UK Bahá’í Choir in Edinburgh

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The fabulous Alto section!

My husband, Ramin and myself have joined the UK Bahá’í Choir – and this weekend travelled up to Edinburgh for a full weekend’s rehearsal. We joined about 25 other choir members from all over the UK, made many new friends and caught up with friends from years ago! I was so happy to see my dear friends Carolyn Sparey-Fox and Jeremy Fox who we thoroughly enjoyed being with in Evian Summer School a few years ago. I also loved being in the beautiful new Edinburgh Bahá’i Centre!

The month leading up to the Choir weekend, we put aside time every other day to listen to and learn the songs from the Tenor CD and the Soprano CD we had burned, after downloading the songs from the Choir’s website. I was really impressed with the organisation of the website – where you can download the song-sheets and vocal tracks, making it much easier to learn. Ramin found it a bit tough as he doesn’t read music, so I gave him a few lessons and now he know how long to sing various notes! Great brain-training for him.

Even though the pieces we sang are quite different from the pieces I was teaching the choir in South Wales, I did enjoy the challenge of singing in a more classical style again. I love that point where I have warmed up and can sing more fluently, where even the high notes are easily achievable. I realised I need this kind of singing to keep my voice strong – and my mind focused. We performed seven pieces at a Musical Devotional, organised by the Edinburgh Bahá’í Community on the Sunday, including readings from the Bahá’í writings and songs from local friends (I should have remembered to have taken back a programme, as I then could have told you their names!).

The camaraderie in the choir is really wonderful. Cosma, our Musical Director and Conductor, is full of energy, smiles, encouragement and enthusiasm. His sweet analogies are adorable, and his technical knowledge and feel for the music are exceptional. He is also very patient with the various suggestions, comments and (only sometimes) complaints.

I loved the diversity of the group, there are representatives from all ages and walks of life including members who now live in the UK and come from far-flung countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kyrgyzstan, Zimbabwe and Iran. I love that the choir sings pieces from the Bahá’i writings, but there are many members who are not Bahá’is. I love that in the morning Devotionals, there is more singing/chanting of prayers than reading. I also love LOVE love that some of the choir members are also composers who have offered their work for the choir to sing. This has inspired me to compose and arrange my music for a four part choir. So watch this space!

So, I am interested in assisting those who would like to learn the songs and sing in the Choir (We are looking for about 10 new members!)  – perhaps setting up a few day or weekends in Bristol, or in Cardiff – I’m not as technically gifted as Cosma, but I have enough experience and buckets of enthusiasm to be able to conduct a choir with these pieces. I’m also able to give singing techniques and lessons in a group – which would be helpful.

So if you would like to join the UK Bahá’í Choir and live in South Wales or nearby – contact me and lets get singing! You can email me: creativevoicewales@gmail.com

No more choir – 10 more singing projects instead!

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It’s been almost a year since we last came together for a day of ‘Choir’ and actually, it will be a long time until we do it again. Not because we didn’t enjoy singing together, oh no! Singing is awesome. But because through consultation we decided to change the ‘Choir’ days to ‘Singing Resource Days’ (yes the name is lacking in imagination – but it’s intention is nice and clear). We realised that even though we’d love to have a Baha’i Choir in South Wales, it is very challenging for the members to make regular rehearsal sessions – once a month is still tricky, and there are always some who can’t make it on the day – but at least we get the majority of people coming then.

To have a choir we’d really need to meet once a fortnight at least, maybe even once a week. If we keep calling our group a choir, then we’re not going to achieve the goal of the group as we are unable (at this time) to rehearse the songs to a high enough standard to perform at an event. So changing the purpose of the day means that we can still enjoy singing together, but we can also work together to assist small groups to sing together in the member’s local communities. As the most experienced in this field, I am also able to support each small group’s activities, providing the music, some skills, encouragement and hands on sessions when needed too.

I found it interesting that once a space had been created for the each individual in the group to think about the kind of singing they engage with (or would like to) in their local communities – it opened up the possibility of many different kinds of singing groups, more than I would be able to manage by myself! I found the group also showed a greater sense of empowerment to be able to either run a group (such as a children’s class, or singing in the 19 day Feast, or music as part of study circles), or introduce more music or take part in a group (not everyone felt they could lead) from these Singing Resource Days, with the assurance that not only myself, but the other members could help and encourage them.

So now we have the opening up of music and songs in the children’s class and junior youth group and local community events in Swansea, the same in Swindon, a small singing group in Merthyr Tydfil, a project for Dad and myself to record backing tracks for the songs for people to sing along to, a project to put together a booklet expressing the importance and influence music can have on the soul and heart, and also support for the ‘Play and Pray’ group for parents and babies/toddlers in Caerphilly, Chepstow and Barry. So that’s 10 projects inspired from a vision of music having a greater part in the community with everyone interested in playing a part, however up-front or behind the scenes. I think it was totally worth letting go of the idea of one Choir for that, don’t you?

