Spirited choir wins encores

July 2, 2003

BUDAPEST, Hungary — Sustained and often rhythmic applause greeted every song at the opening night here of a concert tour by Voices of Baha, an international Baha'i choir.

Rewarded with encores, the audience did not cease applauding until long after choirmaster Tom Price had taken his leave from the stage.

The performance on 2 July 2003 crossed the borders not only with respect to the nationalities -- the 120 singers came from 21 countries -- but also in terms of musical genres.

Styles ranged from Western classical music and modern popular music, to traditional Persian songs and, most dramatically, African-American gospel.

On stage with the choir was the Budapest Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Mr. Price, a composer from Nashville, Tennessee, who founded Voices of Baha. (The choir's name is a reference to Baha'u'llah.)

The concert in Budapest was the starting point of a tour that was to take the choir to Prague, Warsaw, Berlin, Wernigerode and Frankfurt.

The Hungarian audience enthusiastically greeted gospel-style sounds from the full choir and from individual soloists like the veteran Van Gilmer and 17-year-old Rachael Price (the youngest of Mr. Price's three daughters) -- and, on one dynamic occasion, the two together singing "Soldiers in God's Army."

Paul Seaforth on trumpet. Slideshow
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Paul Seaforth on trumpet.

Mr. Gilmer, the choir's gospel director, proved to be a master of the style. With a voice born for the occasion, he brought emotion to a pitch with his rendition of "Amazing Grace."

Ms. Price, in fine voice, gave a demonstration of how the body -- and in particular the hands -- can convey in physical terms the pulsating power of gospel.

Most of the some 1100 people present in the elegant Budapest Congress Center were the general public, guests of the Baha'is, and VIPs such as members of the diplomatic corps, parliamentarians and musicians.

The occasion marked an historic anniversary. Ninety years earlier 'Abdu'l-Baha had blessed the city with His presence, and now His words were to soar in song as the choir celebrated in praise of His Father with the oratorio, "O Baha'u'llah."

First sung during the inaugural performance of Voices of Baha at the 1992 Baha'i World Congress in New York, the song featured in Budapest the glorious soprano voice of Emily Price, another of Mr. Price's daughters.

Ms. Price also gave a memorable performance of the spiritually uplifting "Whither Can a Lover Go?"

Later, she sang "Minnie the Moocher's Wedding Day" with sisters Rachael and Juliet, in a rendition that was a sassy mix of energy and humor.

The multi-cultural choir, dressed in black with colored scarves, followed the direction of Mr. Price with close attention. That paid off in excellent timing and controlled variations in volume that enabled them to work with the orchestra in a way that clearly delighted them both.

Among the songs presented were "Render Thanks", "God is Sufficient unto Me", and "Dastam Bigir 'Abdu'l-Baha."

Perhaps the most heartfelt applause of the night came after the choir sang the song "Oh God, My God" in Hungarian, a language the singers had only recently encountered.

Mr. Price varied the emotional level of the night between high drama and humor by employing a mix of self-deprecating humor and affectionate teasing of some of his colleagues.

One such target was Paul Seaforth, who repaid the attention with a stirring rendition of "We Are One," a song by Dan Seals that points to the acceptance of the oneness of humanity as a solution to the agonies of the modern world.

Mr. Seaforth also delighted on other occasions with his solos on the saxophone and trumpet, and later playing alongside the orchestra members.

Mr. Price revealed his own melodious tenor voice when he led a barbershop quartet in the sweetest of harmonies as they sang "Darkness on the Delta." At times both he and Mr. Gilmer accompanied the singing on a grand piano.

Complementing the concert in Budapest was a display of photographs, by Hungarian Baha'i Dr. Laszlo Farkas, of terraced gardens on Mount Carmel at the Baha'i World Centre in Haifa, Israel.

A large part of the proceeds from ticket sales went to a development project for Roma women in Hungary.

Following the concert in Hungary, Voices of Baha went on to win enthusiastic receptions from big houses in Prague, Warsaw, and Berlin.

The choir won a gold prize in the Johannes Brahms International Choirs Competition Festival in Wernigerode. It was the only choir selected to give an entire concert, singing before some 2000 people in a performance shown live on German television and repeated twice in the following days.

It also sang in the Baha'i House of Worship in Langenhain near Frankfurt in Germany. The Temple was filled to overflowing for the occasion.

Voices of Baha, which has performed in Asia, North America and Europe, is setting its sights on other continents for future concerts.

Review by Michael Day.

Photos by Edit Kalman.

For more information on Voices of Baha see http://www.bahaiworldnews.org/story.cfm?storyid=162