BYU’s ‘Sacred Sounds’ brings together Islamic, Jewish and Christian musical traditions

Credit: Nathalie Van Empel
Credit: Nathalie Van Empel

PROVO, Utah — As a dual major at Brigham Young University (music, humanities), Maddie Blonquist has developed an affinity for ancient religious texts and how music elevates their sacred messages.

As a returned missionary (New York, New York), she also owns a deep and spiritual love for connecting people through shared religious beliefs and traditions.

Those sensibilities were essential to Blonquist as the primary curator of “Sacred Sounds”— an interfaith exhibition on display at BYU’s Harold B. Lee Library.

“Sacred Sounds” explores the many ways Judaism, Islam and Christianity use sound in worship. Music plays a fundamental and historic role in each of the three primary Abrahamic religions.

For believers, holy texts such as the Talmud, the Quran, the Bible or the Book of Mormon convey God’s message to the world. “And music,” said Blonquist, “helps elevate that message to a higher plan of communication.”

The exhibition offers a variety of sounds designed to draw listeners closer to their Creator — including the Muslim “Call to Prayer,” Jewish liturgical verses and choir performances from Christian community choirs.

Because worshipful music and sacred texts are inextricably linked, “Sacred Sounds” includes a display of several ancient religious texts from the Harold B. Lee Library Special Collections.

Blonquist hope visitors feel an active, personal connection and investment with the sounds and relics on display. “Music is a medium that requires patience and time,” she noted.

“Sacred Sounds” also offers empathy and connection at a time when religious beliefs often prompt division and distrust.

“I would hope [the exhibition] gets us to think more openly and have religious conversations,” she said.

Andrew Reed, a BYU religious education professor who assisted with the exhibition, said unity could often be found through religious music. “We focus so much on the differences that we forget there is a rich vein of commonality.”

Professor Reed added that religious music has, for centuries, been utilized as a teaching tool for sacred matters. Consider how Latter-day Saint children learn gospel principles each Sunday by singing Primary songs.

Lectures are being held at the BYU campus in conjunction with “Sacred Sounds,” including a Jan. 25 interfaith panel discussion. Go to the library’s website for additional information.

Blonquist worked closely on “Sacred Sounds” with several faculty members and BYU alums — including Lucas Jones, advertising professor Jeff Sheets, music professor Jeremy Grimshaw and Professor Reed.

“Sacred Sounds” remains on display through Jan. 31, 2018.

Subscribe for free and get daily or weekly updates straight to your inbox
The three things you need to know everyday
Highlights from the last week to keep you informed