Spiritual Sounds Interfaith Recitation and Music at Town & Village Synagogue

We went to an interfaith recitation and music event at the Town & Village Synagogue on 14th Street in Manhattan last Thursday. Every year, the event is held at a different venue, and this time it was T&V Synagogue’s turn to host the event. I don’t mean to say the hosting is thought of in a negative way, but rather as an opportunity to contribute to the interfaith dialogue that they’re trying to promote with the event.

According to the announcers (Rabbi Larry Sebert and Anthony Donovan, the co-founder of Local Faith Communities), it was the fourth time they’ve held the event and the groups all seemed to be familiar with each other.  In addition to Town & Village’s choir, there were representatives from:

  • The Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church
  • Bhakti Center (a Hindu path)
  • Russian Orthodox Cathedral of the Holy Virgin Protection
  • The Catholic Worker
  • Medina Masjid Mosque (Muslim)
  • Iglesia Alianza Cristiana y Misionera (Spanish Evangelical)
  • Nechung Foundation (Tibetan Buddhist)
  • St. Mark’s Church in the Bowery (Episcopal)
  • The Light of Guidance Sufi Center
  • Middle Collegiate Church (Protestant)

The atmosphere was pretty relaxed and it was interesting seeing people of different faiths all in one house of worship. Another thing that I found interesting was the way Mr. Donovan kept saying that the Torah scrolls, housed in the ark behind the bimah (an alcove behind the raised portion at the front of the synagogue) must be really blessed since so many people from different religions were there praising God, or at least their interpretation of God. Perhaps he was thinking of how Jews call someone up to bless the Torah prior to oral recitation of the text.

There were a few groups that I found particularly interesting. The Russian Orthodox group sang at what felt like a professional level. The harmony and precision of the singers’ voices was amazing! The Tibetan priest was fantastic as well. The 10 foot long horn he played prior to reciting a mantra was very exciting. I took a video of it. The guy seems very humble and pleasant. He works construction during the day, despite his age. Perhaps that’s why he’s in such good health.

The Quran recitation was also interesting. A 16 year old boy who is already a hafiz, a person who has memorized all 600+ pages of the Quran, and the imam both did recitations on the bimah. I bet that’s something you wouldn’t find anywhere in the world but this country. Maybe not even outside New York?

That’s not to say the other groups weren’t good as well. The whole evening was fantastic. Those are just the three that stood out to me the most. The event was a little different from what I expected in that most groups sanitized their music choices. This event was supposed to be about celebrating difference as much as unity in that each group was supposed to present songs or recitations they would normally use in their services. The Russian Orthodox group leader specifically said they chose selections from Psalms because it was more inline with an interfaith type of dialog. The Middle Collegiate group sang a song in which I’m about 98% sure they replaced the word “Jesus” with “freedom” to make it more universal in nature.

There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, it’s probably a testament to the success of what the Local Faith Communities group has been trying to do that even when given the chance to do what they normally do, people went out of their way to make sure they didn’t offend each other. That’s what interfaith dialog is all about, right? Learning to live peacefully with one’s neighbors?

The whole event lasted from 7:00 PM to about 9:30 PM. We had dinner beforehand at Murray’s around the corner on 1st Avenue, which is outstanding by the way, and then had some fruit after the event in the reception hall below the synagogue’s sanctuary. We had a really good time and we are looking forward to seeing next year’s Spiritual Sounds event.

Here are some photos of the different groups on stage which I have, hopefully, labeled appropriately. I wish the quality was better, but even after charging my camera battery and leaving myself reminders, I forgot to bring my camera with me and had to use my iPhone.

The Tupelo Elvis Experience

Between semesters, my wife and I went to Tupelo, Mississippi to visit some friends who are about to move abroad for a few years. I didn’t know anything about Tupelo before planning the trip. I had to look the place up on a map just to figure out where it is. Tupelo isn’t a large or bustling city. According to the town’s Wikipedia entry, it has “a population of 37,559, with the surrounding counties of Lee, Pontotoc and Itawamba supporting a population of 146,131.” It’s a one traffic-light kind of place. It did have a mall and a Barnes & Noble, which was nice. What surprised me most, though, was when I saw a sign directing people to the birthplace of Elvis Presley. I was thinking, ‘Wow! Elvis was born here?‘ I’d just always assumed he was from Memphis, probably because that’s where he became famous.

Anyhow, we didn’t go to Tupelo to see Elvis; we were there to spend time with our friends, so when I saw the sign for the location, I didn’t mention it. But, when they suggested we stop by Elvis’ birthplace one evening, my wife and I were happy to agree. I mean, why not? It’ll probably be the one and only time we’ll ever see the place. I can’t imagine ever having a reason to be back in Tupelo. Not that it’s a bad place to be, but travel is expensive and there are plenty of places to visit in the world.

