This year I was again invited by one of the finest gentlemen of the local music scene, Rich Batsford (an exceptionally-gifted, free-spirited classical pianist) to a magnificent, intimate and uplifting concert celebrating music, soul, spirit and community called 'Musituality'. This year it was held at the Birmingham Buddhist Centre in Moseley (as part of this year's Moseley Music Festival) - thank you to them for hosting it in their sacred space. Namaste.
'Musituality' (a hybrid word joining 'Music' and 'Spirituality' as one) was created by Amran Ellahi (Aa'shiq Al-Rasul), Mick Perrier (St. Mary's Schola Choir) and Rich Batsford (as mentioned above) - three men of different faiths who each found music an inspirational part of their own spiritual journeys. After an initial collaboration a couple of years ago, they created a collective of musicians who seek to promote harmony and understanding amongst people of all faiths and backgrounds by creating musical events featuring religious or spiritually inspired music to soothe the spirit and inspire the soul - and that they did!
Last year's gig - Brum Cathedral - May 2009
At the first 'Musituality' I attended, at Birmingham Cathedral, was St. Mary's Schola (a Christian choir singing 14th Century to more modern Christian hymn compositions, conducted by Mick Perrier), Rich Batsford (A Beach-Boys loving Buddhist playing a classical piano - which in the cathedral haunted everyone with its sagacity and beauty - he played a selection of his own spiritually inspired compositions from his most recent album Valentine Court' ) and the all-embracing and much-loved Aashiq Al-Rasul (an Islamic Qawwali and Nasheed group).
It was stunning in every way - to be housed in a Christian place of worship sat amongst Buddhists, Muslims and fellow Christians interspersed with smatterings of other spiritual denominations; music knew no religious bounds in taking into the soul the music that transcended all barriers and brought three very different religious communities together to share and rejoice in the music that was sung from the shared hearts and souls of these fantastic musicians. Following the allahic uplifting of Aashiq Al-Rasul, followed a joint performance from all three acts of Paul Ayres' 'Halleluia', which aroused a crescendo of applause from the audience and a standing ovation... never has a night felt more magical than that in Birmingham for me.
The three musical performances were each accompanied by projections of still and moving images custom designed and delivered by Leon Trimble, to a sell-out crowd of over 300 people, who descended to the sides to enjoy a feast provided by the Asian community in the interval: an open invitation to share food and refreshments, mingle and merge and share passion for the music thus heard...
This year's gig - Birmingham Buddhist Centre, Moseley - July 2010
2010's line up included the same line-up however because of the venue there was a slightly different feel to the concert to what there was last year. It was very special in it's atmoshere; more intimate as there was probably around 100 people there as opposed to the 300+ from last year. The welcome was warm and humble, and the performance in the Shrine Room was very honouring.
St. Mary's Schola - a beautiful arrangement of pieces conducted with style and grace by Mick Perrier. They were better rehearsed and tighter as a choir this year compared to last, and I really enjoyed the choral pieces from around the time of Henry VIII as well as the Latin pieces. A rapture of applause for these... would love to see a CD of their work available locally for Christmastime.
Rich Batsford - played with the voracity of a volcano, simpering down to a canter then to the gentile of a butterfly when his fingers fretted over the ivories of his 'portable piano' keyboard. He played some works from Valentine Court; highlights being 'Gudonya', 'Namaste' and 'Completion' - all tipping their caps to his journey into the Buddhist Faith. Awesome. This man has huge talent yet is so modest about his magnificence with the piano.
Aa'shiq Al-Rasul - It seems everyone had been waiting for them most of all; and they were warmly received. They use their voices and their instruments to reach out to the heart of each listener via the ears and the eyes... and for me they reach right inside and touch my soul.
Their name translates into English as 'Lovers of The Prophet', and their music - of course faith inspired - ranges from the classical style of music called Qawali, through to contemporary Nasheed. They sung in Arabic, Urdu, English and Punjabi using only their voices and percussion and their talent puts its arms around the room in a group hug and draws you in. They communicated with their usual power, passion and spiritual force, enchanting the audience with their beautiful musical gifts, spreading smiles, joy and peace with their delightful music. I would heartily recommend their album 'Majesty', where a wide range of their work from this evening's set was taken.
These get-together create bridges that connect the diversity of our intra-communities, how is it we share the same space, but get set against one another with extremist behaviour communicated by the press... neighbours so ashamedly misunderstood yet so close?
Musituality proves beyond doubt that music is the universal language we all understand and share, the one way we all lift up our arms and let out a celebration of life, a way for everyone to be touched. Music is the glue that binds together our community as one, and allows without discimination all that embrace it the chance to experience one another. It is when I see such collaboration and mutual respect and enjoyment - shared glimpses into what makes our communities individual, beautiful, intricate - that I believe there is hope for a future of complete openness, acceptance and peace where we sit side by side and thank each other's heavens for having got their universal energies combined and gracing us with the gift of musical expression.
As someone commented about the whole event: 'Awesometuality' indeed!
(c) Kate Southall, 2010