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Stroud Sacred Music Festival: celebrating peace and honouring those in exile

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The Stroud Sacred Music Festival: Music from out of Exile took place in and around St Laurence Church, Stroud Centre for Peace and the Arts on Saturday, July 9th.

More than 300 people attended all or part of the packed programme from 10.30am to 10.30pm, writes Katie Lloyd-Nunn.

“It was a magical day. An important day to celebrate peace and honour those who live in exile, giving them a voice through music and song, “said pioneer vicar, Rev Simon Howell.

“The success bodes well for the future, not least because of the strong team of 30 volunteers that worked hard to ensure an enjoyable, abundant day for everyone.”

Master musicians K. Sridhar (sarod) and Jesse Bannister (saxophone) offered a unique combination event on ‘the Unstruck Sound.’

Sacred music 69 | Stroud Sacred Music Festival: celebrating peace and honouring those in exile
Stroud Sacred Music Festival. Evening concert, St. Laurence Church, Stroud.

They performed improvised pieces inspired by classical Indian raga and opened a dialogue on the ancient knowledge of music, sound and healing from a non-Western perspective. Both questions and answers were profound and considered. The 40 participants left with new insights and inspiration.

The afternoon saw well over 100 people joining in sacred singing and chanting from Christian, Hindu and earth based spiritual traditions in the Old Town Hall. Despite the heat (or perhaps because of it) the feeling of spiritual connection and community was enjoyed by all at this popular event.  A restful gong bath completed the day.

The Festival doors opened at St Laurence Church at 5.30pm and musicians and guests alike enjoyed the cool of this spacious building after a hot afternoon.

Homemade cakes, hot and cold drinks provided by and served by volunteers were available. An orderly queue formed to get a choice of delicious, hot vegan suppers from Master Community Chef Sam Angelo, caterer for the event.

First to the stage was Nadia Postolati a music student and chorister from Ukraine. Her voice soared high into the rafters as she sang the Ukrainian national anthem followed by folk songs and sacred songs.

Sacred music 32 | Stroud Sacred Music Festival: celebrating peace and honouring those in exile
Stroud Sacred Music Festival. Evening concert, St. Laurence Church, Stroud.

Cecilia Ndhlovu offered the expressive rhythms and songs of her native Zimbabwe on the mbira (African thumb piano), accompanied by two percussionists. She spoke of the indigenous music from the ancient city of Bulaweyo and created a peaceful atmosphere.

The first half continued with Eastern Strings and Nabra Quartet with music from Israel, Europe, and Sudan. This specially formed ensemble brought their ‘Voyager Songs’ influence by Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions. Communicating beyond words, religion and politics their smooth strings sounds and crisp percussion embodied cooperation and reconciliation.

Between sets, Pammy Michell spoke about the work of the sponsored charity GARAS (Gloucestershire Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers). “We offer support to those seeking asylum in Gloucestershire, welcoming them when they arrive, advocating for them in their daily struggles, supporting them if they face being sent back as well as helping them adjust to their long term future if they are recognised as refugees,” she explained.

Matthew Heyse-Moore, a composer local to Stroud presented a new piece on keyboard and vocals in honour of the theme of exile. He addressed the edge places, the pain, memory, ancestors and ways to recover connection using words from the bible and other lyrics to convey the richness of his work.

Headliners, the Maya Youssef Sextet, brought to life Maya’s latest award-nominated album Finding Home. Centre stage was Maya Youssef, ‘Queen of the Syrian Qanun’ playing and speaking about this historic instrument that is related to but more complex and versatile than a zither or dulcimer.

Each song came with a story of introduction, the focus being on finding home among destruction and loss, as well as celebrating life, love and gratitude.

She was accompanied on double base, cello, keyboard, frame drum and percussion. The set featured Syrian singer Hamsa Mounif whose authentic sound carried listeners to her homeland.  The applause and appreciation filled the church for many minutes.

 “At St Laurence Church we are committed to bringing peace through the arts and to connecting to all spiritual traditions through the universal language of music,” said pioneer vicar, Simon Howell.

Pictures by Simon Pizzey

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