Hymns, martial anthems, lullabies--songs since the beginning of recorded time
have allowed man to express his deepest emotions. And a people's culture
often finds its most universal bond in shared singing. Probably no other
activity can so elevate the spirit and the "humanness" of us all as that
special awareness generated by music and song.
Among the ironies confronting science is the inability to explain, within
the Darwinian concept of evolution, man's acquisition of the ability to make
and appreciate music. Never was man's survival furthered by music on the
long evolutionary path to homo sapiens. Yet, by some divine means man
acquired this gift, so distinct from that of all other creatures. With the
emergence of each civilization has come its particular expression, through
its own instruments and voice, of a people's yearnings, love and triumph
Born 82 years ago into the family of a farmer and herbal physician in
Dankotuwa, Sri Lanka (then Ceylon), MARCELLINE JAYEKODY at the age of 10
chose the vocation of a Roman Catholic priest. While studying in the
English-language St. Joseph's College he became troubled by the rift between
Western-oriented Christianity and Sri Lanka's predominantly Sinhalese
Buddhist culture. Following his ordination in the Oblate order on December
21, 1927, his concern over this rift deepened and finding bridges became his
personal quest. His talents and life-view found new dimensions with studies
at Visva-Bharati University at Santiniketan in Bengal, India, where he added
to competency on the violin, piano and organ, mastery of the sitar and tabla,
and an appreciation of Eastern music. Travels to the Holy Land, Europe and
America enlarged his "world view" of society.
In Sri Lanka Fr. JAYEKODY served for 21 years as a parish priest and has
been a teacher off and on since then. In 1958 he launched the Faculty of
Eastern Art at St. Peter's College and 23 years later was still teaching as
a visiting lecturer in music at St. Thomas' College. Today he faithfully
spends one day a week at Kala Lanka—the school for training young people
from poor families in the performing arts of Sri Lanka— which he established
and maintains at his own expense near Colombo.
In 1933 JAYEKODY began writing a newspaper column and composed his first
hymn, "Sapiri Sama" (Full of Grace). His six lyrics, written in 1957 for the
first Ceylonese feature film, Rekawa (Palm Line of Destiny), achieved
national popularity and still are sung throughout the land.
In all, Fr. JAYEKODY has written the lyrics and music for some 1,000 songs.
Although severe religious and ethnic divisions remain in Sri Lankan society,
the songs he has given his people to sing have helped bridge these tragic
differences. From lullabies to Christmas carols, they have been put on
records and tapes and have added joy to daily life. Like his essays and
poems, they have also become vehicles for enabling his people to understand
the deeper significance of what they see in nature. His Muthu (Pearls) was
judged the best book of poetry in 1980.
This silver-haired, singing priest, who stands tall and cheerfully exudes
his faith, has helped through music and song to bring to every Sri Lankan an
awareness of his heritage. His travel books are alerting his people to the
beauty of their country, its sounds, history, the rhythm of the cropping
season and their profusely flowering trees. Not neglecting his westernized
church upbringing, his radio plays on the lives of Western composers bring a
broader dimension to the culture.
Fr. JAYEKODY is a living demonstration that accepting a vocation in the
priesthood need never be a retreat from life. His versatile creativity
continues to enthuse with spiritual content and philosophical insight the
everyday experiences of young and old. As his songs so gladly proclaim, man
can take a few steps further along the path where God beckons—to realization
of his better self.
In electing Fr. MARCELLINE JAYEKODY to receive the 1983 Ramon Magsaysay
Award for Journalism, Literature and Creative Communication Arts, the Board
of Trustees recognizes his enriching his country's "world of song and music"
with spiritual and human rejoicing.