Ecstatic VoicesAmerica is one of the most religiously diverse countries on earth. We want to discover and celebrate the many ways in which people make spiritual music — individually and collectively, inside and outside houses of worship.
Discover and celebrate the many ways in which people make spiritual music in America.
Jess Escalante (right), the 70-year-old founder of Mariachi Norteno, plays his guitarrón in a recent Mass for Our Lady of Guadalupe inside St. Joseph Catholic Church in Houston. He's joined by Jose Martinez.
John Burnett/NPRhide caption
Can non-belief in God become a belief system itself? NPR's John Burnett has the story of the Texas indie band Quiet Company, who made a splash with a surprisingly positive album about frontman Taylor Muse's crisis of faith.
For An Ex-Christian Rocker, Faith Lost Is A Following Gained
Kanniks Kannikeswaran writes groundbreaking Hindu sacred music and forms community choirs to perform it. "When a group of about 20 strangers get together and sing raga-based music with choral harmony for the first time," he says, "something magical begins to happen."
If it's Sunday in Houston, get ready to dance up and down the aisle at church. Zydeco music is the soundtrack to spirit-filled parties fueled by beer, boudin, and red beans and rice. It's a joyful continuation of a decades-old tradition.
The trumpeter and bandleader premiered his gospel-jazz Abyssinian Mass back in 2008. But now, accompanied by a 70-voice choir, he's taking the sprawling work on the road and into African-American churches — whose services were the inspiration for the piece.
The Modzitzer sect of Chasidic Judaism, which originated in the Polish town of Modzitz, is known for its beautifulmelodies. Among the most emblematic and prolific composers in this tradition is Brooklynite Ben Zion Shenker — who, at 88, continues to create new works.
Hidden deep in the hills of Appalachia, there's a tradition of worship music that has not changed since the 18th century. The hymnody is still practiced by congregations of the Old Regular Baptist Church, where a leader calls out a line and the people respond in a mournful, soaring chorus.
The Sacred Steel tradition is an integral part of worship. From the House of God Keith Dominion Church, Aubrey Ghent (pictured) helped revive the style in 1990s.
Brad Gregory/Courtesy of the artisthide caption
The ancient spiritual practice of Sufism incorporates all kinds of activities, including music, to achieve a state in which the practitioner loses the ego. Riad Abdel-Gawad creates new Sufi music by translating sacred chants to the violin.
Sister Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz (right), vicaress general and music director for Dominican Sisters of Mary. On the group's new album, she plays organ and composed three selections.
Courtesy of the artisthide caption
In the cloistered world of classical music recordings, there is great interest in choral music by Catholic nuns these days. On Mater Eucharistiae, the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, are "able to bring other people into that space of prayer when we're singing."
Part of understanding African sacred music means thinking about its colonial context. It's the music of oppressed people combined with the music of their oppressors. For decades, Fred Onovwerosuoke has collected and arranged this music for choral groups.
Songs Of Africa: Beautiful Music With A Violent History
The adhan is not music, per se — music is not allowed in the mosque — but the five-times-daily call to prayer can be musical, and quite beautiful. For Ben Youcef, it's a matter of harmonizing his life as a devout Muslim, a muezzin and an actor who sometimes plays Islamic extremists.
In the Bible, Psalm 150 tells the faithful to praise the Lord with trumpet, harp, tambourine, stringed instrument and cymbal. In the United House of Prayer for All People, it's all about the trombones. No one knows exactly how trombones ended up in church, but it's an intensely vocal sound.