Last November, longtime Juneau resident Dixie Belcher visited Islamic and Christian leaders in Lebanon and Syria.
"Syria might be the friendliest country I'd ever been in," Belcher said. "People would stop us on the street and ask where we were from. If you weren't careful, you'd end up in their house for coffee."
The trip reaffirmed her belief in a "common humanity," a theme she plans to revisit in the 90-minute music festival "A Celebration of the Children of Abraham," 8 p.m. Sunday, April 25, at St. Paul's Catholic Church in the Valley. The night will celebrate the values, origins and beliefs of Christianity, Islam and Judaism with more than 80 singers and musicians performing chants, folk music, gospel, canons and klesmer music.
A $10 donation will be accepted at the door.
"There's going to be a lot of intermingling of musical traditions," Belcher said. "I just want to bring people together as human beings, and say we have a lot more similarities than differences. Ninety-nine percent of us are alike, and if we were totally alike we would all die of boredom."
The evening will begin at 8 p.m. with the ceremonial blowing of a ram's horn and an Islamic call to prayer. Out-of-town soloists include Anchorage black gospel singer Shirley Staten and former Juneau performer Rory Stitt. The night will include speeches from Ann El-Moslimany, director of the Seattle Islamic School; Norm Cohen, head of Juneau's Jewish community; and the Rev. Jay Olson, a Presbyterian minister.
The program includes folk songs, Hebrew songs, Tsimshian blessings, chants, Klesmer, gospel and readings from the Old Testament, New Testament and Koran.
A Dixieland band featuring trumpeter Bill Ruddy, saxophonist John Haywood, pianist Steve Nelson, bass player Robert Cohen and drummer Megan Phillips will also play. Ann Boochever will direct, with the assistance of Linda Buckley, Eric McDowell and Sister Jill of the BMV Catholic Church.
"This is an opportunity for people who come from various walks of life to sit in a circle with a common theme," Staten said. "And that theme is using music to transform us. There are many vehicles to bridge the gap, and I think music is the most powerful one of them. People move out of their heads and they're touched by their hearts."
Belcher and Staten have known each other since 1986, when they were members of Alaska Performing Artists for Peace. The group traveled through Russia in an effort to open the border between Siberia and Alaska.
"That was way back when we thought the Russians had horns," Belcher said. "And then once we saw they were just like us, a lot of those bad feelings went away."
"Music is a language of the heart," she said. "A lot of times it's more effective than words. Sometimes words just push people's buttons and people can get madder. Music transcends all that."
"We like to use this term singing to the choir," Staten said. "I don't use that term. I think we are all a member of the choir, and we are all in the process of learning about each other every day. We never reach nirvana until we die. I certainly don't know everything about white folks, and I dont think white folks know everything about me as an African American. There are always opportunities to learn about each other and treat each other better."
Korry Keeker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Children Of Abraham festival
The organizers of the Children of Abraham festival will hold a potluck dinner at 6 p.m. Saturday, April 24, at Aldersgate Methodist Church in the Valley. Anybody that wants to come should bring a dish. Call Judy at 789-9229 for more information.