Students from different religious and musical backgrounds came together last Thursday to perform a wide array of interfaith music. The performance, which was organized by College senior Ariel Wolpe as part of her world music project and honors thesis “Spirit Sounds: A Collaboration of Inter Faithful Musicians,” took place in Canon Chapel and featured musicians of Jewish, Muslim, Baha’i and Atheist affiliates. The concert brought together these musicians with the aim to bridge the gap between people’s differences and to promote the Emory standard of diversity.
Wolpe’s project consists of a 12 track all-original CD compilation of interfaith music from various Emory students, alumni, staff and faculty. The concert, in which the songs were performed, was organized as a fundraiser. According to Wolpe, all the proceeds will be used to help fund a performance art program for refugee youth. The program is an initiative of the Clarkston Community center, which is a non-profit organization providing community programming in Clarkston and Dekalb.
Wolpe wrote in an email to the Wheel that Spirit Sounds was inspired by President Barack Obama’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge. Wolpe explained that the project emphasizes how important religious collaboration is to develop understanding and a relationship across all traditions. According to Wolpe’s kickstart website, “Our deepest wish is that this project will be a national example of how music, reflection, spirit, education, and creativity can cultivate beauty, peace and loving friendship.”
The concert started with a prayer led by Will Robertson, who is a graduate of Berklee School of Music and synagogue chorus director of Congregation Bet Haverim, as well as producer of the CD. The prayer served as a relatable way to introduce the diverse sound of the concert. It was presented in the form of a number of individuals speaking different prayers alongside each other. The implication of the format was that they, who affiliate themselves with many different religions, were praying to a single God. The prayer captured the essence of what the musicians hoped to achieve: bridging the gap between people from different religions.
“I feel like it’s such a beautiful expression of interfaith dialogue,” Robertson wrote in the program.
The first official song of the concert was “Asfura Tzipora,” performed by College junior Nour El-Kebbi and Wolpe. According to Wolpe, who introduced the song, it brought together Islam and Judaism with the metaphor of birds in flight. “Birds hold religious significance in both of our traditions and represent elements of our personalities,” El-Kebbi wrote in the program. “I felt like I re-found my spirituality through this project — well at the very least, it got me thinking about it very seriously again.” The concert felt like a small group of friends had gotten together to play music with one another. The music reflected the casual setting and the voices of the performers were soft and easy to listen to. Wolpe was the lead vocalist during many of the songs, her voice sultry, soulful and spiritual.
It was pleasurable to hear the music and reflect on the message in each song. At the same time, each song inspired the listener to think critically about their own beliefs. Finding similarities between religious backgrounds, and not merely focusing on the differences, was arguably the most rewarding part of the concert.
The pitch and harmonies during the performance were spot on and the artists’ emotional connection to their music was palpable. Wolpe, who either composed or co-composed all of the songs, sang beautifully. Her voice was smooth and relaxing, and filled with so much emotion that every word she sang was moving. The other vocalists that comprised the interfaith musicians brought diversity in terms of religious mixture, as well as a motley sound that always worked well together in their harmonies, their rifts or their vocal exaggerations.
The last song of the night was “Occupy,” and it brought together Wolpe with most of the other “inter-faithful” musicians.
According to Wolpe, “’Occupy’ invites [the audience] to ask Occupy movement activists what they pray, stand and live for,” but also served as a closing tool to get the audience to think about what they pray, stand and live for. The lyrics of the song focused on reflecting on one’s own actions and asking those difficult questions about all kinds of beliefs in order to grow as individuals.
“Spirit Sounds decided to include this song...because of the communal engagement and religiosity that infuses the Occupy movement,” Wolpe said. “It is the spirit of caring inquiry that creates dialogue and meaningful exchange across difference, and that fosters inter-faithful, and peaceful, friendships.”
All of the songs in the concert are featured in the album “Spirit Sounds: A Collaboration of Inter Faithful Musicians,” which can be downloaded online for free.
— Contact Riakeem Kelley.