Interfaith choir makes its debut at Day of Reflection event
"Music is a bridge ... it can tear down a wall. Music is a language that can speak to one and all." -- from the song "Why We Sing" by Greg Gipin.
Guests at the annual Day of Reflection gathering on Thursday, May 4, were treated to the sounds of a new interfaith, multicultural children's choir.
The choir, called Youth in Unison, sang several songs at the Day of Reflection event, which was created several years ago as a pluralistic alternative to the Christian faith-inspired National Day of Prayer observances. The annual gathering is sponsored by the Interfaith Alliance of Oklahoma.
Linda Sweenie, music director at Temple B'nai Israel, said she and Julie Robinson, a leader at St. Luke's United Methodist Church, came up with the idea for the choir as a way to bring together young people of different beliefs and backgrounds for a common purpose.
"I've always had this dream of putting together a multicultural choir," she said.
Sweenie said thus far, the choir of children ages 8-12, includes several Christians, two Muslim youths, a Hindu child and two Jewish young people.
The group that sang on Thursday included Jackson Alexander, Luke Alexander, Zara Altaf, Ruby Harris, Ayanna Kohli, Lagen Martin, Gracia Mejia, Orion Rutel and Saaim Saleemi.
They sang five songs, with Sam Richman accompanying on bongos and Sweenie playing guitar. She said "Shosholoza" was a South African selection and "Sih'r Khalaq" was Arabic while "Zum Gali Gali" was a traditional Hebrew selection.
Sweenie said she had the group sing "Why We Sing" because it was a musical way to describe the choir's premise. Another selection "If I Had a Hammer," was chosen because it tied in with the event's symbolic bell-ringing ceremony.
Sweenie said the group had four 90-minute rehearsals at Temple B'nai Israel and the youths learned "super fast."
St. Luke's members Carol Ringrose Alexander and her husband Kerry Alexander said they didn't hesitate to get their sons Luke, 10, and Jackson, 12, involved with the new choir.
"It gives them exposure to other religions and to make friends. They had a great experience," said Carol Ringrose Alexander.
Her husband shared similar comments.
He said he taught a world religions Sunday school class at St. Luke's several times and he always wanted his children to gain an understanding of other faiths and cultures.
"It expands their minds and their horizons," he said. "It breaks the barriers down so much."
Meanwhile, as part of a tradition that began with the first Day of Reflection event, a "bell of freedom" was rung by participants of different faiths to symbolize that religious liberty is available to people of all faiths in America.
"It's good to see the good rapport and good spirit of the people here," said Paul Blauser, an Interfaith Alliance board member. who attends St. Luke's. "It's so important because it's the idea of everyone becoming familiar with other faiths."
Like Blauser, Azeem Shakir, a member of the Grand Mosque in Oklahoma City, said the interfaith event served as a way to bring people of different faiths together in an informal setting where they could learn more about each other's lives, customs and beliefs.
"It's a chance for us to know one another basically," Shakir said.
Rita Newton, former executive director of the Oklahoma Conference of Churches, said noted the timing of Thursday's interfaith event coincided with President Trump's executive order regarding religious liberty. Some critics of the president's measure have said it is wrongly aimed at appeasing the Christian majority in America.
"That's why this group has been so important because it has stood for minority groups," Newton said of the Interfaith Alliance. "I thought the timing was extraordinary."