So altogether we sang ‘God sufficeth all things above all things’ ( a prayer of The Báb) first, then ‘Help me build a new world’ (by Asif Fazal), ‘As I went down to the river to pray’ (by Allison Strauss from the film ‘Oh Brother where art thou’, ‘Look at me, Follow me’ (about Abdu’l-Bahá, from the 1992 Bahá’í World Congress) and ‘Tue Tue’ (a Harvest song from Ghana).

Of course we were all so involved in the day that we totally forgot to take any photos, so that’s the next thing to empower someone to do! However, altogether there were nine adults singing, three adults supporting and six children as part of our day from Swansea, Merthyr, Pontllanfraith, Rogerstone and Swindon. Everyone had a really lovely time with cake, many songs, great chats, new friendships, running around the park and the garden and then pizza and chips for those who stayed afterwards for more chats. It was hard to say goodbye and I wished this had been planned as a weekend, rather than just a day. Roll on the next one!

If you would like to come to the next ‘Singing Resource Day’ then email Fleur here: creativevoicewales@gmail.com (p.s. you’ll need to bring cake!)

I trust myself (in Romania!)

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In April, my husband and I travelled to La Chappele D’Abondonce to a Bahá’i Spring Camp in the French Alps. There I taught a group of adults from France and Belgium singing every afternoon and on the final evening we performed our songs to the audience. We had a wonderful time together, they learnt new songs in English and I learnt some songs in French. There was also a theatre course, an art course and a Musical Theatre course for the children. I had taught singing at this camp once before, a few years ago and also at the Bahá’i Summer School in Evian (which I’ve posted about before), all through the supreme management skills and encouragement of my dear friends Guita and Willo.

On my course was a lady called Della, an American Bahá’i who now lives in Bucharest in Romania. She became a good friend of Ramin and I, we ate many meals together and I was fascinated by her research in Romania for her book ‘Her Eternal Crown- Queen Marie of Romania and the Bahá’i Faith‘. Well Della came to my course one day asking if I would be interested in coming to Romania as she was sure the Bahá’is there would love to experience the kind of singing workshops I run. I was interested, but the dates seemed a little close to the Welsh Summer School I was already committed to (running workshops on Opening up Creative Channels at the grass roots). However she assured me that the National Assembly of the Bahá’is of Romania had invited me, through her, and they would be in touch soon.

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A few weeks later, I had sorted out my dates and agreed to go to the Romanian Bahá’i Summer School, travelling the day after the Welsh one had ended – and on August 25th I found myself catching a flight to Sibiu!

The Welsh Summer School had been full of singing as the UK Bahá’i Choir had rehearsed and performed there all week, with myself joining them in the mornings. I was already full of the joys of being with my dear friends and singing my heart out the day before – so I left the UK with the excited anticipation of travelling to another country, meeting new friends (of course seeing Della again) and welcoming them all into a world of song.

I had the most wonderful week. The people in the summer school, Romanian Bahá’is and their friends (as well as new friends from Italy, France, two Americans, a family from Algeria and my lovely Room-mate Elizabeth from the Dominican Republic) were so friendly, interested in me, helpful and gracious. I never once felt lonely or over-crowded. Every meal time was a great opportunity to meet and chat with new people, young and old alike. One lady aged 75 didn’t speak English (the only one!) and I was sad not to be able to chat with her, but then I found out she spoke a little German and we were able to communicate after all!

I ran a singing session with the children on the first morning (a prayer ‘Blessed is the spot’ that we sang in the final evening), morning sessions with the youth and  afternoon sessions with the whole school. There were two great musicians, Aladdin and Varqa who quickly learned the chords and played guitar along with our songs and Rares (The School’s organiser) typed up the words, projecting them on the wall behind us. Almost everyone loved singing and just needed to believe in themselves a little more, a few of the older youth didn’t want to sing but I had great chats with them once lunch time.

The youth composed some lovely songs and sang Rosanna Lea’s composition of the words of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, ‘Let your heart burn with loving kindness for all who may cross your path’ really well, even managing a second harmony.

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Overall I had a fantastic time and I would love to go back. It was very moving to be singing about ‘Abdu’l-Baha while standing in front of a large group of Romanian Bahá’is and thinking how happy this would have made Him. I felt my Mum was with me too, I often felt her singing along with the complete joy and enthusiasm that epitomised her singing.

Am încredera mia (I am confident also I trust myself)

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Sorrel sings!

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Joining the choir was a bit of a no-brainer for me. I really enjoyed singing in choirs at school, and nowadays, with two small children, I can just about commit to one day a month. It’s what all mothers crave, just a little bit of time doing something I enjoy.

What makes singing in a group (let’s not formalise) like this so enjoyable?

