Exploring America’s Religious Diversity Through Music

In this special episode, we feature selections from the December 8, 2019, Sounds of Faith concert at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, along with interviews with Dr. Peter Manseau, the Lilly Endowment Curator of Religious History. Manseau explains how music transcends the separation often found in museums and creates a different way for the public to understand America’s complicated religious history. Performances from Orfeia showcase Bulgarian and Balkan songs from Koleda, an ancient pagan holiday from Eastern Europe, along with traditional Hanukkah songs performed by Senior Cantor Arianne Brown from the Addas Israel Congregation in Washington, DC.

From Hebrew to Gospel: When Music Becomes the Religious Experience

Cantor Arianne Brown describes how, at an early age, the religious music of her tradition deepened her spiritual practice and led her to study at the Jewish Theological Seminary, where she became a professional Jewish musician. We hear her favorite liturgical hymns of the season, including Sephardic selection sung in Ladino, an ancient language from Spain that evolved before the expulsion of Jews in the 15th Century. The segment closes with the Calypso Carroll, performed by Howard University’s premier vocal jazz ensemble, Afro Blue.

Select Performances from “Islam and Jazz” at the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra Performance

According to Dr. Hussein Rashid, a religious literacy expert and cultural competency consultant who teaches at the New School in New York, if you don’t appreciate the religious and spiritual dimension of music, you miss the depth of the genre. That focus guided artistic director and conductor Charlie Young, who led the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra performance that concluded the Sounds of Faith concert series. This segment includes longer selections from the evening program and closes with We Three Kings, performed by Afro Blue.

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