NEWS FEATURE: Using music to build bridges of peace

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c. 1998 Religion News Service

JERUSALEM _ For centuries, peoples of many faiths have invoked the ancient biblical and liturgical admonition to pray for the”peace of Jerusalem.”But a young Russian-Israeli musician is turning the prayer into song.

For the past four years, Tzipris, an Orthodox Jew who immigrated from the Soviet Union a decade ago, has been performing Baroque-style Christian and Jewish music in Jerusalem, exploring common musical themes that unite the different traditions. Now, the youthful and stocky flutist, who also performs as a soloist in Europe, has produced a compact disc collection of Christian, Jewish and Islamic liturgical music in a novel attempt to use sacred music to break down the barriers of suspicion and enmity plaguing interfaith relations.

The CD,”Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem,”presents an array of authentic psalmodies and Koranic chants, sung in the haunting, minor key scales of the Middle Eastern religious traditions, as well as in the Baroque styles of Western churches.”The only way in which we can bring an end to the cultural and religious war between Jews, Christians and Muslims is via a religious trialogue. And music can serve as a `sacred bridge,'”said Tzipris.”In the musical world, psalmodic liturgies are a common ground between the three religions,”he said.”Indeed, in Judaism and Christianity, two-thirds of the liturgy is drawn from the Psalms of David.”Islamic psalmody, while from the Koran, also is rooted in biblical tradition,”Tzipris added.”Like the biblical Psalms, the suras, or verses of the Koran, are poetry in metered prose, and chanting the Koran is regarded as a spiritual activity that lifts man’s soul.” For Tzipris, who grew up in a secular Jewish family in St. Petersburg, Russia, and studied music at academies in Germany and the Netherlands, his interest in interfaith music evolved out of his training in the 18th-century Baroque style.

Four years ago, Tzipris set out to create a Baroque musical ensemble in Jerusalem, a group that would play Bach, Handel and Vivaldi, as well as Jewish music from the same 18th-century period.

The Israeli group of flute, cello, contrabass, harpsichord and strings proved to be popular among Christian groups in the city and it performed before Lutheran and Roman Catholic audiences, as well as Jewish groups.”From the experience with the ensemble, I came to the conclusion that we had to do more musically to bring together religious people in a city that was so divided,”Tzipris said in a recent interview. Tzipris began to visit local churches, talking with the priests and pastors of the different denominations. He began with the Eastern Orthodox, where he found clerics with whom he could converse in his native Russian.

He also began to study Islamic liturgies, becoming acquainted with a Muslim imam who lives in the Bethlehem area and who agreed to chant a selection of Islamic liturgies for the project.”In talking to these people, I learned that Jerusalem is a city of divine revelation for all three religions, and everyone _ Jews, Muslims and Christians _ sees themselves as children of Abraham,”said Tzipris.”Moreover, I was intrigued to be talking to Christian `priests’ and Islamic `imams’ while my own family line is said to be descended from the Jewish”cohenim,”or priests, of the Temple period.” One key link in the chain of connections that helped produce the album was an Armenian priest, Father Goussan, whom Tzipris met at Jerusalem’s Academy of Music.

Goussan, in charge of liturgical chanting at the St. James Armenian Patriarchate in Jerusalem, enrolled at the academy last year to train in choral conducting.”Gershom met me at the academy and told me that he wanted to produce an album of music from the three monotheistic religions,”Goussan said.”I introduced him to a number of other clerics from other denominations. I believe that it is in the spirit of Jerusalem to meet and pray together.” The resulting production is a 50-minute mix of Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Ethiopian, Armenian, Protestant, Hebrew and Arabic chants and liturgical hymns, each sung by a cleric of the respective tradition.

With the exception of two instrumental melodies from Bach and Handel, all of the music on the CD is vocal, much of it dating back centuries. For example, the Armenian liturgical chant can be traced to the fifth or sixth century A.D., Goussan said. About 40 percent of the Armenian church’s liturgical chants are derived from the Book of Psalms, he added, and the music is still performed daily at services in the traditional style without organ accompaniment.

With the release of the CD, which is also being distributed in Europe, Tzipris is trying to drum up financial support in Russia and Europe for his next project _ the creation of an ecumenical music center in the city which he has dubbed the”Hallelujah House.” Tzipris said such a center would help fulfill the vision of biblical prophets like Isaiah, who centuries early wrote,”My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” Meanwhile, Simeon Vinokur, a young Russian-Israeli filmmaker, has become interested in the Tzipris interfaith vocal project, and said he plans to produce a documentary film about the monks, priests and imams whose liturgical renditions appear on the CD.”I would like to film each one of the clerics, Armenian, Ethiopian, Greek and Muslim, and describe how each sees the city from a different cultural and historical perspective, while also showing their music, which unites all of them,”Vinokur said.

Eds: The CD,”Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem,”can be ordered via e-mail at: tzipris(at)


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