Let’s rewind to 11th September, 2001. I was five months pregnant with my oldest child when news of the hideous destruction of the Twin Towers came in. It made me suddenly feel hugely fearful about the world I was about to bring this baby into – and helpless to do anything about it.
I had just been asked to write a violin concerto for Daniel Hope and I began to wonder whether it would be possible to create a musical analogy to the fact that Christians, Muslims and Jews all believe in the same one God. The story of Abraham being asked to sacrifice his son as a test of his faith is universal to these three religions, so I set out to intertwine them, moving towards a homogeneous, harmonious and joyful conclusion.
The piece opens with a quasi-Muslim Call to Prayer (composed under supervision by a Shi’a cleric) and subsequently joined by Christian church bells and Jewish Shofar calls. Some years later, the World Orchestra for Peace asked me to adapt the concerto into an orchestral overture. I had to pinch myself, when, as I stood with orchestral members on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, where it was about to be premiered, we heard a real Muslim call to prayer joined by real Christian church bells. As Bruce Feiler says in his riveting book Abraham – A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths: 'The Muezzin makes the call, and just as he does, the bells at Gethsemane Church begin to sound, ringing out a Christmas carol. No-one seems to notice the clash, and maybe it’s not a clash at all; harmony, after all, is controlled dissonance.'
Religious conflict and wars that involve it are constantly in the news - but we rarely hear enough about the affirmative aspects of our many faiths, such as the phenomenal beauty of the varied cultures surrounding them. Exploring these cultures has unearthed a bounty of stunning chant and verse and has brought me closer to my own personal spiritual beliefs – the other-worldliness of music from all faiths transports us away from the daily and earthly grind of our lives and has inspired me to build musical bridges between faiths, wherever I can.
Since then I have written a multitude of interfaith works and even made a CD, Love Abide, which includes an Ecumenical Magnificat. This became strangely prophetic as, since then, I have been shocked and exasperated by reactions from fellow Catholics to sending my son to an Anglican choir school. One told me that I had lost him, now. And another implied that by even occasionally choosing to attend my son’s Anglican services over our family Catholic ones, I was giving in to the temptations of Satan... I find this inter-Christian intolerance astonishing and quite abhorrent in this day and age.
So let’s fast forward now, to 13th March, 2017. I am hugely proud and excited that my youngest child is singing my music in Westminster Abbey Choir at the Commonwealth Service. Over the years, the Choir has welcomed pupils from many faith backgrounds and none. I have been so deeply heartened and inspired by the warm welcome the Abbey community has given to our Catholic family and there is so much I can relate to, and empathise with, when I attend their stunningly beautiful services.
I am under no illusion that my musical bridge-building is going to bring about world peace. But perhaps if we all, individually, looked at our talents and interests, using them to reach out and blend with other faiths, races, nationalities we could make an enormous difference to the world for our children and future generations to come.
The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Royal Commonwealth Society. Photo credit: ©Paul Marc Mitchell Studios.
Roxanna’s piece, O' Hearken, will be performed by the Westminster Abbey Choir at the Commonwealth Service on Monday 13 March.
Find out more about Roxanna. View Roxanna’s Jerusalem premiere of 'Three Paths to Peace'. View the 2014 BBC Proms performance on the DVD 'From War to Peace'. Learn more about Roxanna’s CD 'Love Abide'.