As we approach the Passover season, a number of Jewish groups in Boston are addressing the themes of freedom and the plight of the immigrant. The city’s multiculturalism will be on display in various seders across the city. The Vilna Shul will pay tribute to those themes by hosting “Voices of Freedom,” a concert that brings together the three Abrahamic faiths to emphasize similarities rather than differences through music.

Participating in this second annual event are the Zamir Chorale of Boston, a much-lauded chorale ensemble focusing on Jewish music, Voices 21C, a diverse chamber choir dedicated to social justice and global understanding, and the Boston Community Choir, a gospel group that has performed with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Each group will sing Jewish, Muslim and Christian music, respectively, and will come together to sing three distinct pieces chosen by each of their choir directors.

Joshua Jacobson, the founder and longtime director of the Zamir Chorale of Boston, told JewishBoston that his ensemble “will present various styles within Jewish music, which exemplify the idea of peace and freedom in a pluralistic society.” The chorale’s eclectic program will feature two pieces by Salamone Rossi, a Jewish composer for the ducal court in Mantua, Italy, during the Renaissance, as well as Irving Berlin’s famous setting of Emma Lazarus’s poem on the Statue of Liberty. “Berlin’s work comes in with the theme of voices of freedom—something very important these days,” he said. “We are all immigrants, and we were welcomed when we came here by the Statue of Liberty.”


André de Cuadro, the chair of music education at Boston University, directs the Voices 21C choir, which will be singing Muslim music for the concert. Although no one in the choir, including de Cuadro, is Muslim, he noted that everyone in the group is excited to bring Muslim sacred music to the Vilna Shul.

In an interview with JewishBoston, de Cuadro said he believed “consensus music-making brings people and cultures together.” A human rights and social change activist, de Cuadro founded Voices 21C in 2016. “We represent the voices of people who are silenced or marginalized,” he said. “When we engage in singing Jewish or Muslim music, it’s about embracing and welcoming people of that culture. We open our hearts and minds to people of the Muslim faith by way of music.”

Dr. Dennis Slaughter, also known as Brother Dennis, is the founding director of the Boston Community Choir. He told JewishBoston “the real beauty and magic of gospel music lies in its ability to comfort in times of sorrow; strengthen in times of weakness; celebrate in times of joy; and minister in times of spiritual need. These messages are precisely what the Boston Community Choir tries to impart through its repertoire and performances.” Slaughter said he chose a song by pastor Hezekiah Walker called “Better” for the three groups to perform together. “It’s difficult to look at our current societal circumstances and not be doubtful about things getting better,” he said. “This song reminds us that concerts such as the Vilna Shul’s bring together people who would not typically get together; it represents pathways to better days ahead. We would also like to get the audience singing the one-word mantra: ‘Better.’”

Andrew Matfield, the Zamir Chorale’s assistant conductor who will be conducting the chorale for the concert, said he looks forward to including the audience’s voices during his chorale’s performance. For Matfield, the Vilna Shul transforms into an intimate space during the concert. “It’s an old-style shul with the bima in the middle of the sanctuary,” he told JewishBoston. “The acoustics are gorgeous, and the space lends itself to the ecumenical choral experience. Everyone is part of the musical experience.”

For his song, Matfield chose Psalm 122, set to music by cantor Charles Osborne, as the piece the three groups will sing together. “The psalm is a plea for peace and a prayer of thanksgiving,” he said. “The idea of Jerusalem as a city that is closely knit together is a reminder for our country that we are all very closely connected. We are responsible for each other. We need peace; we need reconciliation.”

Voices 21C will invite the choirs to sing an African-American song called “Would You Harbor Me?” by Ysaye Barnwell. The song talks about harboring the many refugees who have been rejected at various points in history. “By choosing ‘Would You Harbor Me,’” said de Cuadro, “we acknowledge that people of all faiths have not always been welcomed here.”

As Matfield noted, music is the transcendental language among the three choirs. “There is a lot of healing that needs to be done, and this concert is a small but powerful step in that direction,” he said.

Find information and tickets to “Voices of Freedom” here.