Ottawa City Hall Art Gallery echoes with Call to Prayer sound installation

Ben Globerman. Photo: Cassandra Plourde

By Isaac Wurmann

The corridors of City Hall are alive with the sound of prayerful music.

Local artist and musician Ben Globerman’s sound installation Call to Prayer will be delivering its message in the City Hall Art Gallery until March 14.

The installation features three vocalists singing in Latin, Arabic and Hebrew representing the musical traditions of Catholicism, Islam and Judaism.

Globerman said the idea for the project came from a lifelong love of religious music. He grew up listening to Hebrew songs at synagogue with his family.

“I don’t speak Hebrew — I can read it, but at bar mitzvah level — so I don’t actually know what the words are saying,” he said. “But what I think is interesting is that I think religious music generally conveys emotion. It’s visceral, even if you don’t speak the language.”

Call to Prayer has been heard before … briefly. It was exhibited last year for two days at the Bayview Yards, and the response was positive, Globerman says. 

“I think, ideally, you don’t have to have any sort of background to enjoy the piece — cultural, religious, ideological. Hopefully everyone can find some sort of emotional resonance.”

The singers are local musicians who worked with Globerman to select pieces of music that would be appropriate for the project.

After recording each separately, Globerman wove their voices together in his bedroom studio to create what he called a “harmony of difference.”

Call to Prayer is one of the first sound installations ever at the City Hall Art Gallery, according to Meaghan Haughian, a public art officer with the City of Ottawa.

“This show … draws you in with the sound,” Haughian said. “You hear it when you’re steps from the gallery and then you wonder what’s going on in there.”

There is little to see in the exhibition space. Two white benches are pressed up against the white walls, and folding black chairs are available for visitors to sit wherever they would like in the room. Three speakers form a triangle in the middle of the room, and a quote by Muslim poet Rumi adorns the walls.

“All roads lead to the one House . . . From one seed a thousand ears of corn emerge,” it reads. The words reflects Call to Prayer’s intention to bring different religions together using music, Globerman says.

“You have to spend time with the piece to really appreciate it,”Haughian said, adding that she once saw a man sitting in the gallery for over an hour with his notebook.

Mona Bahumaid

The project’s eponymous “call to prayer” is performed by Mona Bahumaid, who sings the Muslim invitation to pray in Arabic.

“I’ve always loved the call to prayer, since I was young,” Bahumaid said. “I’d just listen to it and then repeat it.”

Muslim women do not usually sing the call to prayer in Islam, so, she said, the opportunity to sing it in this project was special.

Bahumaid says she hopes Call to Prayer will help people see her religion from a different perspective.

“It was a great opportunity to show a beautiful side of Islam,” she said.

Terri-Lynn Mitchell

Terri-Lynn Mitchell, a local music teacher who sings the Latin verses, agrees that the project can bring people of different faiths together.

“Yes, it does have a sacred background, but unless you know the language it’s being sung in, you’re not necessarily sure what the text is saying — you’re just hearing a mix of sounds,” she said. “That’s the miracle of the music, is that it can move you without knowing exactly what is being said or sung.”

“Bringing together multiple voices in prayer, which you hope would translate to something akin to hope, can really be nothing but positive,” she said.

A vernissage for Call to Prayer will be held on Feb. 8 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. A live performance will take place on Feb. 18 from 2-2:45 p.m. at the City Hall Art Gallery.

This story was produced in collaboration with Centretown News and Carleton University.

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