Culture: Sacred Music

A Middle Eastern Musical Tour
Sacred Music in the Holy Land

By Marjorie Menzel 

No one from Tallahassee would think it odd that popular local chanteuse Pam Laws got some folks to sing along with her.  But Mormons? On a bus touring the Middle East?  Turns out Laws was just getting in touch with her roots.


“It was a call-and-response song that I had learned at Bethel Baptist Church, very rhythmic and very African-American,” she recalled, “and it suddenly hit me that 50 Mormons were singing this African-American spiritual, and they were just into it.”

They weren’t the only ones. Laws and Tallahassee pianist Marvin Goldstein toured from the Middle East for 17 days this spring, staging international concerts in Haifa and Jerusalem with Arab, Jewish and African-American musicians. Their collaborators included Arab singer Najwa Gibran, a Haifa native who lives in Toronto and tours worldwide, and Jewish singer Gali Atari, who lives in Tel Aviv and won the 1979 Eurovision Contest for Israel with her song “Halleluyia.” 

The shows were intended to foster peace, said Goldstein, and the music was traditional Arabic, modern Hebrew, American Jazz and instrumental pop piano. Support instruments included ancient Arabic percussion, Oud, violin and harmonium. 

Goldstein’s “Peace With Music” Foundation stages musical events to highlight common ground between different cultures. He was producer and accompanist for the tour, which included impromptu concerts at special sites in the Holy Land. 

“We were on a mountaintop where there was an iron sculpture dedicated to Moses,” said Laws. “Supposedly that’s where he had to stop and could not go any further.  And sure enough, when the two Old Testament scholars finished – we all had earphones, so we were always learning at the sites – Mr. Christiansen said, ‘Pam, I think we should have a song.’  So I sang “Go Down, Moses.” Then, she starts to sing: “When Israel was in Egypt’s land, let my people go …”

“And that’s a little operatic in timbre, but most of the songs I sang had the timbre that I heard growing up in Bethel Baptist Church, when the old ladies would sing the old spirituals. And I didn’t even know that I remembered them.”

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