Updated: December 9, 2013 9:42AM
What is sacred to you?
When organizers of the Michigan Festival of Sacred Music asked that question they came up with a diverse range of answers, and that is reflected in the broad range of programming at the festival, which begins this evening.
Native American and Japanese Taiko drumming, whirling dervishes, a cathedral pipe organ, sacred music of India and Kosher Gospel are just some of the offerings of the seventh biennial of the Michigan Festival of Sacred Music happening in Kalamazoo, Mich.
“Our goals are to represent different genres, cultures and types of music and their importance in spiritual traditions. We also hope to increase understanding, and to let people experience things they might not have run into before — musically or philosophically — and come away with something learned,” explained Elizabeth Start, executive director of the festival.
The festival kicks off at 6 p.m. (all times CST), Thursday, Nov. 7, with a program called “The Sound and Spirit of Kalamazoo: A sampling of sacred music from the Kalamazoo area.” Christian choral and pipe organ music, a Taize multi-cultural interfaith group, music from Sikh, Persian and Peruvian traditions, a group specializing in “pagan sacred choral” music and a Taiko drumming group will perform.
“People are amazed by the talent and by the variety and diversity of talent that we have right here in Kalamazoo. We’re fortunate in that, and yet one of the biggest challenges we have is to balance old friends and new connections from all over the world who would like to perform at the festival,” according to Start.
One of those new connections is the Konya Turkish Tasawwuf Music Ensemble, a group of musicians, vocalists and whirling dervishes from Turkey coming to perform Sufi works inspired by the thirteenth century poet and mystic Rumi. This free program will take place at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 12.
Children are welcome to any of the programs, according to Start, who said that the late start and length of some of the programs may make them challenging for some children while at the same time a delight for others who are interested in seeing new things and hearing new sounds.
She said that one of the more family-friendly programs will be The Sons of the Three Fires presenting Native American music and dance at the public library on Saturday at 1 and 2:30 p.m.
“They are a multi-generational group of men, women, girls and boys in regalia who share their traditional music and tell about what they do in their lives to keep in touch with their heritage,” Start said.
She said that an added family attraction on Saturday will be the Kalamazoo holiday parade, stepping off downtown at 9:45 a.m. CST and followed by children’s crafts and activities downtown after the parade.
Later on Saturday there will be two more sacred music programs: a lecture and workshop at 3 p.m. with the composer and performers of “Hear My Voice,” a piece premiering at the festival on Sunday; and a program of sacred music and dance from India at 7 p.m.
“When we asked ‘What is sacred to you?’ some things that most people include is the environment, the Earth and human dignity, so one thing we try to emphasize is that despite the differences, we all have the same basic goals,” Start said.
The festival concludes in that spirit with a performance by the Paul Winter Consort at 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 17. Saxophonist, bandleader and composer, Winter’s work is described as “celebrating the cultures and creatures of the whole Earth.” Tickets for this program are $25 for adults and $20 for students.
Twelve of the 18 programs are free, with donations appreciated. Tickets to each of the other five programs are $20 for adults and $5 for students. A complete schedule for the Michigan Festival of Sacred Music, venue addresses and a link for ticket purchases can be found online at www.mfsm.us.