A musical life that goes on and on

29 August 2008

RIED, Austria — Composer Russell Garcia is 92 years old and still making music. Not only that, he’s touring internationally.

This week, in the town of Ried in northern Austria, in front of an audience of 200 people, he conducted a local orchestra and choir in a work that he and his wife created.

Titled “A Path to Peace,” the piece was inspired by the Baha’i writings and includes original music by Mr. Garcia and lyrics by his 77-year-old wife, Gina Mauriello Garcia. Photographs and quotations projected above the stage illustrate conditions in the world that prevent peace, as well as ideas and principles that would promote peace.

“My wife and I wrote this show because we thought there was a great need for people to understand these issues,” said Mr. Garcia, who in the 1950s and ‘60s was a composer, arranger, and conductor in Hollywood.

He worked at MGM, Universal Studios, and NBC Studios, including for the TV shows “Rawhide” and “Laredo”; composed the score for the 1960 cult classic “The Time Machine”; and arranged and conducted the album “Porgy & Bess” featuring Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong,

Mr. Garcia says he's never worked a day in his life. He says he just writes music and people pay him for it.SLIDESHOW
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Mr. Garcia says he's never worked a day in his life. He says he just writes music and people pay him for it.

“He’s made music for many people like Marlon Brando, Sophia Loren and Charlie Chaplin,” said Faramarz Farid, a Baha’i in Austria who helped organize this week’s concert. “To have him here is really exciting. It is also important for people to understand the message in his show.”

“Everyone knows that peace is important, but many people don’t know how to find it,” Dr. Farid said. “As Baha’is we believe we have the solution, and that is what this show is about.... Baha’u’llah shows us how to find peace.”

Near the beginning of the half-hour piece comes a quote from Albert Einstein: “War is dual suicide, nobody wins a war.” Then come Baha’i passages taken from “The Promise of World Peace,” a 1985 message to the world written by the Universal House of Justice.

Mr. Garcia said he and his wife looked for nine major principles from the message and incorporated them in the work. Principles that promote peace include the equality of men and women, universal education, and the elimination of extremes of wealth and poverty.

“It’s very peaceful music,” said Arnold Renhardt, the director of the 17-person choir that performed at the concert. “I also think it has an important message. It shows that if people want, they can live together in peace.”

Gottfried Tischler, who teaches Catholic theology at a public school in Ried and is not a Baha’i, was asked to read some of the quotations for the performance and said he was pleased to do so.

“I think it is particularly important to offer people such events,” he said, “even if you risk having just 10 people who actually take up on this message. They will all benefit from it and then they can act as multipliers, taking the message to others.”

Mr. Tischler noted that he was impressed with the mixed audience.

“I saw people that I thought would never go to such a concert,” he said, adding that he would remember for a long time a song called "Glory in that you love all people.”

He also said he thought all the listeners would take something home from the performance, whether it be an idea or an image – “especially the one sentence at the beginning of the show: ‘Peace or annihilation – YOU have the CHOICE.’”

Mr. Tischler’s wife, Agnes, commented that the music made a deep impression on her but “the words were very important, too.”

“I think it was very important for people to take these words home with them,” she said.

Russell and Gina Garcia became Baha’is in 1955 and since then have worked to promote the teachings of Baha’u’llah. Both originally from the United States, they moved to New Zealand in 1969.

“We’ve dedicated our lives to trying to build a better world,” said Mr. Garcia “I’m still receiving so many different offers that I have to turn down work.”