BYU’s “Sacred Sounds” Exhibition Brings Together Islamic, Jewish, and Christian Musical Traditions

Contributed By Jason Swensen, Church News associate editor

  • 20 December 2017

Brigham Young University student Maddie Blonquist served as the primary curator of “Sacred Sounds”—an interfaith exhibition on display at the school’s Harold B. Lee Library.  Photo by Nathalie Van Empel.

Article Highlights

  • “Sacred Sounds” explores the many ways Judaism, Islam, and Christianity use sound in worship and includes a display of several ancient religious texts.
  • The exhibition is on display through January 31, 2018.

“I would hope [the exhibition] gets us to think more openly and have religious conversations.” —Maddie Blonquist, primary curator

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 through January 31, 2018.

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 plane 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.

Sacred Sounds—an exhibition that explores the ways various religions use sound in worship—is on display at BYU’s Harold B. Lee Library. Photo by Nathalie Van Empel.

Blonquist hopes visitors feel an active, personal connection and investment with the sounds and items 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.

BYU’s Sacred Sounds exhibition includes ancient religious texts from the Harold B. Lee Library Special Collections. Photo by Nathalie Van Empel.

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 January 25 interfaith panel discussion. Go to sites.lib.byu.edu/art/exhibitions 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.

BYU’s Sacred Sounds exhibition includes ancient religious texts from the Harold B. Lee Library Special Collections. Photo by Nathalie Van Empel.