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Living in Harmony: Music, Memory and Encounters between Jewish, Muslim and Christian Neighbours

Generously funded by the KC Shasha Charitable Foundation, this project focuses on the cultural and social implications of musical encounters between Jewish, Muslim, and Christian neighbours in historical Iraq and Syria. It examines how the role of music and musical performance created a sense of communal belonging in the past and may continue to create a sense of commonality among various faith communities in diaspora. In other words, how interactions through shared musical traditions have influenced Jewish, Muslim, and Christian relations in the past and how the consideration of music and musical encounters can facilitate interfaith dialogue in the present and in the future.

The investigation centres on two cities: Aleppo in Syria and Baghdad in Iraq. Aleppo and Baghdad were chosen because of their historic cosmopolitanism, as seen in the evidence of close association among Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities. Can a reminder of this shared past, especially through music and the Arabic language, contribute toward shaping an intercommunal present within Baghdadi and Aleppian, more properly known as Halabi, communities in diaspora?

Various faith communities lived together for centuries in the Middle East, fostering and facilitating the borrowing, adapting and integrating of traditions into a shared local culture. In diaspora, this shared local culture - in theory - carries on through the various community groups coming out of Syria and Iraq. This transmission and influence is what the Living in Harmony project investigates, with a particular emphasis on the cultural domain of music.

Shabandar Cafe in Baghdad, known to be open to various faith communities in the city. Coffee houses were the primary venues for public entertainment in Middle Eastern cities. Source: Indrajit Roy Choudhury, Indropsphere

Several events associated with this project will take place in the coming year. We are also developing a concert series in conjunction with the research not only to showcase music from Syria and Iraq but also to experience encounter through the music itself.

LISTEN TO THE LATEST PODCAST: Living in Harmony Podcast Series: Programme 5. On the Caravan Orchestra

Living in Harmony is a podcast series from the Living in Harmony project at the Woolf Institute in which researcher Dunya Habash considers the role of music in religious practice and interreligious encounter across the Middle East. Join her as she continues her journey across the Middle East through song and sound.

Programme 5. On the Caravan Orchestra

Dr Katherine O'Lone, a researcher at the Woolf Institute, joins us in this episode to discuss our recent journey with the Caravan Orchestra and Choir, a performance ensemble that made its debut three years ago at Yiddish Summer Weimar in Weimar, Germany. We followed the orchestra around Germany while they rehearsed and performed a blend of Yiddish and Arabic music, ending with three full-house concerts in Weimar, Leipzig and Erfurt. We also interviewed the orchestra's musical directors, whom we will hear from throughout the episode. The goal of the project is to explore new soundscapes, finding new links between the apparently disparate religious and cultural worlds of Europe and the Middle East. Music students from Germany met Israeli Jewish and Palestinian Muslim and Christian musicians from Haifa to perform this eclectic repertoire. Besides exploring the musical connections between these repertoires, we also questioned the effectiveness of the project. Can past shared musical legacies connect modern disparate identities? 

Featuring Ilya Shneyveys, Sarah Myerson, Jiris Ballan, Luna Abu Nassar, Abigail Wood and Andreas Schmitgas.

Ilya Shneyveys is an international performer, accordionist and multi-instrumentalist, teacher, composer, arranger and producer of contemporary Jewish music, from klezmer and Yiddish folk song to fusion and experimental projects. 

Sarah Myerson proudly serves the community of Kane Street Synagogue in Brooklyn, New York. She continues to write and perform new compositions, especially in Yiddish and Hebrew, and has developed a profile as a musician, speaker, educator and Yiddish dance teacher and leader. 

Jiryis Ballan is a conductor, composer and buzuq player from Nazareth. 

Luna Abu Nassar is a talented singer-songwriter comes from Nazareth – though she currently lives in Tel Aviv – and she sings both in Arabic and Hebrew. 

Dr Abigail Wood was awarded a PhD in ethnomusicology at Cambridge University and is currently a senior lecturer in the music department at the University of Haifa, Israel. 

Andreas Schmitges is a professional klezmer musician on the guitar and mandolin, a band leader, dance leader, author, festival organiser and Yiddish activist. 

Living in Harmony Podcast Series: Programme 4. On Medieval Mystics

Living in Harmony is a podcast series from the Living in Harmony project at the Woolf Institute in which researcher Dunya Habash considers the role of music in religious practice and interreligious encounter across the Middle East. Join her as she continues her journey across the Middle East through song and sound.

Programme 4. On Medieval Mystics

This episode explores musical and poetic aesthetics across faiths, in particular, their mystical branches. On 30 June 2019, the Woolf Institute partnered with Leo Baeck College, London to host an evening of readings and recitation celebrating the beauty of mystical poetry and sacred chant within the Abrahamic faiths in an effort to showcase their common aesthetics and mutual aspirations for spiritual transcendence. In this episode, we will hear recordings from the evening, which were recorded live in the Woolf Institute library. Featuring performances by Vanessa Paloma Elbaz, Tali Artman and Cassy Sachar for the Judaic tradition, Wilf Jones and Mother Joanna Burton for the Christian tradition, and Imam Ali Tos and Dunya Habash for the Islamic tradition.

Dr Vanessa Paloma Elbaz is a Research Associate at the Faculty of Music, Cambridge University, working on the ERC-funded project Past and Present Musical Encounters Across  the Strait of Gibraltar. Dr Elbaz received her PhD in Jewish Studies, Literature and Civilisation at Sorbonne University in Paris. 

Dr Tali Artman is a former Research Fellow at the Faculty of Divinity, University of Cambridge. She studies Hebrew literature, folklore and folk literature. 

