Windsor Castle was the venue of an unusual conference entitled, ‘Sacred Voices’: Convergence and Contrast in the Music of the Abrahamic Faiths, which was co-sponsored by St George’s House, The Institute of Ismaili Studies, The Festival of Muslim Culture, The Jewish Music Institute (SOAS) and The Three Faiths Forum. The Conference, held on 30 January and 1 February, 2007, was attended by scholars and musicians from Europe, North America, North Africa and Asia.
In his opening remarks, the Director of The Institute of Ismaili Studies, Professor Azim Nanji, who chaired the conference, stressed that the purpose of the conference was to explore how music enables a deeper understanding and appreciation of the parallels and exchanges among the three Abrahamic traditions. Among the aims of the conference was to bring together scholars studying the three traditions and to generate an exchange of ideas and research that demonstrates how music as an art form embodies and expresses affinities and convergence in the cultural and spiritual heritage of the world.
The proceedings of the Conference examined the way sacred music has evolved in Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions, its different modes of expression, its contribution to deepening religious experience, and its place in wider musical and general culture of the three faith traditions. Three thematic areas were explored in the papers presented by the scholars. The first, Sources and Contexts, looked at the role and function of music in each tradition. The second theme, Singing in the Same Space, examined mutual interaction and enrichment arising out of cultural cross-fertilization. The third theme, Emerging Voices, explored stylistic and technical developments and perspectives in devotional music in our time. Attention was also given to emerging trends in music with a devotional or spiritual purpose.
A high point of the Conference was a Concert of music from the three traditions, held in St George’s Chapel on 31 January. Performances in the concert included the Choir of St George’s Chapel, Cantor Steven Leas and the Gentlemen of the Choir of London, and the Badakhshan Ensemble from Tajikistan, sponsored by the Aga Khan Music Initiative in Central Asia.