The Vilna Shul is partnering with the Museum of African American History to present the third annual “Voices of Freedom” concert on March 24 at 2 p.m. at MAAH at 46 Joy St.
For the third consecutive year, the multicultural event will feature three choirs – the Zamir Chorale of Boston, America’s foremost Jewish choral ensemble; VOICES 21C, a self-described “chamber choir and artist’s collective, dedicated to a mission of global understanding through music”; and the Boston Community Gospel Choir, which often performs with the Boston Symphony Orchestra – to separately perform songs from the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian cultures, respectively, before joining together to make music that explores the universal theme of freedom.
Joshua Jacobson, artistic director of the Zamir Chorale of Boston, said the pieces that the choir will perform illuminate the themes “freedom” and “justice,” including a composition by the Israeli composer Noa called “There Must Be Another Way” in collaboration with Mira Awad, an Israeli Arab musician.
“The song is in English, Hebrew and Arabic, and it’s about listening to others and empathizing with the others as a necessary prelude to making peace,” Jacobson said. “The two singers have performed the song all over the world, and it’s our pleasure to keep this going as well.”
For the collaborative piece for all three choirs to sing, Zamir Chorale of Boston has selected “Ale Brider,” which translates to “we are all brothers” in Yiddish.
“It’s a protect song that brought people together during their horrible experience working in sweat shops in New York City about 100 year ago and got them to rally against the factory owners and their greedy practices,” Jacobson said.
Dr. André de Quadros, artistic director for VOICES 21C and professor of music and chair of Boston University’s Department of Music Education, said his choir, was initially approached to perform Muslim music, since there were no Muslim choirs active in the city at the time.
“VOICES 21 is choir of local, non-Muslim Americans, but the group had performed Muslim music before as part of its general repertoire, so it wasn’t that much of a stretch to do a program of Muslim devotional music,” Dr. de Quadros said. “It’s in line with our mission to represent the music of different cultures and faiths. We see choral music as a bridge builder and [tool to promote] cultural understanding, and that’s essentially how we this project, too.”
Dr. de Quadros said VOICES 21 bridged a major cultural gap two years ago when the chorus performed in Israel and Palestine.
“In general Islam have been politicized unduly and unfairly, and it has a rich culture of literary, musical and scientific heritage, and in representing the music of Islam, we are aligning ourselves with the cultural voices of Islam,” said Dr. de Quadros, who also serves as the artistic director of the Muslim Choral Ensemble of Sri Lanka.
Bro. Dennis Slaughter, EdM, DLP, director of the Boston Community Gospel Choir, said the concert is an opportunity for the musicians to collaborate and learn from each other.
“Jewish, Christian and Muslim choirs often stay within own belief structures, but this is an opportunity for us to share,” Slaughter said. “Even though the tenets we believe can be wildly different, there are commonalities, but we only explore them when we get together to talk about them.”
The Boston Community Gospel Choir’s program will include protest songs in gospel music, which Slaughter said explores a universal experience for people of all cultures and creeds.
“Everybody has a story of oppression, and we’re all oppressed at the hands of other human beings,” Slaughter said. “There is always a struggle of some sort, which is so part and parcel of humankind.”
After Boston Community Gospel Choir performs alone, it will lead the other two choirs in a rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Love’s in Need of Love Today.”
Looking ahead, Slaughter hopes to see “Voices of Freedom” grow beyond just a music performance and come to include representatives from other faiths.
“We could also have a panel discussion on other religions and how we’re more alike than we are different,” Slaughter said. Tickets for “Voices of Freedom” cost $36 each or $18 for students ands seniors, and are available at vilnashul.org/events.