Israeli and Palestinian musicians unite for Holy Land Christmas concerts

By staff writers
December 5, 2007

An all-volunteer group of professional, collegiate and church musicians and choir singers from seven US states will embark on December 14 for the Holy Land, to join with Israeli and Palestinian musicians to perform a progressive, four-city Christmas choir tour that will culminate in the first major Christmas Eve concert in Bethlehem's Manger Square since 1999.

The more than 150-voice chorus traveling at their own expense from the United States will join with 20 singers based in Jerusalem and members of The Palestine Youth Orchestra (PYO) of the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music.

Along with world-class operatic performers, led by renowned conductors Dr. Robert McBain and Dr. Eric Thorson, the choir and orchestra will perform portions of Handel's Messiah to deliver a simple message of "Peace on earth, good will to all" to audiences in Nazareth, Amman, Jordan, Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

"While the music is the traditional Christmas music of Handel and John Rutter, the presence of the singers, orchestra and soloists transcends the differences existing among peoples of the world, and unites us in friendship and hope in this deeply symbolic season," said organizer Rev Sam Morris, senior pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Columbus, and adjunct professor at the Jerusalem Institute for Biblical Exploration (J.I.B.E.).

Morris conceived the idea and engaged with friends and colleagues to coordinate what officially has been dubbed the "Prepare the Way Concert Tour 2007: Peace on Earth, Good Will to All."

"With the hope of a just peace looming on the horizon, it is time to 'prepare the way,'" said Rev Morris. "One of the world's greatest tenors, Stuart Neill, will sing those very words on Christmas Eve to a world watching and waiting for peace."

The Christmas Eve concert will be a highlight of the annual festivities that include processions by various local churches, and coordinated in part with the Peace Center in Bethlehem.

Since 2000, following what has become known as the Second Intifada, visitors have been trickling back into Manger Square at Christmastime, but numbers are far below the tens of thousands who thronged Bethlehem at the height of peacemaking in the 1990s.

"The presence of your group with us would in this special event underscore the song of the angels as they sang 'Glory to God in the highest and peace to all on earth,'" said Dr. Victor Batarseh, Mayor of Bethlehem.

"I pray for Christmas Eve this year. It has been a dream of mine for many years to try to remind people everywhere that the world can live in peace - a just peace. Bethlehem, for many in the world, is a place of renewing that hope. For a few moments, we all relive the age-old story of angels singing and shepherds coming," said Rev Morris. "If just for a moment, a wrinkle in time, in the little town of Bethlehem, let the songs of the angels be heard that kindness and love can win over hatred and bitterness. I believe it. And when you look into the faces of these wonderful musicians, you will see it too."

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