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

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