Sunday, November 18, 2012

IFC Concert Preview: Meet the Zoroastrian Avesta Performers

Avesta Performers hanging out before rehearsal, 11/15/12

This past Th­ursday I was fortunate to get a glimpse of the upcoming 33rd InterFaith Concert. Members of the Zoroastrian Avesta group rehearsed, with performers ranging in age from younger children to early twenties. The group members met through the same Sunday school and have been practicing for several months for this and other performances.

When asked about the reasons they got involved, 13-year old Yasna answers, “I love singing and I think it’s important to show people about Zoroastrianism because not many people know about us.” Ten-year old Bita, also on the ensemble, already does chorus in her school and wanted to support her community through the choir. They agreed that music and dance are important to their culture.

“Music is a universal thing,” says Garshasb, 17. “It helps expose others to our religion.” Garshasb has played the ethnic drums for 3-4 years, but a few months ago he started learning the daf, a Zoroastrian hand-held drum. He will play it during the concert.

Avesta musicians, with Garshasb playing the daf (center)

Being one of the lesser-known religions in the US, I asked the kids what they thought people should know about Zoroastrianism. Immediately, Garshasb and Gordiya, also 17, start to dispel many misconceptions of Zoroastrianism that they’ve come across. “We’re not fire worshippers. We don’t have two gods, we’re very monotheistic,” says Gordiya.

But the most important thing, it seems, was a phrase that was repeated by both the kids and their parents: “Good Thoughts. Good Words. Good Deeds.”

“What is good is left up to the interpretation of each individual,” says Garshasb.

“There is no one sin or special thing,” adds Gordiya. “Everyone has good and evil inside and everyone faces a constant struggle with individual choices.”

The importance of decision-making was also emphasized by their parents when I asked about the lessons they pass on through their faith. “It’s important to make your own decision and think for yourself,” says Shahrzad, a mother of two. Behnaz, another mother, agreed. “[We teach them that] every action has a reaction, so make the best decision.”

Shahrzad also says it’s about telling them where they come from and about their culture. “Living in the US, it is hard to keep all traditions. So culture is more important than tradition, at least for me.”

On-stage: Dancers and singers put together the finishing touches for Dec. 6th

For the 33rd InterFaith Concert the ensemble will perform “Khan Ashem Vohu,” roughly translating to “Praise be to righteousness/seeking of the truth.”  The title is from the ancient Avestan language but the lyrics are in Persian.

“There is real community initiative in the song,” explains Anne Khademian, musical director of the group. The piano music, lyrics, and composition were all created by different members of the Zoroastrian faith over different periods of time. “We chose the song because it is joyous and representative of our faith. The song is core to our faith – very traditional and central to prayers. It celebrates the honor, dignity and wisdom of the faith.”

InterFaith Conference invites you to come watch this joyous performance of the Zoroastrian faith on December 6, 2012 at the Washington Hebrew Congregation. Concert starts at 7:30 and tickets are available online, by mail-in order, or by calling (202) 234-6300.

Read more about Song and Music in Zoroastrianism by Anne Khademian in our InterFaith Connect Newsletter.

Author: Misha Davies, IFC Communications Intern

IFC Concert Preview: Meet the Ignatian Choir of Holy Trinity Catholic Church

Holy Trinity Ignatian Choir at rehearsal, 11/15/12

This past Thursday I was fortunate to get a glimpse of the upcoming 33rd InterFaith Concert. Rehearsing that night was the IgnatianChoir of Holy Trinity Catholic Church. Walking in promptly at 8pm, the group set up fast and began to rehearse multiple times through their song choices. Music director Dr. Kathleen DeJardin led the choir full of energy. At one point, she instructed everyone to speak in a humorous high-pitched voice. “It’s very funny but our singing always sounds better after this, doesn’t it?” she said, speaking to the choir in a high-pitched, elf-like tone. The choir chimed back in the same manner.

Following the song rehearsal, three members of the choir were kind enough speak a little about their involvement with the group and what music means to them and their faith. A choir member for three months, Micah Johnston is the newest of the three. “I joined because singing brings me deeper into worship and it’s a gift that I can give to my community. God connects us in many different ways and the more ways we can find to connect to God, the better. It’s another way to do that.”

Beth Hoffman, another member, has been involved since the spring of 2009. “Music is one of my main ways to connect to spirituality,” she says. “It’s a special kind of prayer and there’s a way in which just the physical act of joining your voice with someone else—attuning yourself to the sound of the person next to you, the sound of the choir, resonance of the space—that just connects you in a way that speaking, sitting, and reflecting…” She paused. “These are all different ways of being present, but singing connects you in this really physical way and it’s very beautiful and powerful.”

The longest attending member of the three, Barry Grinnell, has been in the choir since around 2000, but he’s been in church choirs since his 20s. “For me, [being in choir] brings it down to a more manageable group. Catholic Churches can be rather impersonal because they are large, and when I joined the choir in my late 20s it brought it down to a more human level. And it brought connectedness with fellow worshippers and people that come from all walks of life.” He sees music as an expression of his faith and the “hook” that keeps him coming to church.

For the 33rd InterFaith Concert the Holy Trinity Ignatian Choir will perform two pieces. “This is an interfaith service, so I really thought that “One Faith, One Hope, One Lord” spoke to everyone in the room,” says Dr. DeJardin. “It’s a very uplifting piece, so that’s what I thought we would all want to hear and to pray together.” The group will also sign Mozart’s “Ave Verum,” a classic piece and a favorite of Dr. DeJardin’s.

InterFaith Conference invites you to come watch this beautiful performance by the Ignatian Choir of Holy Trinity Catholic Church on December 6, 2012 at the Washington Hebrew Congregation. Concert starts at 7:30 and tickets are available online, by mail-in order, or by calling (202) 234-6300. 

Author: Misha Davies, IFC Communications Intern