At the end of this month, 200 voices will together sing songs of divinity as Baha’is and friends from across the country travel to Wilmette, Ill. for the 4th Annual Baha’i Choral Music Festival and Concerts.
Van Gilmer, choir director and brainchild of the festival, explained that the concerts at the end of the 4-day festival are held in the Baha’i House of Worship for the North American Continent – one of only seven Baha’i Temples in the world and one of the Seven Wonders of Illinois.
The concert gives singers the opportunity to fellowship and sing sacred songs together in a unique, sacred space, noting that many Baha’i communities are small and aren’t always able to have choirs.
“Really, it is beautiful and wide-ranging sacred music and putting it in the House of Worship, it just becomes spectacular!” he said.
Anne Alleva, of Windsor, will sing in the concert this year for the third time and said singing in the House of Worship is an extraordinary experience. She is one of five singers from the Windsor area attending the event.
“The sacredness of the place is palpable. It is a house of peace, of prayer, spirituality and beauty that is unique. The acoustics are amazing. But more compelling are the lovely people who come from all over North America for the purpose of learning and performing sacred music,” she said, adding though, that Gilmer is what makes the concert so miraculous each year.
Participants are mailed CDs or MP3s with the selected songs on them and are asked to practice at home before arriving in Illinois. They aren’t given written music; they learn and memorize the songs by listening to them and then singing together when the choir members meet in Chicago.
Singers arrive on May 27, four days before the May 30th concerts, to rehearse at a nearby hotel. Gilmer said that the choir practices several hours each day, prepping for the big events.
The concerts, which are all a capella, include sacred music of different faiths.”The variety is pretty wide and I think the audience likes that,” Gilmer said. “They don’t just sit and listen to the same style of music all the way through.”
Alleva said that music is a way to complete prayer and helps “express the inexpressible.” “It touches the heart in a way that words alone cannot,” she said.
She noted that Baha’u’llah, founder of the Baha’i Faith, once said, “We have made music as a ladder for your souls, a means whereby they may be lifted up unto the realm on high.”
Alleva is director of the Connecticut Baha’i Chorale and said she hopes the annual concert will inspire Baha’is to organize choirs in their community, if they don’t already have one.
The concerts, though sponsored by the Baha’is, are for all people to enjoy. “It has nothing to do with becoming a Baha’i, it does have to do with connecting with God and connecting with our spiritual side,” Gilmer said.
The approximately hour-long performances will be May 30 at 9 a.m. and again at 12:30 p.m. For more information call (847) 853-2300. (There’s still time to join the choir if you like to sing!)
Special events during the Choral Festival:
May 29th – 4:00 a.m. Friday night/Saturday morning – The festival choir will sing at the holy day commemoration of the Ascension of Baha’u’llah in the House of Worship Auditorium.
May 29th – 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. “Meet the Choir” event to provide an opportunity to listen to some songs and meet the choral festival singers and choir director in a smaller venue and on a more personal, informal basis. Held in Foundation Hall in the lower level of the House of Worship.