Cassy Sachar is librarian at Leo Baeck College, London. She completed her MA in Library & Information Studies at UCL and has worked in art and academic libraries for the last 10 years.  

Wilf Jones is a graduate in Music, Theology and Education, studying at the Albert-Ludwigs University, Freiburg, and teaching in a secondary school in Cambridge. 

Mother Joanna Burton is associate lecturer at The Open University. 

Imam Ali Tos is imam of the new Cambridge Mosque. He holds a BA in Theology from Selcuk University in Konya and an MA in Religious Studies from Howard University (USA).

Dunya Habash is researcher and outreach officer at the Woolf Institute working on the Living in Harmony project.

Living in Harmony Podcast Series: Programme 3. On Soundscapes in Jerusalem

In the Living in Harmony Podcast series, researcher Dunya Habash considers the role of music in religious practice and interreligious encounter across the Middle East. Join her as she continues her journey across the Middle East through song and sound.

Programme 3. On Soundscapes in Jerusalem.

This episode explores sound cultures in the Old City of Jerusalem, an ancient and holy city home to numerous religious and ethnic communities. Can we encounter the other through sound and song along the streets of today's Jerusalem? How resonant is this encounter? What can sound tell us about the politics of space? Featuring Abigail Wood. 

Dr Abigail Wood was awarded a PhD in ethnomusicology at Cambridge University. She is currently a senior lecturer in the Music department at the University of Haifa, Israel, and was recently the Woolf Institute Sir Mick and Lady Barbara Davis Visiting Fellow 2019.

 


Living in Harmony Podcast Series: Programme 2: On Jewish Music

In the Living in Harmony Podcast series, researcher Dunya Habash considers the role of music in religious practice and interreligious encounter across the Middle East. Join her as she continues her journey across the Middle East through song and sound.

Programme 2: On Jewish Music

This discussion podcast explores how Jewish music across the diaspora was influenced by the cultures in which the various Jewish communities became rooted whether in modern Morocco, the Americas, eastern Europe, or the Arab world. Over time, distinct Jewish musics developed based on geography, which begs the question, is there such a thing as Jewish music? Featuring Vanessa Paloma Elbaz, Lea Taragin-Zeller, Merav Rosenfeld-Hadad, and Eliot Alderman.

[Please note that the music clips featured in the programme have been included to demonstrate research on Jewish music for educational purposes.]

Dr Vanessa Paloma Elbaz is a Research Associate at the Faculty of Music, Cambridge University, working on the ERC-funded project Past and Present Musical Encounters Across the Strait of Gibraltar. Dr Elbaz received her PhD in Jewish Studies, Literature and Civilisation at Sorbonne University in Paris.

Dr Merav Rosenfeld-Hadad was awarded a PhD in ethnomusicology at Cambridge University and is currently the Co-Principle Investigator of the Living in Harmony project at the Woolf Institute. 

Dr Lea Taragin-Zeller is a Research Fellow at the Woolf Institute working on Religious Sisterhood. She is also, alongside her husband Rabbi Zeller, the Jewish Chaplain at Cambridge University. 

Chazan Eliot Alderman is a classically-trained synagogue Cantor and Choirmaster. He studied singing at the Guildhall School of Music and the Royal Academy of Music and Jewish Cantorial Arts at the Tel-Aviv Cantorial Institute. Eliot served for several years as Choirmaster and Cantor of the Spanish & Portuguese Jewish community of London and is currently undertaking the editing and production of the first ever complete edition of that community's unique musical-liturgical tradition. [Podcast Link: Eliot Alderman 'Im Eshkachech – Breaking the Glass']

Living in Harmony Podcast Series: Programme 1: On Musical Influence

In the Living in Harmony Podcast series, researcher Dunya Habash considers the role of music in religious practice and interreligious encounter across the Middle East. Join her as she continues her journey across the Middle East through song and sound.

Programme 1: On Musical Influence. 

Is Arabic music really Arabic? Dr. Renee Hattar, a Jordanian ethnomusicologist, discusses historical influences on the development of Arabic music while Dr. Esther-Miriam Wagner, the Woolf Institute's Director of Research, unpacks the concept of 'influence' as an analytical tool.

[Please note that the music clips featured in the programme have been included to demonstrate research on Arabic music for educational purposes.]


Events

30 June 2019. Medieval Mystics in Conversation: An Evening of Poetry and Chant

14 February 2019. Yair Dalal and Ahmed Mukhtar: Concert and Discussion

13 February 2019. Workshop: Roots, Diaspora, and Belonging - A Musical Exploration

12 February 2019. Yair Dalal and Ahmed Mukhtar at the Ismaili Centre

29 October 2018. Film Night: Ballad for Syria

23 April 2018. 'The Politics of Rhythm' with Greg Ellis

23 April 2018. Workshop 'Encounter Culture'

Videos

2018. Woolf Institute Presents: Pontanima Choir

Dr Nedžad Avdić's story of his survival of the Srebrenica massacre and subsequent fight for justice is framed with music and interviews by the Pontanima Choir. The Choir's repertoire is drawn from the Christian, Muslim and Jewish traditions which together form the unique culture of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Dr Avdić and the choir are peacemakers between the fractured religions of their country. While the Woolf Institute seeks to improve relations between religion and society through education, the Choir does so through music – a fitting first in-house documentary for the Woolf Institute.



2018. Kol Echad: Living in Harmony

The Kol Echad choir of Beth Shalom synagogue perform an interesting style of music: Jewish songs adapted in the Anglican choral form. Danielle Padley, the choir's director, explains the fascinating source of these compositions.