Monday, December 3, 2012

IFC Concert Preview: Israel Baptist Mass Choir

Members of Israel Baptist Mass Choir participating in our rehearsal. The time has come!

This year’s 33rd InterFaith Concert will feature many diverse artists who all hold a great musical talent. In the Israel Baptist Church Mass Choir, this talent includes individuals for whom music has been lifetime devotion.

Dr. Ola H. Gathers is the Minister of Music for the Israel Baptist Church. Though she has only been in the Israel Baptist Mass Choir for two years, she has a long history of musical involvement. “All 72 wonderful years of my life,” she says with a radiant smile. “Music is my life. And I have been involved in church music since I was 8 years old.”

“My faith comes from music because I am so into church music,” says Dr. Gathers. “And if it’s not Biblically sound I don’t do it. So, when the music is presented it is actually presenting the Bible musically to me. And it feeds my soul and it enhances my faith.”

Dr. George G. West, who will be playing the organ on Thursday, has also been involved in music throughout his life, about 60 years he estimates. He was Chairman of the Piano Faculty at Southern University and has performed and worked with a number of prominent musicians, including Gladys Knight and Aretha Franklin.

“I see myself as a vessel, as being used by God,” says Dr. West. “There have been some very exciting things that have been happening to me recently. Angelic voices have been singing songs to me in my very head. And as they sing them I write them out. So I have a large number of pieces that I’m getting ready to publish and record, and that was given to me by other sources. So I see myself as a vessel.”

The Israel Baptist Mass Choir will be performing a traditional hymn and a spiritual for the concert. “They present two different needs, for lack of a better word, but at the same time a strong message,” explains Dr. Gathers. The song “Holy is the Lord” is about giving absolute praise to the Lord, says Dr. Gathers. On the other hand, the spiritual “City Called Heaven” is “about going through trials and tribulations in life,” she says. “But the ultimate goal is that one day we won’t have these trials and tribulations. We’re going to a city called Heaven. So that’s why I selected those two.”

What do they hope the audience gets from their performance? “We hope that they get a spiritual message. That’s the goal of the church choir,” explains Dr. Gathers. “That we send a message that the people will receive, and as a result of receiving it, they will come into the church. And they will learn to love God as we learned to love God. Secondly, that there will certainly enjoy for what we have done. That they will love the harmony, the dynamics, and they will love everything about it. And that they will see the excitement that we have when we sing our music.”

IFC Concert Preview: DC-Area Baha'i Drum Circle

Members of the DC-Area Baha'i Drum Circle on Thursday 

This year the 33rd Annual InterFaith Concert will feature a DC-area Baha’i Drum Circle. I was fortunate to talk to Carroll, Leroy and Abdu’l-Karim who will be three of the nine members performing at this Thursday’s concert.

“A group started some 20 years ago and that group, as they grew, incorporated drums into their praying session and devotions. So it’s primarily a part of our devotional program and none of us are really performers. We just do it in a devotional sense,” explains Carroll, who has been in the drum circle the longest, about 10-11 years. Two other members, Leroy and Abdu’l-Karim, have both been involved about 5-6 years each.

In the Baha’i tradition music is described as a “ladder for the ascent of the soul,” says Carroll. “So what it means to me personally is that it truly lifts the spirit. It brings you to a higher state of spiritual consciousness.”

Both Leroy and Abdu’l-Karim mentioned this idea of an uplifting feeling or elevation of the spirit.

“Something about the drumming strikes a soulful tone,” says Leroy. “Not that it has a spiritual base, but it clearly is very uplifting.”

Abdu'l-Karim, Leroy & Carroll

“While working one day I sang some songs with some not-very-good lyrics, songs from off the radio. And my energy level was very low,” says Abdu’l-Karim while describing the difference he experiences in his spirit when singing different forms of music. “And then I started singing prayers later on and my energy level was very high. I thought this was odd so I did this several times throughout the work day and I noticed repeatedly that, when I put myself into a state of prayer through song, I was better than when I put myself into a state of distress through song. So the concept of music being a ladder for the soul is not simply a theoretical or metaphysical concept. I think that is very real. That we can put ourselves physically into harmony or out of harmony with what God wants for us in this world.”

What would they like the audience to gain from their performance on Thursday? “We want to inculcate our little piece of the Baha’i drum circle into the overall mix,” says Leroy. “And that's what makes this program so vibrant, so beautiful.”

InterFaith Conference invites you to experience the uplifting spirit of the Baha’i 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. 

Author: Misha Davies