The fluid tones of an Aboriginal language resounded in the Baha’i Temple in Sydney on 6 September 2015 as the Australian Baha’i Choral Festival choir sang a translation of scripture revealed by Baha’u’llah.
“Blessed is the Spot” was the opening song of the inaugural festival performance by the choir, who sang it in the Woiwurrung tongue of the Wurundjeri people of Central Victoria, and then in English and Maori.
The 75 choristers came from cities, towns and rural areas across Australia — and also from as far afield as Germany, New Zealand and the United States — to participate in the event, which was held in partnership with the Sydney Sacred Music Festival.
Conducting the choir was Canadian Lorraine Manifold, a professional based in Melbourne and with an international career embracing North America, Europe and the Middle East.
The a cappella choir sang in eight languages from sacred scriptures. Interspersed between the songs were prayers and readings from the world’s major religions.
The music won a rapturous reaction from the 500 people who packed the auditorium and the internal balconies.
Dominic Wy Kanak, a board member for the New South Wales Reconciliation Council and a Waverley City Councillor, said it felt like the Temple “embraced us in a warm thermal of ascending voices”.
“We were blessed to be in the company of Baha’is who acknowledged the first nations’ peoples with a Wurundjeri language song, making us feel loved and respected and happy to be part of the human family,” said Cr Wy Kanak, a Torres Strait Islander.
A Sydney choir leader, Wendy Twibill, was equally complimentary. “The sound of the singing in that incredible space was exquisitely beautiful and quite transporting,” said Ms Twibill.
“It was also lovely to experience this music about love and unity surrounded by people of so many nationalities,” she said.
Among the premiere works performed were “Beautify Your Tongues” which was especially composed for the Festival by Ms Manifold, and “Close Your Eyes”, composed by her husband, Alan.
Guest conductors had a role in the event. “Myriads of Mystic Tongues” was conducted by its composer Ameli Dziemba, who came from Germany for the festival. Pierre Weber, originally from Luxembourg and now that country’s ambassador to Kosovo, conducted his composition “Unity Prayer”, and another “Unity Prayer”, by the late Greg Parker of the New Era Choir in Perth, was conducted by his daughter, Rachel Parker-Roohi.
Among the other songs was one in Hindi, “Ek Hi Ped Ki Tum Ho Pal” (“Ye are the fruits of one tree and the leaves of one branch”), and the ethereal “Whither Can a Lover Go?”
For the five months prior to the festival, the singers rehearsed privately in their homes or in regional groups before gathering for four days of intense face-to-face sessions prior to the concert.
Alan Manifold, also a widely experienced choral singer, was the general manager of the Australian Baha’i Choral Festival. The couple jointly founded the Perfect Chord Choir in Melbourne, many of whose members sang at the Sydney event.
Lyrics for “Blessed is the Spot”.
“Blessed is the spot, and the house, and the place, and the city, and the heart, and the mountain, and the refuge, and the cave, and the valley, and the land, and the sea, and the island, and the meadow where mention of God hath been made, and His praise glorified.” ~ Baha’u’llah