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Peter Smith is very dear to my heart and I consider him an honorary uncle. I am always delighted when our paths cross and I was fortunate to serve at the Baha’i World Centre at the same time as him. That’s when I got to hear live versions of some of the pieces on 9 Days of Pilgrimage, an album that was recently released digitally. Some of its songs provide historical narratives, while others share experiences of pilgrimage. All are moving.
Peter took a few moments to share with us how the album came together and its significance to him:
Baha’i Blog: To begin, could you please tell us about yourself and your work as a musician?
I have been a hobbyist musician from the time I was a kid having learned to play piano and organ. I was forced to take Royal Conservatory of music exams grade 10 piano and 2 theory, which ruined my creativity. My grandmother, a force to be reckoned with, had her ARTC (Associate Royal Conservatory Teacher) and was the church choir director and organist. I was in the choir as well as being the assistant organist until being unceremoniously evicted for playing an amazing rendition of “House of the Rising Sun” in church. I then took Jazz drumming and played in rock bands as a drummer for a number of years. I picked up acoustic guitar, harmonica, saxophone and banjo in the years to come.
Baha’i Blog: What inspired you to put together an album based on pilgrimage?
I had the privilege of serving at the Baha’i World Centre as a pilgrim guide for four years. During this time I was encouraged by an inspiring individual to think about listening to the sentiments that pilgrims shared and to try to capture the experiences and feelings in music and lyrics.
Baha’i Blog: What was something you learned during this creative process?
That prayer, meditation and reflection tapped into music that was waiting to be be created. The majority of the melodies and accompanying lyrics came to me easily including while I was sleeping. I also learned to listen carefully: to pilgrims, to my inner voice, to my heart and to the music frequently running in my head.
Baha’i Blog: How have the Baha’i teachings influenced your creative process?
As a pilgrim guide I was constantly immersed in the stories, teachings, and intimate history and life experiences of pilgrims both past and present. Pilgrims have visited the Holy Land to be in the presence of the Blessed Beauty, the Bab, and Abdu’l-Baha and pilgrims happen to learn about some heroes and heroines of the Faith. They imbibe the fragrances and sacred dust of the Shrines and Holy Places. This was at the heart of my creative process.
Baha’i Blog: Could you tell us about some of the collaborations involved in making this album?
I had the bounty of meeting, working with, and connecting to different musicians from around the world who were then serving at the World Centre. Their ideas influenced the music to become quite eclectic in its flavour. I tried to have others sing the music for me as my voice doesn’t cut it as far as I’m concerned but nothing worked out. So I hope the listeners will overlook this and instead focus on the message and the melodies.
Baha’i Blog: Is there one song in particular that stuck with you more than the others?
Each song was unique trying to capture the feelings and senses of pilgrimage. I think “A Pilgrims Parting” sums up many of the experiences that many of us might feel, especially at the end of the nine days. I think this was the first song I wrote when starting the project. I wrote all the songs in Haifa and Akka and recorded them in a tiny noisy 4′ x 9′ balcony attached to our apartment, that any real musician would have laughed at or thought impossible to have accomplished.
I was very grateful to have had the opportunity to learn the skills of recording and editing.
Baha’i Blog: Do you have any advice for people considering learning a musical instrument or writing a song?
As a musician I never ever considered myself as a singer songwriter. I had always played someone else’s music. I never imagined that I could write a song until I let go of my perceptions and feelings and stopped listening to others’ music for a while. I would walk around and listen to nothing but the sounds around me or sit quietly around the Shrines and in the gardens and put on noise cancelling head phones to listen to the silence and that’s where I found the songs in this ether.
Baha’i Blog: Where is the music available?
Baha’i Blog: Thank you, Peter, for taking the time to tell us about your album and your creative process!
If you’d like to find out more about going on pilgrimage, please visit this official website of the Baha’i World Centre: https://bahai.bwc.org/pilgrimage/index.asp
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