Replica of the 1939 green Plymouth sedan that carried Elvis' family to Memphis.

Replica of the 1939 green Plymouth sedan that carried Elvis’ family to Memphis.

The first thing we saw when we pulled up at the Elvis birthplace site was an old car sitting out front. On closer inspection, it turned out to be a replica of the 1939 Plymouth sedan that the Presley family drove when they left Tupelo for Memphis, which is where Elvis became famous.

House Elvis Presley was born in.

House Elvis Presley was born in.

Also close to the parking lot is the actual house where Elvis was born. It was in good shape. The only odd thing about it was the large air conditioning unit hooked up to the back of it. I’m pretty sure they didn’t have one of those when Elvis was growing up!

The house is surrounded by a “Walk of Life” which is a rounded set of paving stones with important years and events noted. Since it circles the house, I was humming the Lion King tune, “Circle of Life” to myself while looking at it. It’s pretty informative. I was surprised to find out that Elvis had a twin brother who was stillborn and that his father had spent some time in jail.

Elvis' Birthplace

Elvis’ Birthplace

The grounds are fairly nice. They’re certainly well-maintained, which is understandable. I imagine a lot of revenue enters Tupelo because of its connection to Elvis Presley.

Fountain at Elvis' birthplace with key dates.

Fountain at Elvis’ birthplace with key dates.

This fountain had plaques inset into the walls showing key dates in Elvis’ life, including his birth, move to Memphis and death.

Grove of trees around a statue of 13 year old Elvis Presley

Grove of trees around a statue of 13 year old Elvis Presley

Statue of Elvis at 13 years old.

Statue of Elvis at 13 years old.

In a grove of trees a bronze statue was set up of Elvis when he was 13 years old.

Assembly of God church that Elvis attended as a child.

Assembly of God church that Elvis attended as a child.

The Assembly of God church that Elvis attended as a child was moved to the location, so visitors could see the where Elvis received some of his inspiration. Other plaques set up around the area mentioned that Elvis was inspired by African-American music and rhythms. He was born poor, so he spent most of his time on the “wrong” side of the tracks where the poor African-Americans lived. The area was referred to as Shake Rag.

When we visited the site, the museum was already closed, so we didn’t get to look around inside. The Elvis Presley memorial chapel was also closed. I thought that was interesting, that a chapel was included at a museum. You don’t see religion mixed with much of anything these days. It was probably justified by the large influence that gospel music played in producing Elvis’ style.

We did get to look in the outhouse, but inside the door there was a plexiglass shield, probably to keep people from actually sitting down and relieving themselves.

Tupelo, Mississippi City Hall

Tupelo, Mississippi City Hall

Elvis is a pretty big deal in Tupelo, so he isn’t just represented at his birthplace; he also has a bronze statue in front of City Hall. The statue replicates a photo taken by Roger Marshutz (shown below) during Elvis’ 1956 homecoming concert.

Bronze statue of Elvis in front of Tupelo City Hall

Bronze statue of Elvis in front of Tupelo City Hall

Elvis Presley in Tupelo, Mississippi October 26, 1956 © 1978 Roger Marshutz

Elvis Presley in Tupelo, Mississippi October 26, 1956 © 1978 Roger Marshutz

I’m not the biggest Elvis fan. I don’t have a favorite Elvis song and I can’t remember the last time I looked up Elvis music online. Still, he’s an American classic and his music is still good. I don’t think I’ll suddenly become a die-hard Elvis fan, but I think I’ll spend some more time listening to his music and I’ll maybe even understand it better, now that I have an idea of where he came from.

Old Man At Esplanade KKJ Concert Gets Dancing Fever!

This video came to my attention through Twitter via a friend (@LaiSan_C (sorry, locked profile!)).

Apparently, this older guy got so into the music by this local Singapore band that he jumped up in front of the stage and started dancing.  The short of it is that none of this was organized or choreographed and just goes to show that being cool and having a good time doesn’t have an age restriction!

Here’s the information excerpt from the YouTube page:

That’s the spirit! A senior audience got up and jumped in front of KKJ’s stage at the Esplanade and started dancing to their original composition ‘Lemonade’. The choreography and the dancing was all improvised as he grooved to the song, to much cheers from the crowd of more than 500.

King Kong Jane was named “Best English Local Act” by The Sunday Times in 2008. In the same year, KKJ was crowned the Champion of Power Jam, one of Singapore’s biggest band competitions. In 2007, the band was chosen to perform for Baybeats, the largest indie music festival in Southeast Asia.

KKJ is: Jianping (drums), Renquan (bass), Colin (vocals), Ian (guitar) & Ruishen (guitar). For more information, email the band at [email protected] or follow them at

Twitter: Kingkongjane
Facebook: King Kong Jane
http://kingkongjane.blogspot.com/
http://www.myspace.com/kingkongjane

And here’s the video itself!