Interfaith music: An observer’s perspective

By Michael Barrow

An estimated 4,200 different religions exist throughout the world, each with its own beliefs, worship practices and traditions, and yet one common thread ties them all together: music.

From the entrancing Whirling Dervishes of the Islamic faith to the upbeat, energetic soul of Christian gospel choirs, music permeates the walls that divide one religion from another, joining each together in a melodic composition of worship and praise to a higher power.

On March 19, 2017, an interfaith musical event embodied this idea perfectly. A few thousand people of different faiths gathered at the historic Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, Utah, to partake in the Sacred Music Evening put on by the Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable. Master of Ceremonies Carole Mikita greeted the audience before Alen Ramovic and Alan Scott Bachman of the Muslim and Jewish faiths, respectively, offered a call to prayer. Elder Michael H. Bourne of the Quorum of the Seventy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints then welcomed all faiths and shared a history of the Tabernacle building.

After these opening remarks, those in attendance were treated to a night of musical worship as each number brought a distinct element to the evening. The Catholic faith was represented by the St. Ambrose Choir. A joint group of men, women and children, the choir brought a spirit of reverence into the Tabernacle. This feeling persisted as the Lux Singers, a professional choir consisting of 35 men and women of different Christian denominations, took the stage. Their precise, polished melodies, accented by impressive basses and beautifully piercing sopranos, set a tone of humility and love that remained throughout the rest of the night.

The Lux Singers were followed by Kanako Ford and the Obi Festival Dancers, a Japanese folk group. They sat down to pluck the strings of large harp-like instruments called “koto,” which stood in stark contrast to the a cappella Christian music performed earlier. However, the concentration and passion illustrated in their performance echoed their dedication to the Buddhist tradition.

James Skidmore, a senior at BYU studying neuroscience, was impressed by their performance.

“I really enjoyed the Obi Festival Dancers,” Skidmore said. “I appreciated the combination of dance and music. I thought it was a unique form of religious creative expression.”

Next to take the stage were the Pacifica Institute Youth Dervishes. These young boys spun in circles for 10 minutes while traditional Islamic music accompanied them. This dance is performed to achieve “dhikr,” which is a “way to experience the intense presence of God,” according to Philip Wilkinson in “Religions.” The boys’ laser-like focus and dedication to this practice was visible and added to the evening.

Christianity was also represented by the Debra Bonner Unity Gospel Choir, the Canyon Singers of South Valley Unitarian Universalist and the Hill Top Gospel Choir. The gospel choirs brought a big presence and high levels of energy while the Canyon Singers performed in a humble and simple manner. Each displayed the love they have for God through song in their own way.

Other presentations included the Bulbuli Bosnian Muslim Choir and Khemera Dance Troupe, representing Islam and Hinduism, respectively. Muslim children sang in unison in a charming and impressive performance. The Khemera Dance Troupe wore some of the most ornate costumes of the night. They danced a traditional ceremonial number believed to bring blessings of peace and prosperity.

The night ended with the congregation standing and singing “Let There be Peace on Earth” in unison. This conclusion reflected the purpose of the event; to put aside differences and focus instead on the love that we have for our religion and for our fellow man.

To read more about the interfaith musical event, click here.