Singers from the University of Dayton’s World Music Choir rehearse for the upcoming “Unity Through Harmony” concert. CONTRIBUTED

New York musician makes surprise trip to Dayton after hearing about show of ‘unity’ 

Faith choirs from throughout the Miami Valley will participate

A chat between two neighbors has resulted in new community concert featuring music from diverse Miami Valley faith. A New York musician seized the chance to take part.

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The special event, hosted by the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra, is titled “Unity Through Harmony” and slated for Sunday evening, April 7 at the Dayton Masonic Center. Six area choral groups and 45 members of the orchestra will participate. The first half of the concert will give each chorus an opportunity to shine; the second half will bring all 150 singers together for a mass choir. The DPO’s Neal Gittleman will conduct.

The Jewish Chorale will perform a piece from Syrian-American pianist and composer Malek Jandali.

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Dennis TenWolde, the Dayton Performing Arts Association’s Director of Institutional Giving, said the New York-based musician heard about the concert and contacted organizers Wednesday, April 3.

Jandali loved the unity concept and will introduce his piece “Phoenix in Exile,” TenWolde said. 

“He’s coming just for the concert,” TenWolde said. “He was like, ‘can I come.’ We were like, ‘sure’.”

The song was inspired by children Jandali met in refugee camps.

Why the concert is happening 

It all began when Gittleman approached his next-door neighbor, Jenna Greenberg, about expanding the DPO’s popular “Stained Glass” series to add other religions. Greenberg is conductor of the Dayton Jewish Chorale and the wife of Beth Abraham Synagogue’s rabbi, Joshua Ginsberg.

“I told him that our chorale was considering putting on an interfaith concert with Omega Baptist Church and Corinthian Missionary Baptist Church for Martin Luther King weekend,” Greenberg recalls. “We put our heads together and created this really amazing collaboration with several other choirs from local churches as well as the University of Dayton.”

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The Dayton Jewish Chorale prepares for the “Unity Through Harmony” event on Sunday, April 7. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY COURTNEY CUMMINGS
Photo: Staff Writer

In addition to the Jewish Chorale, Omega Baptist and Corinthian singers, St. Mary’s Catholic Church Choirs are also participating. Both the University of Dayton Ebony Heritage Singers and U.D.’s World Music Choir will perform. Gittleman says they’ve also been reaching out to other faiths and are still hoping others may decide to join the mass choir.

On the program

From the beginning, the idea was to celebrate religious, cultural, and musical traditions from a variety of religious denominations. “The groups all chose their own pieces and I chose the three mass choir numbers in collaboration with all the choir directors,” Gittleman explains.

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Kathryn Maresca is director of music and organist at Dayton’s St. Mary Church, an English and Hispanic congregation with Masses in both languages. “At times we will have a bilingual Mass, which helps us come together as one congregation,” she explains. “With what is happening in the U.S. and around the world in places of worship, this concert could not happen at a more opportune time.”

The piece she’s selected for the English choir at St. Mary, along with choir members from Church of the Incarnation in Centerville, St. Paul in Yellow Springs, and Emmanuel in Dayton, is an “Ave Maria” by G. Caccini. “I wanted to choose an ‘Ave Maria’ because Mary, mother of Jesus, is a very integral part of the Catholic faith,” Maresca explains. “The Hispanic choir, directed by Luis Clemente, has chosen two pieces entitled ‘Tu estas aqui’ ( ‘I know, you are here’), and ‘Cuan grande es mi Dios’ (‘How great is our God’).”

The Omega Baptist Church choir is among those participating in the upcoming “Unity Through Harmony” concert. CONTRIBUTED
Photo: Staff Writer

Maresca says the “Unity in Harmony” concert will bring a message to the community that people can come together with different faiths, languages and culture. “They can learn from each other, accept each other, and sing together in perfect harmony,” she says. “Music is truly a universal language.”

Tommy McGuffey, minister of music and worship arts for Omega Baptist Church, says Gittleman requested that his 40-member choir sing one of McGuffey’s original compositions, “Sovereign’s Requiem.” “This concert is a great collaborative opportunity for individuals of various beliefs and denominations to come together and share one of the greatest gifts, which is music,” McGuffey says.

The three pieces everyone will perform together include “When All God’s Children Get Together,” a rousing gospel song by Keith Pringle; “One Voice,” an inspiring folksy song by Ruth Moody that’s been featured on an Air Force Band YouTube video and “Total Praise,” a famous gospel song by Richard Smallwood that will be performed with both English and Hebrew lyrics to underline its ecumenical origins.

Neal Gittleman will conduct members of the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra in the “Unity Through Harmony” concert on April 7. CONTRIBUTED
Photo: Staff Writer

Gittleman has also selected “Phoenix in Exile” by Malek Jandali. “Jandali is a Syrian emigre composer, and I wanted to include this beautiful short piece on the program both as a representative of orchestral music coming from the Arab world and also as a statement of solidarity with the people of Syria currently suffering through war and oppression,” he says. “This is the one secular work on the program, but I think it still fits, as Jandali uses the image of the phoenix rising from the ashes as a symbol of both spiritual and earthly renewal.”

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Raising the funds

TenWolde had the responsibility of finding funding for the first-time event. He says he’s particularly excited about the concert because his background is in social justice and social/cultural awareness.

“The Unity concert allows the DPAA to accomplish two really great things,” he says. ” It allows our organization and us, as artists, to learn about the music and interests of members of our community. And it also allows our community to learn about us. “

Without a way to develop understanding, TenWolde says, diversity can create misunderstanding, even among good people. “We want to help provide support by building understanding and relationships between faiths and we can do this through music,” he says. “We are not a religious organization, we’re a music organization. But we see that music runs through all of these groups and they can make beautiful music together.”

It’s expensive to produce a special concert, and it’s thanks to major funding from the World Religion Foundation that tickets are priced at an affordable $10. Others providing funds include the African American Community Fund, Ohio Arts Council, National Endowment for the Arts, Sisters of the Precious Blood, University of Dayton and individuals contributors.

The Dayton Jewish Chorale prepares for the “Unity Through Harmony” event on Sunday, April 7. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY COURTNEY CUMMINGS
Photo: Staff Writer

The Jewish Federation of Greater Dayton was asked help find a way to maximize an opportunity when people of many different backgrounds were already coming together. “We opted to host a dinner for all the concert’s participants on the evening of one of their rehearsals and invite a speaker to discuss her experiences working to improve the world by collaborating with diverse coalitions of people,” says Rabbi Ari Ballaban. “We invited Desiré Bennett, a United State of Woman ambassador, who has worked with the Cincinnati YWCA and was instrumental in forming the Cincinnati Regional Coalition Against Hate.”

Singers weigh in

Anna Biesecker-Mast, a first-year student in UD’s Discover Arts program, says rehearsing with other choirs has increased her anticipation of the upcoming event. “At the rehearsal, we were encouraged to sit next to someone from other choir and doing that enlivened and inspired my singing in new ways,” she says. “There I was in the basement of St. Mary’s Catholic Church, surrounded by people I had never met and I knew nothing of their lives. Yet we were still able to come together and sing beautiful songs about doing just that. It was a lovely and memorable experience.”

Greenberg says the project has been a wonderful opportunity for her and the other the members of her chorale to get to know others in our community who share a common love for music. “Our world is a mess right now, with acts of hatred and bigotry happening on a nearly daily basis around the world,” she says. “I see this musical collaboration as a glimmer of hope for the future of humanity. The more we can learn from one another and respect each other’s differences, the better chance there is for us to make a positive impact in this crazy world in which we live.”

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