jindagi Mero Biswas [My life my belief]. Nepal Television. Kathmandu. 9 Dec. 2009. Television.