The Song is You

While instruments may vary from culture to culture, the human voice is music's common denominator. It's the only instrument that we carry within us, and even today the power of the live voice may still move further than the fastest DSL network service, especially when it comes to delivering messages of peace. In its season opener, Miami-Dade Community College's Cultura del Lobo Performance Series presents the human voice stripped down to its barest essence. Forget superstars joining hands to produce a sappy tune for mass distribution à la "We Are the World." Sacred Voices: A Sung Panel may be lean on technology yet heavy on technique. It will feature four master vocalists from diverse cultural and musical traditions who will engage the audience in an a cappella "discussion," celebrating artistic diversity and cultural connections. Performing together for the first time: Lakshmi Shankar, who sings traditional Indian music; Vincent Stringer, who specializes in gospel; Dr. Lobsang Tenzin, a Tibetan Buddhist monk; and Miami-based Karen Jones, a contemporary recording artist with jazz roots. Each performer will give a demonstration of his or her vocal style and talk about the role of the voice in his or her spiritual tradition. By the end of the performance, everyone -- including the audience -- will be singing.

In putting together the panel, Michelle Heffner Hayes, executive director of Miami-Dade Community College's Department of Cultural Affairs, and artistic director Greg Jackson had to find people who come from faith-based singing communities and who are performers, teachers, and cultural anthropologists. Jackson traveled to New York and interviewed administrators at the Asia Society, where a similar event took place post-9/11. "It's called a sung panel because it's as much a performance as an educational experience," Hayes explains. The event marks a change in direction for Cultura del Lobo. "This year is about establishing connections," notes Hayes. "Since 9/11, we have been trying to make sense of the world through the curatorial process and by reaching out to different communities. You could call it unabashed peacemaking through the arts and especially singing."

The Sacred Voices project builds on work the Department of Cultural Affairs has been doing over the years with faith-based organizations. Two years ago, Lila Downs, who sings on the soundtrack for the movie Frida, performed in Homestead and worked with the Mexican community there via their choral groups. "Certain studies indicate that people who participate in church activities are more likely to be interested in arts events," says Hayes. "In Miami there are large groups of people who identify with their families and neighborhoods. They want to attend events but more on their turf. Through presenting different vocal traditions, the series hopes to reach out to those people who are actively involved in their own community's musical tradition."

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Mia Leonin