The land of the three faiths

Rose Ensemble explores religious crossroads at UD

By Tammy Newsom

Photo: The Rose Ensemble will present Land of the Three Faiths on March 15

A major event occurred in Spain in 1492. Yes, besides that one.

In 1492, Catholic King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella ordered the Jews and the Muslims out of Spain. They were given a choice: convert to Catholicism, leave the country or die. King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella had decided to unite the kingdom under Catholic rule and issued a public document that would expel non-Catholics. Until the end of the 15th century, Christianity was predominant in Spain, but Jews lived there and Islam had a strong presence. The reason for the expulsion is complex, as religious intolerance goes back for millennia.

However, for a short time, these three great Abrahamic faiths knitted a shared heritage in the same geographical region during a dynamic artistic period in Spain. There was much cultural exchange in Medieval and Renaissance Spain.

“There was a little window on religious tolerance in Spain prior to Columbus and prior to Jews becoming expatriated,” said Rose Ensemble founder and artistic director Jordan Sramek.

Soon Dayton music lovers will have the chance to embark on a religious voyage of instrumental and choral traditions emanating from this period of cohesion. The Rose Ensemble will present a program known as The Land of the Three Faiths on March 15, 2015 as part of the University of Dayton’s ArtsLIVE series. It will be performed at Holy Angels Church on Brown Street.

“This program shares the pain of that purge and reintroduces ancient melodies and oral traditions that have been passed down through the centuries from generation to generation,” Sramek said.

Sramek, also the chief researcher and resident tenor for the Rose Ensemble, created The Land of the Three Faiths as a multi-ethnic program that tells the story of a period of religious tolerance between the three Abrahamic faiths before and after they were forced out of medieval Spain.

Concertgoers can expect an eclectic and haunting tribute to the diaspora.

“Audiences can experience Sephardic music and the haunting chords of Libya and the Balkans,” Sramek said. “The final product is a beautiful and poetic mixture of cultures and music styles. The work is performed in six languages and combines Western European ideas and Arabic Classical traditions.”

The Rose Ensemble is a tour de force in classical music based out of St. Paul, Minnesota. The group researches and triangulates similar music programs of religious and historical significance. Sramek led the development of each of the programs performed through the Rose Ensemble out of a love of music and a deep fascination with each historical epoch.

“The program delivers a rich complex tapestry of the Abrahamic faith traditions that intersected in medieval Spain during the 15th century,” Sramek continued. “The program evolved over many years and represents extensive research and tweaking.”

“We really believe in what we are doing,” he continued. “We’re not proselytizers or preachers. Musically, we wanted to explore what happened before and after this event.”

“Nowadays so much of our everyday rhetoric, media sources, and day to day conversation uses Middle East and terrorism synonymously,” said Sramek. “Modern events of our generation dictate there will never be peace and, yet, there have been examples throughout history with quite peaceful tolerant co-mingling and co-existence. This is one story.”

Primarily a singer, Sramek is known to play the hurdy-gurdy and plucked stringed instruments during performances. The hurdy-gurdy is a stringed instrument that produces sound by a crank-turned, rosined wheel rubbing against the strings. As the Rose Ensemble enters its 20th season, Sramek is gifted with creating this and other programs of cultural significance for audiences to enjoy in regional and national tours. Other programs apply scores from traditional Hawaiian music, and, an Eastern Europe polyphony featuring music from a Polish Renaissance composer.

“The ArtsLIVE program brings in jazz, and adventurous classical music,” said ArtsLIVE Coordinator Eileen Carr, for the University of Dayton. “The Land of the Three Faiths program is being sponsored in part by representatives from the Jewish and Christian faiths . . . which further reflects the nature of this crossroads we see presented in the program.”

ArtsLIVE has been a tradition at UD since 1961, hosting visiting artists and scholars to the campus community. Carr said the series has opened up to a wider community as well. ArtsLIVE is supported by the College of Arts and Sciences and is co-sponsored by the Dayton City Paper.

The Rose Ensemble’s Land of the Three Faiths performance will use three percussion, one violin, one guitar and eight singers.

The Rose Ensemble will present Land of the Three Faiths Sunday, March 15 at 4 p.m. at the Church of the Holy Angels, 1322 Brown St. Tickets can be purchased at the Campus Box Office, by phone at 937.245.2545 or online at

Reach DCP freelance writer Tammy Newsom at

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