Windows open to Baha'i gospel music

5 July 2004

Residents here flung open their windows to listen to gospel-style music being sung on the streets below by an international Baha'i choir.

The choir had completed a concert in an historic church and continued outside, as its director Van Gilmer later explained.

"The audience followed the choir out of the church to the sidewalks as it continued to sing -- people opened their windows to enjoy the impromptu concert we gave," he said.

That enthusiastic response by the citizens of this southern German city was replicated in different ways across Europe this northern summer.

Audiences in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg, as well as in Germany, gave standing ovations to the Baha'i Gospel Choir, which included 103 members of many different backgrounds and from 12 countries including Barbados, Bermuda, Canada, Uganda, and the United States.

"There was no concert where the audiences did not stand up and sway, clap, and even stomp their feet for encores," said Mr. Gilmer, who said the singers were often as affected by the music as the audience.

"This is often true with gospel when the depths of one's beliefs are captured in the expression of the music," he said.

Choir member Tahirih Olinga of Uganda agreed. "Gospel music is very uplifting," Ms. Olinga said.

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  • Roya Yazhari (second from left) and fellow soprano Katrina Davis (right) with Jada Davis (left), Jasmine Davis (center), and Sydney Ewing-Roush (front).

  • The Gilmer family on tour: (Left to right) Sean, Kim, Cookie and her husband, Van.

  • Choir members Krisia Haynes and Evelyn Delgado.

  • Choir members: Slam Baker (right) and his brother, Wes.

  • Tahirih Olinga, a soprano with the Baha'i Gospel Choir.

  • Alto Kay Yoder and her husband, Robert.

  • Baha'i Gospel Choir soprano Katrina Davis with her husband Dennis, a bass singer, and their daughter Jada.

  • Director, Van Gilmer, singing with members of the Baha'i Gospel Choir.

  • Singing of peace and unity...Sean Gilmer.

"The spirituals, the words, and the style of the songs are very powerful. They had a big impact on us and the audiences as well."

Ms. Olinga said that as well as enjoying the music, the audiences appeared to be inspired by the message of their songs -- the Baha'i principles of peace and unity.

"The power of God's word bound us together as a choir and also with the audience," she said.

The group's repertoire comprised 14 items -- gospel songs and spirituals, as well as Baha'i writings put to music in the gospel style.

Each one-and-a-half-hour performance started with the Baha'i song "We Have Come to Sing Praises," and then the choir went on singing other well-known gospel songs including "I'm so Glad," "If We Ever Needed Love," and "Amazing Grace."

The concerts finished with "Love Me That I May Love Thee," the last verse of which the choir sang in the language of the country in which it was performing.

The choir gave six concerts in four countries, finishing with a performance in the Baha'i House of Worship in Langenhain, Germany.

Although this was the first tour of the Baha'i Gospel Choir, some members were in the gospel choir that sang at the Baha'i World Congress in New York in 1992 and 10 years later at the Baha'i Festival of Arts, also in New York.

Among those in the 2004 Baha'i Gospel Choir who had sung in the 2002 performance were professional musicians Joyce Garrett, and Patrick Lundy, who are not Baha'is.

Dr. Garrett, well-known in gospel circles in the United States, was the musical director of the tour. She is a member of the Naval Academy Gospel Choir and the Eastern High School Choir, which has won international awards.

Founder of the Ministers of Music choir, Mr. Lundy is an accomplished pianist and the director of several gospel choirs. He was the assistant music director during the tour.

Another choir member was veteran drummer Lester Saucer, who regularly performs with leading gospel groups in the United States.

Mr. Gilmer has sung gospel as part of the repertoire of another Baha'i choir, "Voices of Baha," in Asia, North America, and Europe.

Photos by Vic Voytek.

For more information see, http://www.bahaigospel.org.

For a report of a concert by "Voices of Baha" see http://news.bahai.org/story/235.

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