Aspen Jewish Congregation
10:40 am
Tue August 6, 2013

Concert explores faith through music, storytelling

In the Aspen Chapel, Daniel Mutlu, Rollin Simmons and Joshua Breitzer rehearse beneath the glow of stained glass. They'll be joined by Elana Arian, Noah Aronson, Andrea Rae Markowicz and Joyce Rosenweig at tonight's concert.
Credit Rebecca Kruth

Tonight (Tues 8-6-13), at the Aspen District Theater, a group of young Jewish musicians will explore the concept of faith through music and storytelling. The performance is called Beyond Belief: Sounds of Sacred Searching. Aspen Public Radio’s Rebecca Kruth went to a rehearsal for a behind-the-scenes peek and filed this report.   

For Cantor Rollin Simmons, the exploration of faith stretches beyond the walls of the Aspen Jewish Congregation where she’s served for the last few years.

“This isn’t a regular conversation,” she said. “We’re not arguing about what we believe in, we’re really just giving these people a forum to share what they’ve gone through in their lives.”

As part of the third annual concert she’s organized in Aspen, Simmons asked eight valley residents of varying religious backgrounds to share their stories of finding, struggling with and keeping faith in their lives.

The idea is based on an earlier project she did while studying to become a cantor. Simmons said she interviewed everyone from her school’s IT guy, a Jehovah’s Witness, to the maintenance man who was studying to become a Pentecostal minister.

“After the concert, after the recital, people said, ‘You know, I see these people every day in the elevator and in the halls, and I never knew that he was a Jehovah’s Witness,’ or ‘I never would’ve thought to ask him what he thought about working in a rabbinical school,’” Simmons said. “The Pentecostal minister-in-training said, ‘I love working here, because we’re all doing the same thing, even if it’s a different language or a different religion.’”

To bridge together tonight’s stories with song, Simmons has gathered six musicians from across the country. They play a span of genres from contemporary to traditional, folk to classical.

"I think that the faith and the struggle is what makes religion and spiritual life interesting and complicated, and it evolves throughout your lifetime."

One of those musicians is New Jersey native Noah Aronson.

“I think for any background, Jewish or any faith, the struggle with faith is going to always be constant,” he said. “I think every day is a constant wrestle for me, where I fit, what I should and should not be doing, what feels right, what doesn’t feel right. I think that there’s no one singular experience.”

Aronson, whose work centers around Jewish community life, said the idea of pure faith without question scares him.

“I think that the faith and the struggle is what makes religion and spiritual life interesting and complicated, and it evolves throughout your lifetime,” Aronson said.

For musician Josh Breitzer, who grew up in Michigan, music itself has been part of his evolution. Breitzer says the experience of performing in Aspen awakens past moments of his own faith exploration.

“I grew up going to the Interlochen Performing Arts Camp in northern Michigan, and some of my most profoundly moving experiences were a combination of both music and nature, the peaceful tranquility of pines rustling in the breeze and still summer lakes,” he said. “So to come here to Aspen, where, seemingly, it’s like this year round, except with maybe a little snow in the winter, it’s very easy for me to be transported to that place again.”

Music, he said, is key to expressing those moments.

“Words sometime can fail to describe what I feel about that which is bigger than myself, and music then takes the place of being able to describe what that means to me,” Breitzer said.

Beyond Belief: Sounds of Sacred Searching starts at 5:00 tonight at the Aspen District Theater.