Beauty saves, and the spiritual journey of pianist Ramin Bahrami is a moving testament to that.
Iranian pianist Ramin Bahrami is a convert to Christianity, whose story was recently featured on the website of the Italian publicationFamiglia Cristiana. His childhood in Tehran unfolded under the Khomeyni regime and in the shadow of the bloody Iran-Iraq war, which broke out on September 21, 1980, and would leave over a million dead in eight years.
Ramin Bahrami discovers Bach
One day, at the age of 6, while air raid alarms were constantly sounding, Bahrami listened to a record brought from Paris by a family friend. The music was that of Johann Sebastian Bach, performed by Canadian pianist Glenn Gould, and it would change his life.
Bahrami tells Famiglia Cristiana:
Even among thorns roses are born. While there was fire burning outside, I was discovering Bach. It was such heavenly music that I immediately had the impression that it was the Lord singing at that moment. I didn’t know it yet but I had found my home: Christianity. I sat down at the piano and prayed to God that one day I would be able to play like that.
Bahrami’s father, an engineer in the Shah’s time and a pianist himself, was imprisoned on charges of being an opponent of the new regime. He was still in prison when Ramin and his family emigrated to Europe. They did not know they would never see him again.
Arrival in Italy and his father’s death
The family’s initial plan was to travel to Germany, the homeland of Ramin’s paternal grandmother, but the first country that welcomed them was Italy, thanks to a scholarship he received to study at the Milan Conservatory, obtained through the Italian embassy in Tehran.
It was while in Italy that the family received news of Ramin’s father’s death. He tells Famiglia Cristiana:
“I was already in Italy. I was just over 9 years old when my older brother called us from Iran. He immediately said: our father died. I didn’t start crying right away, but I did something he would have liked. I went to the piano and played an Impromptu by Franz Schubert, one of the most mournful and somber in the history of music.
Bach led him to Catholicism
However, Bach—in whose notes he feels the living presence of God—was the conduit for his conversion to Catholicism. He told the Italian website:
In a dream, I was 10 years old, and I was dancing in a circle with Johann Sebastian Bach next to me, who said absolutely nothing to me. I understood the importance of silence, which I later rediscovered in the Christian faith (…) These silences during ceremonies are just as important as the written words, because the Lord also speaks to us through silence. I said to myself, if an exceptional man like Bach created all this music for Christ, in such a complete and splendid way, then this is the right path. I was not yet baptized—I would do it years later when I got married—but it was clear to me that I was a Christian, and the message of Christ was already in me.
Existential crisis and rebirth through faith
The musician relates how he later overcame a moment of great existential crisis upon returning from a tour in Mexico. He was in a very bad way: he had even thought of quitting the piano.
He was in Veneto (Italy) to give a church concert. He describes the scene for Famiglia Cristiana:
(…) in the sacristy of this church I miraculously found on the floor a holy card of French Archbishop Dominique Lebrun. It seemed to be a prayer written especially for me, when I no longer wanted to live. It said, more or less, “Love me as you are. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t an angel; I know all your miseries. Love me as you are.” I realized that I had to go ahead and play.
For 20 years now, Bahrami has been living with multiple sclerosis, which he now considers a traveling companion. He explained to Famiglia Cristiana’s reporter Donatella Ferrario:
For 20 years I have had multiple sclerosis: for years I didn’t talk about it, then one day I made up my mind. My testimony can perhaps help. My brother also suffers from it but in his case it has been more invasive. I’ve learned to accept it as a friend, not as a punishment, a cumbersome presence that confronts me every moment with my fragility, with the limitation that is proper to every human being. The road is difficult but also challenging: there are moments when joy surprises you and the fact that you have ups and downs is a bit like living the waves of Bach’s own music. There’s summer, there’s sunshine, and when it shines in Germany (the pianist has lived for years with his 84-year-old mother in Stuttgart Ed.), it’s something exceptional, but there’s also winter, the cold. It’s precisely these that make us appreciate the rising sun, the returning spring.
Bahrami goes on to talk about his devotion to the Virgin Mary:
As a believer I say I have two mothers, one named Shahin Asfhar, an Iranian of Russian-Turkish descent, and the other who is the Virgin Mary. I, a small human being, look to this Mother, needing her to listen and understand, seeing her as an inexhaustible fountain, because I make her angry sometimes, and I often pray that she will intercede with her Son and bring this sick, feelingless humanity to its senses through art, culture, and beauty.
Learning to pray from Pope Francis
Humanity is going through a dark and crucial time today, which makes Bahrami appreciate more than ever the need for prayer:
When I was born my parents taught me to love different cultures and make them dialogue. That is why I am distressed: I pray as Pope Francis is teaching us, as he is the only one speaking clearly on the war in Ukraine. I learned early in life what it means to have war at home. I practiced on the piano and heard the missiles in the sky, saw destruction everywhere. We have to react and wake up, walk the road of peace, disarmament, dialogue.
The following video shows Bahrami playing the piano in a 2020 performance of music by Bach: