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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Zero Church is packed

'New folk' group prays in music

Zero Church is a CD I can truly recommend for all ages. Its musicians, "The Roches," are a New York City-based singing group comprised of three sisters and, occasionally, another Roche family member or two. Their music is difficult to describe. Some use the term "folk rock." I would say it's more "new folk." They are known both for their distinctive singing style, frequently a cappella and featuring unusual harmonies, and for the quirky songs they write, which chronicle the trivial yet important events of everyday life.

The Roches have a large following, although the group has never made it into the commercial big-time of music stardom (nor would they probably want to). Since the late 1970s, they've released 12 albums (most owned by a member of my household) and collaborated on many others.

Zero Church (Red House Records, 2001) is a product of Harvard University's Institute on the Arts and Civic Dialogue, begun by the American Repertory Theatre and the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for Afro-American Research. Its director, Anna Deavere Smith, is well-known for her one-woman stage dialogues in which she portrays several characters. At the institute, artists collaborate to produce works on contemporary social issues.

Zero Church is a collection of prayers from various religious traditions set to music. Most were written by individuals--the musicians' friends, other artists at the institute, a Vietnam veteran asking forgiveness for his part in the war, a Sudanese man who escaped slavery and an AIDS patient.

The compositions also represent various styles. Some--especially the beautiful "Each of Us Has a Name," based on a Hebrew prayer--evoke plainchant and its free rhythm, unison sound. Some sound like spirituals, and others have unusual instrumental accompaniment including accordion and North African instruments.

On several tracks, other performers join the Roche sisters. The result is a remarkable and highly accessible blend of music and words. The CD is available at music stores and at www.roches.com.


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