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Saturday, March 21, 2015

An Intertwined Faith, in the Babel Family

This past February, I was traveling to Erbil & Duhok in Northern Iraq on our second mission trip, trying to reach out to people in need in the refugees' camps there. During my flight, I paged through the airline's elegant in-flight magazine to check their suggested audio musical programing. I was surprised that this particular airline's magazine, known for reflecting its culture and well acquainted with many forms of Middle Eastern Music, is now featuring only one album reflective of Middle Eastern Music; a Sami Yusuf album (an Islamic Singer).

As a relatively well known Arabic Christian singer, this might have easily caused me to become envious or desirous to defend what I stand for, or to feel threatened about misrepresentation. But to be honest, I do not consider my music, even though balanced between the traditional & the contemporary/fusion style of Christian music, as the only source of Middle Eastern Music, neither in its subjects nor in its style. How downgrading to our Middle Eastern musical traditions to narrow many civilisations to only one source. So, out of concern, I am sharing these ideas with you. I think we are facing a situation today where certain Middle Eastern cultures have become hostile towards one another, and as a result, the uniqueness of each culture, style of music, etc... is becoming lost. Instead, the strongest, or what is perceived by some to be the most "mainstream" type is allowed to speak, inaccurately, for the whole. What is the most effective way to convince a respectable airline, and others with a similar mindset, that Arabic doesn’t mean Muslim, and Islamic Music is not the only Arabic Music, or on a larger scale the only Middle Eastern Music? The sad fact is that our rich musical heritage is threatened by commercial ignorance and blind marketing, as well as by various geopolitical wars happening now. One certainly has to question the motivation for these wars. Are they just, or just strong marketing plans allowing cultural truths and historical facts to be swallowed?
Under the broad categories of Arabic, Turkish, Persian Renaissance, Neo-Classical, Oriental Christian, Jewish and Judeo-Arabic and Koranic music traditions are rich musical legacies and hundreds of brilliant minds and talents that support this diversity.

Jean During, in one of his articles, said “a forgotten or an abandoned melody can never be rediscovered or restored, it rejoins the silence for good". It is fulfilling to come from a part of the Middle East where oral tradition has kept a rich portion of its secular and sacred music alive. Furthermore, many of our professional musicians, academic teachers, researchers, musicologists & ethnomusicologists have set the path in front of us to allow us to continue to find resources to better understand our ancestors. Their groundwork has allowed us to build on the past and project new musical creations in a healthy, contemporary future.

Christian Music reflects "An Intertwined Faith, in the Babel Family."  This is a title I chose for a series of lectures I am presenting at "Tufts" & "William and Mary” Universities and for some intensive workshops for Chaldean & Syriac choirs in the summer, and suggests that Christian music had a single point of origin, but as Christianity spread across multiple languages and cultures, each language and culture developed it's own unique variations and interpretations using that common place of origin as a starting point. These lectures will cover the Christian Music of the Middle East, where we will explore the Syriac, Assyrian, Chaldean, Maronite, Coptic, Byzantine and Evangelical church music heritages, as well as Messianic Jewish Music from Cyprus. These lectures will also attempt to share with students from ethnomusicology departments, musicians and choristers, a glimpse of the beauty and richness that these musical forms have to offer. They are also an investment in promoting and preserving, at least scholarly, what is commercially out of favour. To finish this note, I truly wish that during my next trip, since it is now lent for all Oriental churches, I will hear some of Fairouz's Passion Songs played by the airline.  After all, they are equally representative of music from the Middle East.

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