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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Unknown but familiar

Musicians re-create sounds of Jesus' day

One of the most remarkable recordings I've heard recently is Ancient Echoes: Music from the Time of Jesus and Jerusalem's Second Temple by the San Antonio Vocal Arts Ensemble. The ensemble's seven members are excellent musicians who have researched and reconstructed the sounds, rhythms and languages of this dramatic religious music. In addition to singing and chanting, they play lyre, harp, drums, small bells, cymbals and a variety of other instruments such as shabbabah (reed flute) and kemanche (a small stringed instrument).

The languages of the vocal pieces include Aramaic — the language Jesus spoke — as well as ancient Hebrew and Greek. Some of the unaccompanied pieces are clearly forerunners of the medieval chant with which we are familiar. Others, especially those of festive celebrations such as weddings, include less familiar sounds such as ululation (a kind of warbled or trilled cry) still heard, especially in African music.

Selections include the "Lord's Prayer" in Aramaic, texts from the Dead Sea Scrolls and Deuteronomy, priestly blessings and songs for sacrifice. There is ceremonial dance music that would have been played in secular settings such as Herod's court or an aristocrat's parlor. The variety of sounds and rhythms is striking, and there is nothing "primitive" about it. Its echoes are obvious in contemporary Jewish sacred music and also in other Middle Eastern music.

The ensemble specializes in recovering and recording various types of ancient music. For example, they previously released Guadalupe, Virgen de los Indios. You can find out more about the ensemble at their Web site: www.savae.org. Ancient Echoes makes a major contribution to our understanding that the arts have always been an important part of religious practice. To order this World Library Publications CD go to www.ancientechoescd.com or call (800) 566-6150.


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