Mirza Husayn-Ali, who is known to the world by His title, Baha’u’llah, was born in Tehran, Iran on 12 November, 1817. Baha’u’llah means “Glory of God” in Arabic and He is the Prophet-Founder of the Baha’i Faith. The anniversary of the day He was born is celebrated alongside the Birth of the forerunner of His Revelation, the Bab. These Twin Holy Days are celebrated annually as one festival where the closely interwoven missions of these two Divine Luminaries are remembered together.
An Interview with Omid Gollmer About ‘The Nightingale Sessions’
Omid Gollmer is the creator behind “The Nightingale Sessions”, a series of devotional videos that put excerpts from the Baha’i Writings to music. Based in Stuttgart, Germany, these videos were made in commemoration of the bicentenary of the Birth of Baha’u’llah. (If you’d like to see one, we showcased it on Baha’i Blog’s video section here.)
Omid kindly agreed to tell us a little about these moving musical pieces and the production of their videos. I hope you enjoy our conversation!
Baha’i Blog: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background as a musician?
I was born in Graz, Austria and raised by a Persian mother and an Austrian father. Music has always been a big part of my life. I enjoyed listening to all kinds of music, especially to the diversified LP collection of my parents. When I was a kid, my parents put me in music school, where I learned how to play the violin. However, I put down the violin and started playing guitar when I was 16. I really caught on fire with this instrument, playing for hours and hours, day by day. Eventually I wrote my first songs when I was 18 and finally started playing in bands, which was a great experience for my musical development.
Though music was such an important part of my life, I studied educational sciences and philosophy, since I was also interested in everything that had to do with human behaviour and the nature of human beings. But the call to music was always there and became stronger and stronger. So after my studies and some years working in different social fields, I decided to make the very deep passion of my heart, music, my profession. This wouldn’t be possible without the support of my wonderful wife, Irena, who is a musician as well — and the love, inspiration and creative power of our relationship.
Baha’i Blog: Can you tell us a little bit about “The Nightingale Sessions” and what inspired you to create them?
As the bicentenary of the Birth of Baha’u’llah was coming up, I was dreaming about a musical project to do on this very special occasion. In previous years I had created some melodies based on the Baha’i Writings in different styles and languages, which I thought could be a good contribution. So I made up a concept of seven songs that I wanted to record as live sessions. I was inspired by different formats of live sessions broadcasted on YouTube, where they show the beauty of intimate, handmade music in a simple, minimalistic manner that is reflected in the use of natural instruments and a natural surrounding. One of the many inspirations was also the Baha’i Blog Studio Sessions. The name “Nightingale Sessions” is of course inspired by one of the many symbolic names connected to Baha’u’llah and moreover implies an image of melody and singing. We recorded “The Nightingale Sessions” in February 2017 and it took us until September for them to be finished and ready to publish.
Baha’i Blog: Could you please tell us a little bit about the collaborations involved?
At first I thought I would do all the work by myself but then I thought, if it should be a present for the birthday of Baha’u’llah, then I should only be content if I really tried to make it as good as possible in order to be appropriate for this occasion. As I already had some experience with doing music videos, I knew that this kind of work needed an experienced and well versed videographer. I knew a friend (he even happened to be a relative of me when his sister married my brother), who was Baha’i and a professional videographer as well, so I contacted him and told him about my idea. He was excited right away and after we fixed a date for the Sessions, we talked about all the artistic concepts and the technical requirements. As he had no camera equipment himself at that time, one of the requirements was to rent the technical equipment from a film and media service.
As for the audio recording and the music part I wasn’t sure how to do it. For the recording I had some experience with it and minimal technical equipment for doing it. But for the playing part I was not sure how to do it. I knew that I could play all of these songs by myself, just with my voice and my guitar, but I felt that some songs needed more to be really special, without really knowing, what this “more special” could be and who I should ask. Shortly before the date of the sessions I got to know Marcel Cestari, an excellent guitarist, when he was playing with his band in a bar in Stuttgart. After just a short time knowing each other I spontaneously asked him if he could imagine being part of “The Nightingale Sessions”. Without really having heard one of the songs, he immediately said yes. He only had about one week to get into the songs and create something that would fit the compositions. For “Ye are the fruits” he did some percussive finger work. Eventually I heard that he also plays the “Erhu” – a Chinese violin. So I asked him if he could imagine playing this instrument for one of the songs and “Love me” was the song which seemed most appropriate for it. He really did amazing work!
For two other songs, I asked my wife Irena to accompany me with her beautiful voice. As we have been singing occasionally together for more than 10 years, it was a natural thing to do for us. One of the songs is an intonation of the Greatest Name “Allah’u’Abha”, which we sing sometimes for our little daughter when we put her to sleep.
Also, it’s quite important to mention the lettering work of the title. In the video editing phase of the project, I asked another friend of mine, who is a professional information-designer, to do lettering work with the title of “The Nightingale Sessions”. With the title animated and the illustration of the beautiful bird in the middle, I think he really did amazing work! That’s one of the little gems of this project.
Baha’i Blog: What’s something interesting you learned while making these videos that you can share with us?
The most important thing to me was that I followed this idea to fruition: first it was only in my mind, turning the idea round and developing it by and by and secondly, by connecting this idea with friends and other minds, who could be a part of it and thus help it to grow. The way things turned out so magically — with all these wonderful people who engaged in this project so willingly in such a short period of time — appeared to me as a miracle. But from another more rational perspective it was just an idea, that was brought into reality at the right time, when other people had similar ideas or were open to connecting with this one. My job was to follow my idea and find the right people to make it real. Thank God, I found them!
Baha’i Blog: What was a challenge you had to overcome in order to create The Nightingale Sessions?
In review, I don’t see any real challenges. That’s maybe because of two thing: 1.) I loved what I did. 2.) Everything in this project was based on the Baha’i Faith, that it’s a good idea and that everything will work out. And so it did.
Of course we had different problems to deal with. For example we realized one day before the recordings that we would need an audio-interface with more mic-inputs. Luckily we borrowed an 8-track-audio-interface from a friend of Marcel’s, and so we were able to do the recordings the way we wanted. Last but not least, such a project needs some financial investment, for example to rent the technical equipment.
Baha’i Blog: What other projects are you working on?
Recently I did a new music video for my song “Same old light” which contains some inspiration from the Writings, since it brings up the principle of progressive revelation. Together with Marcel, I did another Live-Session for two of my songs. My upcoming project will be the start of recording a new album, which will mainly be acoustic and hopefully it will be enriched by the contribution of many talented musicians.
Baha’i Blog: Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Thank you and Baha’i Blog for doing this interview with me and giving me the opportunity to share my thoughts and experiences with this project.
Baha’i Blog: Thank you, Omid! We wish you all the best with recording your album and I look forward to listening to it!
To watch all of “The Nightingale Sessions”, please visit Omid Gollmer’s YouTube channel.
If you’ve enjoyed watching them, you may also enjoy Baha’i Blog’s Studio Sessions. You can read about them here, or check them out on our YouTube channel or Soundcloud page.
In her innermost heart, Sonjel is a stay-at-home parent and a bookworm with a maxed out library card but professionally she is a museologist with a background in English Literature. She currently lives on Prince Edward Island, an isle in the shape of a smile on the eastern Canadian coast. Sonjel is a writer who loves to listen to jazz when she's driving at night.