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Hear, hear: Baha’i audio books, talks promote understanding

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Jon Rezin works the board during the recording of an audio book. Photo by Dino Antoniou

Ginny Kintz needed to clear her head.

“I was going through a challenging situation at work, trying to deal with a difficult personality and having trouble summoning the positive attitude I try to approach these things with,” recalls the Conway, South Carolina, Baha’i.

“Decided a long walk would do me good. I put on my headphones and iPod to listen to music and instead got a talk on unity” by a member of the national Baha’i governing body.

“It was exactly what I needed. By the time I was done with my walk — and [she] was done with me — I had the renewed focus that I needed.”

Peggy Varner can relate.

The Milledgeville, Georgia, Baha’i speaks of the impact recorded Baha’i audio has had on her family.

“My children loved listening to [Baha'i stories] when they went to bed, and always begged for another chapter,” says Varner.

“Now my grandchildren often listen to and sing along with Baha’i CDs in the car — a much better option than listening to the radio! I also love listening to taped talks by various Baha’i speakers.”

Seems there’s a variety of media out there: radio, LPs, reel-to-reel tapes, cassettes and eight-tracks, CDs, mp3 files.

As well as content: sacred writings, messages, hymns and songs, talks, interviews.

And reasons why people listen: to study the guidance, aid in memorization, simply enjoy.

A long drive or a quiet moment at home easily can be filled with uplifting sounds.

And those who provide audio books on Baha’i-related topics say their initiatives are a labor of love.

Products of passion and service

“Each product,” says Jon Rezin, is “produced with passion and service at the heart.”

The Los Angeles-based audio engineer was working in New York City when he “fell in love with audio books.”

He searched for audio books with Baha’i content “on par with the audio books that I would see lining the racks of the bookstores and available online.”

When Rezin didn’t find what he was looking for he decided to create it, and set about learning the industry in Big Apple production houses.

“I had the opportunity to work with some of the best voice talent, top voice directors, and learn the production techniques to help a book go from page to CD,” he recalls.

Amid making a pilgrimage to Baha’is holy sites in Israel, getting married and moving to L.A., Rezin put together a business plan.

His HearTheWritings.com venture first released on audio The Advent of Divine Justice, by Shoghi Effendi, the late Guardian of the Faith.

“That document seemed exceptionally appropriate for the current stage of development of the American Baha’i community,” says Rezin.

Audio versions of three recent messages from the international governing body of the Faith followed — made available as free downloads.

Clicks, pops and lip smacks

The process isn’t easy, Rezin acknowledges.

Beyond obtaining permissions and licenses, “production of an audio book is an insanely time-intensive process,” he says.

“On average, we spend around 11 hours producing a single hour of finished audio” from recording to editing, checks for accuracy, mixing and mastering.

“I have to hear each and every click, pop and lip smack,” says Rezin. “We take and re-take until the delivery is right, both technically and based on feeling.”

Fortunately, Rezin has access to some of the best vocal talents.

One is Nabil Jurney, a voice-over professional who says he is “dedicating the rest of my performing years to recording as many Baha’i audio books as I can … working with Jon Rezin.”

After all the production “comes the hard work,” says Rezin.

“There is graphic design, writing the overview for the back cover, contracts, creation of audio snippets, website marketing materials, newsletter creation, uploading to our store site, manufacturing, sending out communications, customer service, social media marketing, etc.”

Amounting, he says, to about 50 hours of work for each hour of audio produced.

A deeper connection

But to Rezin, it’s all worth it.

“The world has become an increasingly distracting and busy place,” he says.

“Lifestyles have changed and now with so much hustle and bustle in our daily lives it becomes all too easy to neglect our obligation to read the sacred writings at least each and every morn and eve.

“Yet we spend two-plus hours driving to and from work,” he notes. “What if that commuting time could be used to deepen our understanding of the writings and develop a closer more personal relationship with Baha’u'llah?

“That is exactly what we feel Baha’i audio books can be: a new way to experience the sacred word and develop that deeper connection.”

Other Baha’i audio producers readily agree.

Teri Ghaemmaghami created World Unity Media even while as she worked full time as business development and marketing manager for a large law firm.

Finding meaning on own terms

“We are told that work is worship, and to be able to combine work with producing Baha’i audio books — it does not get better than that,” says the Glendale, California, Baha’i.

“I get comments from all over the world on how helpful it is to listen to Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u'llah. You can play a selection over and over again and grasp the meaning on your own terms.”

Some of the audio selections also are being used in classes of the Wilmette Institute, a distance learning resource on Baha’i and related topics.

“They wanted to be able to offer a mix of text and audio, so I sent them some recordings to use.”

Ghaemmaghami, whose audio books include Paris Talks, says her next project will be a Baha’i prayer book.

“I met a lovely young lady at [a conference] who was physically challenged and who I know will enjoy the ability to hear the prayers,” she says. “I am actually doing the book because of her.

“I also email with a wonderful woman in Australia who is blind and enjoys listening to the writings. And I have a new friend in South America who is dealing with cancer. … If he can’t get out of bed, he can quietly listen.”

Preparation makes perfect

Phoenix, Arizona-based Leanne Eleff can credit a substitute tutor in a Baha’i study course she was taking for getting her into production of Baha’i audio books.

The tutor mentioned a series of talks on CD by a noted Baha’i scholar, and Eleff purchased them from the Baha’i Distribution Service. The site listed no audio books, however.

Looking further, she discovered the Baha’i Service for the Blind, which provides literature of the Faith to those who are unable to use normal print due to a disability. But its audio products are not yet available in digital formats.

So Eleff took the plunge herself.

“When I did that,” she says, “I felt my heart swell up and I was filled with joy.

“I know it will sound corny to some people, but I really felt like I could hear angels singing in that moment, and I felt like God was guiding me to do this.”

Not right away. First she consulted with a counselor at the Small Business Administration, got training and set up a recording studio in her home. She also found several marketing outlets, including the Baha’i Distribution Service, Amazon and Voices Divine.

Eleff, whose website is http://verdanta.wordpress.com, didn’t know any vocal talent and “felt like I was a good reader and comfortable speaking in front of others,” so she starting doing her own narration.

“I don’t know if I’d recommend this, as it’s a very slow way to get started, but once you have the skills, they’re yours,” she says.

Like others, Eleff finds audio books to be “an amazing way to become intimately familiar with the writings, and thus closer to Baha’u'llah and ultimately to God.”

And many of us, she says, have “brain idle” time when they’re “running, hiking, driving, cleaning, weeding, or even standing in line.”

Boon for auditory learners

Eleff also believers she retains more from listening than reading.

“I don’t know if it’s because I’m more of an auditory learner,” she says, “or if it’s because I can cross-reference what I heard with what I was doing when I heard it, and recall more that way.

“Sometimes I’ll hear a quote I’ve heard a hundred times, but that day it snags my attention and won’t let go. I’ll go back and re-listen to it. Then I’ll stop it and think about how that quote applies to my life at that moment.”

That happens to Eleff most, she says, when listening to The Divine Art of Living, a selection of writings from Baha’u'llah and ‘Abdu’l-Baha. Her productions also include Advent of Divine Justice.

“During recording, I read or listened to every single quote in that book at least a couple dozen times. And yet every now and then, a quote … will jump out at me, and within it I’ll find the solution to a problem I didn’t know I had.

“Or it will be exactly what my neighbor needed to hear when we ran into each other at the mailbox,” she says.

“It’s uncanny. But if you don’t expose yourself to the writings on a regular basis, those moments don’t happen nearly as often.”

Thankfully, that seems no longer a problem.