back to the homepageAll material is copyrighted. Click to read the details.find an artistwhat´s going downwho are we and what do we do?
back to the homepageback to the homepagewhat´s new & the site all about itOrdering Back issues of Arts Dialoguesubmit material / help with our work
find: Music The Netherlands

Hugo van Bolhuis  

musician, The Netherlands

Hugo Bolhuis at the Leiderdorp monthly Bahá´í children's classes..

Why this interview? Because I'm an artist and my musical life story is of any importance? Well, I certainly feel like an artist: I have a all the neurotic

characteristics some people associate with artistic personalities. And I simply love music, especially the music that offers consolation and moves people. In music I find signs of God's mercy and compassion. And I especially enjoy community singing because it can make people feel united, loving and happy. And yes, with the 5½ guitarchords I have mastered, I did get the opportunity to contribute musically to the Bahá'í community in a small way. But there are no serious artistic accomplishments. No, through music I was part of some very exciting developments in the recent past of the Bahá'í community of the Netherlands (and Europe). And I love to talk about those.

By the way, I believe we're all artists in a way. This entire creation is an artistic process. And we all play a part in that process. This occurred to me when I read what `Abdu'l-Bahá once said to an artist: "The Holy Manifestations are all Heavenly Artists. Upon the canvas of creation, with the brush of their deeds and lives and actions, they paint immortal pictures … you find the masterpieces of these Spiritual Artists in the hearts."

(Star of the West Vol. 5 No. 10, September 1914, p. 149).

Poster used to the 1970 summer tour..

DB 70 (The 1970 European Dawnbreakers Group)
Left to Right: Claude Herzog (France), Hugo van Bolhuis (The Netherlands), Dick (David) Riem (NL), Ginger Rogers (Spain), Shahram Payam (Denmark), Gambiz Poostchi (Austria), Charles Hamburger (NL).
Front: Kambiz Poostchi, Vida Taherzadeh (Ireland), Bruce Butler (U.S.A.).

Ok, I was brought up with live music. There was always music in the home as often professional musicians came to our house where my father would accompany them on the grand piano. I had piano lessons as a child and for one very short moment in time I could even make my parents believe their son to be a prodigy. When I was 11, I won a competition in composition. Like most classmates I had written a small piece of music for piano. But then someone gave me a tip to write the scores for the string ensemble that was performing at our school. That did the trick. I was amazed how well it sounded. I won first price.

But my parent's dream was soon to be shattered. When I was twelve I quit piano-playing. My brother's guitar became more interesting. After some years I began taking lessons and my parents gave me my first, beautiful, classical guitar. At age 18 I was most fortunate to meet Julian B. Coco, in those days a well-known West Indian classical guitarist. He agreed to teach me for a while. Those were days of working on my guitar six hours a day till there were no fingers left. He coached me when I applied for music school. But when I had to play for the entrance examination, I was so nervous and my hands shook so much that I completely ruined the delicate harmonic notes that I had rehearsed so ambitiously. Even now more than 30 years later, my face still burns red in embarrassment. I decided then and there: No professional career in music for me!

That music would still be playing a very important role in my life has to do with me becoming a Bahá'í. While visiting Canada in 1969 I "coincidentally" met people who took me to the Laurentian Bahá'í summer school near Montreal. It was the most wonderful and memorable event of my life. I informally conversed with such distinguished people as Mr. Furutan, John Robarts, Stanwood Cobb and Bill Hatcher, at the time having no idea of who they were.

DB 70 (The 1970 European Dawnbreakers Group)
Front, Left to Right: Bijan Sobhani (Germany), Wendy (Momen) Worth (U.K.), Fari Khabirpoor (Luxemburg), Ginger Rogers (Spain),
Back Row: Ann Rowan (fore), Mehrdad Poostchi, (U.S.A.), Mehrdad Poostchi (Austria), Patricia van Lith (NL), Candy McCurdy (Luxemburg), Vida Taherzadeh (Ireland), Bruce Butler (U.S.A.)

I was surrounded by lots of warm loving young people, who encouraged me to sing and play. They praised me straight into the Faith. I have such warm memories of singing for and with these wonderful people.

On returning to the Netherlands in August 1969, I immediately made contact with the Bahá'ís. And that seemed to be exactly the right moment! Why?
Well, in the spring of that year Russ and Gina Garcia had worked with some youth in Germany, teaching them songs, etc. Then in that summer this group of about 20 youth, calling themselves The Dawnbreakers of Europe, toured a few European countries, giving concerts. A few from that group returned to the Netherlands full of enthusiasm to start a Dutch group of youth. But there was nobody available for musical accompaniment… and there I was with my 5 ½ guitarchords, just the person they were looking for. I was delighted.

All the Bahá'í youth were invited to Rotterdam in the Charles Hamburger home to work with a hired professional to learn and perform the songs. About 25 of us performed about once every two months in theatres and we were fairly popular, at times completely filling the theatres.

So that was the beginning of what has become my long and intense musical Bahá'í life. Those also were the days of singing and talking about the Faith through street performances; as the duo "H&H" (with Harry Agterhorst).

Then in the summer of 1970 four of us went to perform in the European Dawnbreakers group known as "DB 70". About 25 youth from about twenty countries spent two weeks of intense, challenging and exciting rehearsal in Düsseldorf with the hired professional Dutch choreographer, Arthur Hesselbach. We expected him to teach us steps and routines and to rehearse a script with us for a conventional show much like that of the first international Dawnbreakers, but it was going to be quite a different thing. There was no script. He just trained us to listen to and to respond to each other and to the environment, and work with simple props like long sticks and scarves. In two weeks he lead us through a process, after which we were able to make our own script in one day. And we would be able to adapt our show to local circumstances: sometimes an enormous outdoor stage of stone with stairs leading up to a castle-wall, at other times a lovely small theatre or a church. In Hamburg we were in the huge Auditorium Maximum, a hall where the Beatles had once performed.
Our show followed these themes: the development of humanity by becoming self aware, then discovering matter and using it in a materialistic way, the development of world conflict as a result of that (complimented with stunning stroboscopic lighting) and finally the establishment of world unity. In that last part the lights would turn to the warmest colors and we would sing our songs (some of them arranged by the Garcias).

