A Golden Voice Stirs Multitude On Star-spangled Day

September 14, 1993|By Dan Rodricks

"I never heard the national anthem sung better," the governor of Maryland said, and while you might not consider William Donald Schaefer to be the best judge of vocal virtuosity, do not dismiss his assertion.

It is quite possible that no one, anywhere, ever sang "The Star-Spangled Banner" better than Hazzan Farid Dar--ti did at the commencement of the largest naturalization ceremony in the state's history yesterday afternoon at Camden Yards.

He sang into a light southeasterly breeze, from a platform along the third-base line, 11 Maryland and 13 American flags behind him, each flapping toward right field. His presentation was exquisite, and the Oriole Park sound system served him perfectly.

It was a spectacular moment in a spectacular event on a spectacular day.

More than 4,000 men, women and children were becoming citizens of the United States in an American League baseball park. In Washington, leaders of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization were making peace.

Farid Dar--ti, a Jew born in Iran, who himself became a citizen of the United States 30 years ago, watched the Middle Eastern peace ceremony on television, then walked into the dazzling sunshine of Camden Yards.

And he sang "The Star-Spangled Banner" better than, I'll bet, most of the people assembled for the naturalization ceremony ever heard it sung.

"Awe" is not too large a word to describe how the people standing with me, 30 rows above home plate, felt when Dar--ti sang. His voice ascended to the high clouds of tenor heaven.

But there was more to it than that. Dar--ti's voice was laced with the whisper of the old world. Hearing the anthem sung with a foreign accent, even the faint one Dar--ti retains, gave the moment a completely different impact.

I heard in Dardashti's voice something I do not hear when others sing "The Star-Spangled Banner" in large settings. I heard love and praise, longings fulfilled, dreams realized. It was as if Dar--ti were singing a great tribute in a cathedral or synagogue.

"I had just come from seeing the signing ceremony on TV," Dar--ti, the cantor, or hazzan, at Chizuk Amuno Congregation, said later in the day. "I was filled up with happiness and optimism. . . . Really, [Middle East peace] has a lot to do with the the fact that the United States has always been in search of peace and always desired peace, and always a friend of Israel. I am so proud to be an American today."

His father, known simply as Dar--ti, was an internationally famous singer of traditional Iranian music. It seems impossible to imagine in today's world, but Dar--ti's father, also a Jew, enjoyed wide popularity in a predominantly Islamic nation and region. "The Iranian Jewish community is one of the oldest Jewish communities in the world," Farid Dar--ti said yesterday. "There were perhaps 200,000 Jews who lived there before the state of Israel was established; many of them went to Israel."

"The [Iranians] respected him," he said of his father. "He was very good at singing Iranian music, which is very, very intricate and difficult singing. My parents had a home in Israel, they traveled back and forth."

His father remained popular in Iran until the late 1970s and the Islamic revolution.

By then, Farid Dar--ti had made a life in the United States and, like those who took the oath en masse at Oriole Park yesterday, he had become a citizen. Music was the love of his life. That's another thing you heard when Dar--ti, at the close of the event, sang "America" for the country's newest citizens. You heard love.

"It made me very, very emotional," he said of yesterday's events -- the naturalization ceremony in Baltimore, the signing ceremony in Washington. "Really, I feel that it is a miracle that there is a United States of America. So many good things have happened because there is a United States of America. The world still doesn't understand, doesn't grasp that. This country wants to ,, do good. It wants to do so much good without enslaving, without colonizing, without taking what is there from other countries and leaving when we are done. Never has there been a country like this.

B6 "When I sing 'America, The Beautiful,' I mean it."

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