“One America” Comes Together at Peace Concert

We filled the house: fans of world music, fans of jazz musician Harry Pickens, and fans of peace. In conjunction with World Interfaith Harmony Week, Interfaith Paths to Peace sponsored a concert on Saturday, February 6, at St. Paul United Methodist Church in the Highlands, bringing together fans and turning them into friends. The audience of more than 300 people, including the Louisville refugee community as honored guests, was entertained by musicians from many religious traditions and cultures as distant as a Tibetan monastery and as close as next door.

Haleh Karimi, Executive Director of Interfaith Paths to Peace, noted in her opening comments that we are statistically more likely to have negative views of each other – Muslims, Jews, Christians and others – than positive. It’s simple, really – organizations that disseminate messages of hate and fear make more noise and thus gain more publicity, power, and influence than groups that promote understanding and peace. Interfaith Paths to Peace wants to counteract that negativity by making a harmonious noise to bring our community together, celebrating differences in faith and cultural backgrounds.

Master of ceremonies Harry Pickens, well known locally as a peace activist as well as an accomplished performer, spoke even more plainly about current cultural trends. “We are at a clear crossroads in our history,” he told the gathering. “More and more voices are speaking in support of hate and rage. … By being here in this room, you are making a stand for what we are all about – people of all sizes and shapes and shades and nationalities and cultures, coming together in love.”

The musical program traced a wide circle, beginning and ending in the U.S. and spanning the globe. The opening a capella rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” sung by Victoria Garr, was beautifully performed, although the message seemed incongruous given the theme for the evening. Garr was followed by concert pianist Nada Loutfi, a native of Lebanon, who performed a Brahms piece based on a Hungarian folk tune.

From there, both the geography and the musical tradition leapt across mountains to a Buddhist monastery in Tibet. Monks from the Drepung Gomang Monastery began with a vocal bass note that probably is not on any Western musical scale: deep, penetrating, the pitch so low as to seem otherworldly. Massive horns, so long that their open ends rested on the floor, blasted notes that engulfed the room; drums joined the cacophony, and slowly a rhythm emerged. To Western ears and minds, reverberations were overwhelming; the only thing to do was to give in and let the waves of sound carry us. By the end, the rhythm had evolved into a resonance that had carried the audience to a new level of awareness, where anything could be music and all things could contain peace.

Over two hours or so, we traveled through Muslim, Jewish, Baha’i, Sufi and Hindu cultures, musically celebrating diversity and understanding. Cantor David Lipp represented the Jewish community with a performance of four songs, accompanying himself on guitar. He offered thanks to the organizers for moving the time of the program back an hour so he could participate; it originally was scheduled to begin at 6 p.m., which would have overlapped with the close of Shabbat, and so was changed to 7 p.m. to allow him to be there.

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