“Feel the resonance, insight that comes to us from the voices of long ago, speaking words from a distant shore. Always the resonance, wisdom that shines pure light, through reiteration, illuminates what we're here for.”
– Ismaili Community Ensemble
From its inaugural concerts of 2008, which marked the Golden Jubilee celebrations of Mawlana Hazar Imam, one of the underlying objectives of the Ismaili Community Ensemble (ICE) in the United Kingdom has been to encourage continuous learning through music. In learning to produce music and work with different people, young Ismaili musicians have probed the depths of their identity. Audiences, lending an appreciating ear to this new music, have been compelled to consider the messages carried through the medium.
In 2012, with the Olympic Games knocking at London's door, ICE decided to “Celebrate Diversity” by working with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the Orpheus Centre, a performing arts centre for young disabled adults. This collaboration earned them the coveted Inspire Mark from the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad, allowing ICE to be linked to the Olympics in an official capacity. Together, their music spoke of unity in diversity, and pluralism in society.
Study the past to define the future
In Resonance, its most recent concert performed in January 2013, ICE tapped the idea of story-telling, highlighting literature as a potent vehicle for the transmission of ideas and understanding.
Confucius, a Chinese teacher and philosopher once said: “Study the past if you would define the future.” Muslims of today have inherited a rich legacy of literature from the creative imaginations of writers and poets of yesteryear. ICE, inspired by these stories, interpreted and adapted them for musical compositions.
The first half of the concert presented the stories The Pen and the Ants and The Story of the Reed, by Jalaluddin al-Rumi, both of which feature in the Ta'lim curriculum taught at Ismaili religious education centres. Music brought the stories to life and they resonated with the audience – particularly the youth.
As the music and lyrics to the story developed, the dancers observed, assimilated and finally choreographed their dance to bring the shadow landers to life. The captivating combination of movement, sound and energy took the audience on n emotional journey as the shadow landers moved out of the darkness and into the light.
Stronger ties through culture
“[The performance] demonstrates how art and music can combine with faith and spirituality actually to enhance and improve our understanding and belief,” observed Bob Neill, UK Member of Parliament and Vice Chairman of the Conservative Party for Local Government. “It is also, I think, a demonstration of the tolerance, the outward looking approach to the world, the enlightenment and the compassion and the belief in integration for which the Ismaili community throughout the world is recognised for – which we are particularly happy to see amongst us here in the UK.”
Mr Neill also commented on the voluntary work of the Ismaili community. He gave particular mention to the over 600 members of the community who served as volunteers during the London Olympic Games, citing it as a practical demonstration of the community's commitment to integration.
“[The Ismaili community] punches above the weight of its numbers in social, in economic and in cultural terms in the United Kingdom,” he added.
Through its innovative musical performances, the Ismaili Community Ensemble opens new arenas for learning in a creative environment. It promotes stronger ties within the ummah and and reaches out to the wider community, which helps to develop a mutual understanding and strengthen bonds of community and friendship.