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Faith Partners Program Fosters Creation of New Music for Liturgical Worship
by Christine Hoffman for Vocal Area Network
Posted February 1, 2003

American Composers Forum / Faith PartnersAlthough the days of significant patronage, la Haydn and Mozart, may be long gone, a special program sponsored by the American Composers Forum is fostering the creation of new music for liturgical worship through ecumenical collaboration. ACF's Faith Partners program encourages consortia of faith-based communities to work toward common musical goals, and supports them in a process of selecting a composer who will write music to be used by all of the congregations in common as well as pieces specifically for each participating institution.

Faith Partners was launched in 1992, and has successfully completed programs in cities throughout Minnesota, Atlanta, and Boston. Although the immediate goal of Faith Partners is to support the creation of works that can enter the sacred repertoire, several congregations, according to ACF, have continued to commission new works with their own funds after the residency period has ended, indicating that the program has sparked a durable enthusiasm for new music.

The program's maiden voyage in New York City, underwritten by the Wolfensohn Family Foundation, sponsors the collaboration of three diverse congregations: Temple Emanu-El (Jewish Reform), St. Bartholomew's Church (Episcopal) and the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola (Roman Catholic). Under the guidance of the ACF staff, the Temple's Senior Organist Hunter Tillman and Music Directors William Trafka at St. Bart's and Kent Tritle from St. Ignatius met to review a record 45 composer applications for the 18-month residency. Choosing finalists was difficult because it was obvious there were so many talented composers whose voices could be expressed through sacred music. In the end, two composers, Charles Griffin and Cantor Gerald Cohen, were chosen to share the fellowship in New York, because the directors felt each expressed himself with a unique voice and each was accustomed to collaborating with distinct religious institutions and traditions.

Both composers are writing a composition for each of the three participating congregations. In addition, Griffin and Cohen have each written a fourth composition to be shared in common among the three congregations, bringing the project total to eight new works of sacred music. Premiere performances began in November, but much of the Faith Partners activity will take place in February (see complete schedule), including the premieres of the pieces to be held in common.

Although one might think the stock-in-trade for an interreligious collaboration would be Old Testament texts, particularly the Psalms, the New York project's common pieces draw from a wide range of faith-based texts. Cohen's anthem for choir and organ, All of God's Creatures Recite Melody, is based on the Zohar, a Jewish Kabalistic text:

All of God's creations recite melody
In the heavens and on earth and
There are mansions in heaven which
Can be opened only through song.

The anthem closes with Halleluyah! Kol Haneshamah t'hallel Yah-Haleluyah (Psalm 150: Let all that lives praise the Lord).

Griffin's piece sprang from a lively and intense discussion among the composers and music directors after the events of September 11, 2001. There was a fundamental desire to include in the New York City residency some aspect or acknowledgment of the Muslim faith. Charles has drawn together Muslim Sufi texts from various sources, including Rumi, Mirabai, Hafiz and others, and composed Out of Nothingness, also for choir and organ:

Out of nothingness,
Scattering stars
Like dust,
We came whirling.

The stars formed a circle
--Turning and turning--
And in the middle
With ankle-bells on our feet
We dance.

Like a mill
--Turning and turning--
The wheel of heaven
Encircles God.

Nothing but the breath of God,
Flowing in and out, in and out.
A hollow reed,
An empty cup
An endless sea
Plunged in Your love.

O Lord,
Lifter of mountains,
Refuge, Beautiful One,
Indestructible joygiver,
The source of all bliss.

A secret turning in us
So turns the universe:
We have been in love with God
For so very, very long.

At St. Ignatius, Kent Tritle says "participation in the Faith Partners program has been challenging and exhilarating. Through it we have established new and important ties with our sisters and brothers of faith here in New York City." The New York Chapter of ACF is exploring ways to foster deeper interactions among Muslim, Christian and Jewish communities and composers, and has identified a number of interested congregations across the five boroughs who could host the next Faith Partners initiative in the City once funding is identified. In light of recent world events, Faith Partners' ability to build bridges across faiths and denominations through music takes on even greater significance and timeliness.

The New York City Chapter of the American Composers Forum provides its members with extensive networking opportunities, not only allowing composers to benefit from their collective experiences but opening new doors for cross-disciplinary collaborations. New York composers also benefit from the Forum's Composers Commissioning Program, which annually underwrites commissioning fees for emerging composers working with individual performers or ensembles. For more information on any of the chapter's initiatives in the City, contact Chapter Director Renita Kalhorn at (212) 873-5315 or renita.kalhorn@verizon.net.

Editor's note (3/23/03): See also the article by Amanda MacBlane about the Faith Partners Program at New Music Box.
Christine HoffmanChristine Hoffman is Music Adminstrator at the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola. This is her first article for Vocal Area Network.

Content Contact: Christine Hoffman.
Revision Date: January 16, 2003.
Technical Contact: Steve Friedman.

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