Photos from the Field

Selected Bahá’í music-makers! Photo by Ron Lynch

Photo from a regional Bahá'í conference in Lusaka, Zambia, 2009.

Photo from a regional Bahá’í conference in Lusaka, Zambia, 2009.

My dear readers, on this fine Wednesday evening, I want to share with you the backstory for my ethnography on the Bahá’í Choral Music Festival. How did I choose a topic? Because ethnomusicology is a field not limited by geographic boundaries, it may seem nigh impossible to select just one location, culture, or music to study. In my case, I followed where my enthusiasm led.

From my freshman year of college, Bahá’í-engendered musics captured my enthusiasm. Full disclosure: I practice the Bahá’í Faith as well as study it, and the more time I spent with Bahá’í youth in the Northeastern States, I noticed that many approached music quite differently than is common in the United States. Rather than creating distinct spaces for music performance and designating these stages for professionals alone, Bahá’í youth often create their own musics collectively, wherever they are. They draw on the sacred writings of the Faith, and perform their creations in a spirit of fellowship and prayer. I not only found this music-making process vibrant and fulfilling, but wondered how it came to be.

Ethnomusicology allows me to zoom in on this distinction I noticed. Questions arose, such as, how are these vibrant musical communities created and maintained, and what forces inspire them to move in a new direction, often against the wider U.S. cultural grain? I sensed that in many other parts of the world, music is still an inextricable part of life, and felt incredibly drawn to study the deeply integrated musics of many Bahá’í collectivities.

The Bahá’í Choral Music Festival is one such formal collectivity. I can’t wait to tell you more about my experience observing their music-making!

Liza

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