Ecstatic Voices America 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.

The faithful follow penitentes — lay members of a Catholic brotherhood — to Mass at Holy Cross Catholic Church in Santa Cruz, N.M., on Holy Thursday in 2013. Brian Snyder/Reuters/Corbis hide caption

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In New Mexico, A Brotherhood Of Ancient Hymns

Life, death and piety are the recurring themes in hauntingly beautiful alabados preserved by lay brothers called penitentes. "You have to feel them," one says. "You have to feel them in your soul."

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/NPR hide caption

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'Our Soul Music Is Mariachi Music': Houston's Mexican Mass

The mariachi Mass brings an ensemble of garishly dressed folk musicians — with their guitars, trumpets and violins — right down to the front of the church, where they play liturgical music.

In his music, Josh Garrels says, he tries to "peel back layers" of what it means to be a Christian. Sasha Arutyunova/Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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A Christian Musician With More Questions Than Answers

Josh Garrels says his music tries to "peel back layers" of what it means to be a Christian. He says he's given away 153,000 digital copies of his breakout album, Love & War & The Sea in Between.

A Christian Musician With More Questions Than Answers

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Taylor Muse (front), lead singer of the Austin indie-rock band Quiet Company, says the group is ready to be seen as more than just "the atheist band." Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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For An Ex-Christian Rocker, Faith Lost Is A Following Gained

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

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Kanniks Kannikeswaran leads the Greater Cincinnati Indian Community Choir in 2012, as it competes at the World Choir Games in Cincinnati. Courtesy of Kanniks Kannikeswaran hide caption

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Across America, Voices Rise To Reinvent India

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."

After years of attending church dances, Step Rideau says he was moved to connect with his heritage on a deeper level. Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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Accordions, Beer And God: Zydeco In Gran Texas

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.

Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis performs his Abyssinian Mass in 2008. Frank Stewart/Jazz at Lincoln Center hide caption

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Wynton Marsalis Goes Back To Church For 'Abyssinian Mass'

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.

Ben Zion Shenker (right) is a world-renowned composer in the Modzitzer tradition of Chasidic Judiaism. Joel Lowy/Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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The Greatest Living Figure Of Chasidic Music

The Modzitzer sect of Chasidic Judaism, which originated in the Polish town of Modzitz, is known for its beautiful melodies. Among the most emblematic and prolific composers in this tradition is Brooklynite Ben Zion Shenker — who, at 88, continues to create new works.

Church elder Elwood Cornett preaches at a recent reunion of Old Regular Baptists. Brother Don Pratt is seated behind him in a blue shirt and tie. Cindy Johnston/NPR hide caption

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Before Churches Had Songbooks, There Was 'Lined-Out' Gospel

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 artist hide caption

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Sacred Strings Guide Gospel Through Thunder And Steel

For the Church of the Living God in Toccopola, Miss., the lap steel guitar channels the voice of God through hymns and improvised solos that mix gospel, blues and country.

The Renaissance Street Singers give a performance at the Winterdale Arch, near the West 81st Street gate in Central Park. Joel Rose/NPR hide caption

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Atheists Take Old Hymns Out Of The Chapel And Into The Streets

For 40 years, the Renaissance Street Singers have given free public performances of sacred music. But they insist that their mission is not religious in nature.

Riad Abdel-Gawad creates new Sufi music by translating sacred chants to the violin. Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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Sufi Mystics Get A Modern Soundtrack

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 artist hide caption

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Life As Prayer: The Singing Nuns Of Ann Arbor

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."

Fred Onovwerosuoke founded the St. Louis African Chorus 20 years ago. Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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Songs Of Africa: Beautiful Music With A Violent History

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

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Ben Youcef leads the call to prayer for an interfaith service at The Guibord Center in Los Angeles. Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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In Hollywood, The Actor Who Gives The Call To Prayer

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.

Cedric Mangum (left) leads the shout band as a junior member looks on. Daniel Coston for NPR hide caption

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Shout Bands Stir Up Tubular Fervor In Charlotte

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.