The Yuval Ron Ensemble Brings Sacred Music from Three Faith Traditions to Wellesley

Yuvol Ron Ensemble
February 10, 2017

Houghton Chapel will be filled with the sounds of singing, chanting, dancing, and storytelling on Saturday, February 11, at 7:30 pm when the Wellesley College Concert Series, in collaboration with the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, presents Yuval Ron Ensemble: Seeker of Truth. Four members of the Yuval Ron Ensemble, which includes Muslim, Jewish, and Christian artists, will perform sacred music from all three faith traditions. The concert is part of a weeklong residency for the California-based group, which Ron founded in 1999 to help alleviate national, racist, religious, and cultural divides by creating musical bridges between people of various faiths and ethnic groups worldwide.

“Our concerts are like a sacred drama performed in an ancient temple,” said Ron, a musician, composer, and peace activist. “Audiences often tell us that they feel such a sense of unity and connection by the end of the evening that they don’t want to leave.”

Ron, who has played for the king of Morocco and the Dalai Lama’s initiative Seeds of Compassion, hopes Wellesley’s audience will feel both inspiration and transcendence at the concert, which will incorporate poetry and meditation and will feature a belly dancer and two whirling dervishes from the Mevlevi order, founded by the 13th-century Sufi poet Rumi. “There is great value in exploring and discovering a faith tradition that may make you feel some discomfort or of which you have no knowledge,” Ron said. “We can reduce animosity and fear when we have an appreciation of beauty in a tradition that is not our own. I weave traditions of opposing people to promote peace and understanding.”

Ron encourages audiences to participate fully—dancing in the aisles or on stage—and to experience prayer as a physical act, just as the dervishes do (both are in their 70s.) “We think of prayer as a verbal act, but when they turn and turn, they are praying with their bodies,” Ron said.  

Isabel Fine, concert manager of the Wellesley College Concert Series, said the Yuval Ron residency, which includes visits to classes on campus and a Midday Muse event on sacred music in the chapel, is particularly meaningful given the current political climate. “As questions are increasingly raised in our country about diversity, differences, and commonalities among people of different traditions and faiths, Yuval’s work is not just symbolic but really a model for how we can think about each other, our histories, and our common humanity,” she said.  

Thanks to support from the Expeditions program of the New England Foundation for the Arts, Wellesley’s music department is collaborating with other departments at the College and with local scholars and other New England institutions. On the evening of February 8, for example, Tiffany Steinwert, dean of the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, facilitated a roundtable discussion featuring Ron; Ani Patel, professor of psychology at Tufts University; and Sara Wasserman ’02, assistant professor of neuroscience at Wellesley.

“Our conversation, [about] music and the brain, was an exciting opportunity to bring together diverse disciplines and departments from across the College,” said Steinwert. “By exploring the intersections of art, science, and spirituality, we illuminated the deep connections between body, mind, and spirit that are part of our human experience.” 

On Saturday, February 11, at noon, Ron will join Kariann Goldschmitt, assistant professor of music, and Fine, who studies dance ethnology, for a panel discussion entitled Sacred Music and Dance: Tradition and Ethics, Exploration and Appropriation (rescheduled from Thursday evening). The conversation will explore how people can learn and honor sacred traditions with respect.

Sunday, February 12, the Yuval Ron Ensemble will offer three public workshops: Rhythms of the Middle East; Healing and Transforming Consciousness through Sacred Sound, Music, and Dance; and Music as a Bridge: Bringing People Together with Music. During the latter, Ron will talk about his own evolution as a peace activist and how he first began to use “culture as a bridge” when he was 17.

All of these events are free and open to the public; reservations are recommended for Saturday’s panel discussion. Email or visit the registration page.

This residency is funded in part by the Expeditions program of the New England Foundation for the Arts, made possible with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, with additional support from the six New England state arts agencies. Generously supported also by the Marjorie Copland Baum Memorial Fund, and the Florence Jeup Ford ’22, Mary M. Crawford ’22, and Virginia Ford ’48 Artist in Residence Endowment Fund.