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From Constantinople to Istanbul: A Sacred Journey of Byzantine and

Ottoman Chant

In the beginning was the word. The music of Christianity, Islam, and other overlapping religious traditions started with the unaccompanied chanting of sacred texts. The musical styles of Greek Orthodox and Sufi (Islamic mystic) sects are closely related, both having developed in large part in the city now known as Istanbul. One purpose of the Romeiko Ensemble, an award-winning troupe of 21 Greek and Turkish singers and six accompanists, is to demonstrate those similarities. The group performs Greek Orthodox settings of Biblical psalms, as well as melodically related musicalizations of the poems of such Sufi masters as recent New Age-bookstore favorite Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi. Sufis founded the sect, whose members are known popularly as “whirling dervishes” for the way they spin ecstatically to spiraling music played on kettle drums, zither, spike fiddle, and various lutes. They are controversial with ultraorthodox Muslims, who at their most extreme—the Taliban, for example—ban all music save Koranic chanting as sacrilegious. Yet Sufi music has traveled far, influencing Hindustani folk and pop styles. (The rapturous call-and-response vocals of qawwali “parties” are among the few things that cross the Indo-Pakistani border without difficulty.) The Romeiko Ensemble is led by Athens-born Dr. Yiorgos Bilalis, an expert in Byzantine and Ottoman music, who has performed widely as both a psaltes (Greek cantor) and a hafiz (Turkish cantor). This concert will match Eastern Orthodox Christmas hymns and carols with musical excerpts from the Sufi memorial ceremony for Mevlana, which occurs every Dec. 17. The Romeiko Ensemble performs at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 12, at St. Matthew’s Cathedral, 1725 Rhode Island Ave NW. Free (donations accepted). (202) 530-1425. (Mark Jenkins)