DB 70 (The 1970 European Dawnbreakers Group) -more or less the whole group.
Left to Right: (on the ground): Roya Khamsi (Switzerland), Dick (David) Riem, (NL), Naysan Faizi (U.K.), Robin Niehy Reynard (Denmark),
Left to Right: Bruce Butler (U.S.A.), Cecilia Pharr (Denmark), Candy McCurdy (Luxemburg), Azar Chayani, Rosemary Magill (Ireland), Hugo van Bolhuis (with guitar), Jeff Ault (U.K.), Vida Taherzadeh (Ireland), Linda Marshall (U.S.A.)

Because of the diversity of our group and a lot of talent we could incorporate lovely touches such as live Persian dance (thank you Asar), American Gospel (thank you Cecilia), an Elvis Presley hit (thank you Ginger) and a part of Tchaikovsky's violin concerto (thank you: Bijan).
We traveled in a bus, performing almost every evening for 4 ½ weeks in; Germany, Luxemburg,

Belgium, France, Switzerland, Lichtenstein, Austria, Germany, Denmark, and The Netherlands. Our show improved as we traveled and at times the audience was wildly enthusiastic or deeply moved. The whole tour was broadly covered by the media (newspaper, radio and television). Of course we had a secret weapon in our PR group, a real American movie-star: Linda Marshall.

It was a very inspiring and exciting tour and so the four Dutch members of the group returned to the Netherlands with more enthusiasm than ever for our Dutch Dawnbreaker group, which was also trained by Arthur Hesselbach. Those were exciting years for the youth, and many youth became Bahá'ís in those years. In fact the Dawnbreakers became a bit of a movement in our national community, in that all youth were involved in this, whether in making posters or helping or in performing.

Relipop a quartet, where one showed the slides and three performed music. Summer 1971.
Left to Right: B. van Bolhuis, Ursula Namdar (Zurich), Dick (David) Riem, Hugo van Bolhuis.
front: Eddie Kollaart and Faizollah Namdar (Zurich).

In the summer of 1971, I was part of a small group with Eddie Kollaart, Reza Reyhani, and Dirk (David) Riem. We toured in Reza's red Volvo with a musical-slide presentation called "Relipop" throughout four West European countries. It was a simple formula, but it worked very well.
Then in 1972, Marja Van Veenendaal (de Jong), Otto Wolthuis, Peter Hazenberg, Patricia Visser, Patricia van Lith, Ellen Gramsma (Kersten) and I, started the Bahá'í music group, "Great Day" singing new material that we brought back from the youth conference in Padua (Italy). It was a wonderful way of promoting the Bahá'í Faith and we performed regularly until two members were about to give birth in 1975. In 1994 we performed a one-time come back at the national Dutch celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Bahá'í Faith. It was great fun!

Great Day, a Dutch music group of the early 70's. Hugo van Bolhuis is on the far right with guitar.

Music was such an important part of our community in the '70s that there even was a real national committee for music, and being part of this committee is one of the high points of my life. We were all "artistic" and slightly chaotic youth so you can imagine we had a great time. And we even managed to publish the first Dutch children's songbook, "Weet je waarvan ik nu zing" (Do you know what I'm singing about).

1991 in Romania
Left to Right: ?? (French-Canadian), Esther, ??,??, Hugo van Bolhuis with guitar.

In 1991 I relived some of the atmosphere of Dawnbreakers and Great Day while in Romania during the summer with my son. We went to what came to be known as the first international youth conference in Eastern Europe. I took my guitar and music, just incase. I even had written a small, funny song in Romanian. Before I knew it, I was playing on the street, on the beach, everywhere, and people crowded around the Bahá'í stands. So I ended up travel teaching with my guitar for another week in Brasov.

Hugo van Bolhuis on left, at a Dutch Bahá´í summer school in 1986.

Looking back, I know I am not a great talent as a musician but with my guitar I was given a place in the Dutch Bahá'í community, where I could feel useful. My fondest memories are community singing especially with the children. In the past I did this regularly at national events such as summer- and winterschools. Currently our monthly regional Bahá'í children's school "De Schitterende Ster" (the Brilliant Star) always ends with us singing together.
There is still one long cherished wish to be realized: a Bahá'í Songbook, a collection of 95 songs that we have sung over the last few decades. Ten years ago we decided to make such a book and now this summer with the help and encouragement of many friends I hope we will get it done. With that book other musicians - and there are a lot of them in the Bahá'í community these days - can go on to help the community sing. Singing together generates a feeling of happiness, unity and love. So lets never stop doing that!

"O musician of God!... The songsters of fellowship that abide in the gardens of holiness must pour forth such a triumphant burst of songs in this age that the birds in the fields may wing their flight in a transport of delight; and in this divine festival, this heavenly banquet, they should play the lute and the harp, and the violin and the lyre in such wise that the people of east and west may be filled with exceeding joy and gladness, and be carried away with exultation and happiness."

(Translated from a Persian tablet, in the compilation 'The Importance of the Arts in Promoting the Faith', Bahá'í World Centre)

Arts Dialogue, June 2002, pages 22 and 23.

Arts Dialogue, Dintel 20, NL 7333 MC, Apeldoorn, The Netherlands