Firstly, we are making music. Music, as we all know, enriches and colours our lives – from the lullaby we sing to the baby, to the rock and roll that gives us the energy to tackle the washing up. I may be taking examples from my own life here, but you get the idea. Abdu’l-Baha said that ‘Through the power and charm of music the spirit of man is uplifted’

What a pleasure it is, then, to have several hours purely devoted to music and really listening to it, rather than half hearing the radio whilst driving the car.

Secondly, its good company. I’m not saying that you’ll get on with everyone in every choir, but generally, there will like minded people who are there for the same reasons as you. Baha’u’llah urges us to ‘Consort with all men… in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship’, which sounds to me like a great idea. The NHS now lists five steps to mental wellbeing, and the first is ‘connect with other people’. Basically, just meeting and interacting positively with other people can improve our own sense of self-worth and purpose, making us happier.

Thirdly, and possibly building on the first two points, a choir is a great example of unity in action. We’re all different, but we are all working together towards the common goal of producing lovely music. We listen to one another, and support one another. We might have different parts to sing, but they all contribute equally to the whole. And when we master a song, unity has been achieved, and it is such a natural, spiritual high. Imagine if this could be magnified, and applied to solve the problems of the world. It’s a powerful tool – ‘So potent is light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth’. 

 Sorrel Jones

You can find out more about the choir by emailing Fleur: missaghianft@gmail.com or visiting her website here.

Refugee Week 2009 Choir

Singing and singing and encouraging and singing!

The ‘All-Wales Baha’i Choir’ (working title) have their first rehearsal this coming Sunday with our new recruits! We began the choir back in January, forming specifically to be able to contribute music to the Regional Baha’i festival, held in Llandrindod Wells. We sang two songs, ‘Look at me, follow me’ (written for the World congress in New-York in 1992) and ‘The Photograph’ (written by Robert Bennet and Alan Mackay from Shetland)– both celebrating the life and pure example of ‘Abd‘u’l-Baha. My Dad played the guitar and everyone really enjoyed either being part of the singing or listening to us perform.

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For this performance we had one afternoon rehearsal, the songs were posted on Sound Cloud for people to be able to sing along with at home, and then we had one hour practising together the afternoon of the performance. I was so proud of the group, as everyone sang so beautifully, even including some members who joined just at the last minute and had literally just one hour to practise!

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Since then I’ve been gently encouraging people to join, reassuring them that all experience and all ages are welcome and planning the songs to sing at the Welsh Baha’i Summer School which was on the last weekend of August. I ran two singing workshops, like taster sessions for the choir, and Dad and I ran an evening of singing together with the whole school. I had about 20 people in my first workshop, about 15 in the second and over 150 sang with us (and Geoff, Michaela and Mike on guitars and harmonies.) on Saturday night. As part of the workshop we read a few beautiful quotes from ‘Abd’u’l-Baha about the effect of music:

“The art of music is divine and effective. It is the food of the soul and spirit. Through the power and charm of music the spirit of man is uplifted…”

“…A fine voice when joined to beautiful music causes a great effect, for both are desirable and pleasing. All these have in themselves an organisation, and are constructed on natural law. Therefore, they correspond to the order of existence like something which would fit into a mold. A true voice fits into the mold of nature. When it is so, this effects the nerves and they affect the heart and spirit.”

The feedback from the workshops and the evening sing-a-long was amazing! So many hugged and thanked Dad and I for organising a space for everyone to sing. Many people felt they really wanted to join the choir now and one lady was keen to start a singing group up in Cheshire.  We sang on the final morning, as part of the closing devotional and my niece, Zia, sang the lead solo of ‘Evening Rise’ with Sarah singing behind her for support.

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Dad and I also sang some songs with the Baha’i community at our Cluster Reflection Meeting in Rodgerstone at the beginning of August and the children joined us to sing ‘God Sufficeth’ and ‘From the three wives of Abraham’ (a song about the messengers from God teaching mankind through revelation that is progressive – according to the spiritual capacity of the people of the time).

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So now we have a membership of around 20 choir members from all over South Wales, and are looking forward to singing together throughout this next year. We decided to hold the rehearsals once a month, around the region so that as many people as possible can join us. We’re going to see how this works, whether we need interim rehearsals and how much support the creativevoicewales.com site can provide. It’s so wonderful to have inspired and encouraged friends from all around to engage in singing together, and hopefully this will feed back into the local communities, creating more confidence to sing at feasts, firesides, devotionals and other gatherings.

One more piece of news, I have asked around (on facebook) to find out if anyone would be interested in learning how to run a singing group, and so far six people have responded positively! For this training I will be running a weekend in Wales and a weekend in Reading – so please get in touch (via the creativevoicewales.com website) if you would like to join this group. This means potentially six singing groups will be started up next year – how wonderful!

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