When walking towards St. George Ethiopian Tewahedo Church early on a Sunday morning, the first thing that struck me was the sound. Even before the sun was up there were very apparent sounds of worship that could not be contained by the wall of the church spilling out into the still dark morning. Even though I was early, there were many that had arrived earlier to prepare for liturgy and the many things that were to happen later that day. I can’t say there were many people in the beginning, many people began to trickle in as time passed. It seemed that every time I managed to extricate myself from staring intently at what was happening and the number of people increased, but it wasn’t until I felt the intense gaze of an adorable little boy with grey eyes did I realize just how many children were in the room.
The few that I had seen when coming in were sleeping away peacefully despite the fact that the voices of several unseen people were being amplified by six Bose speakers placed around the room, many would’ve thought it was overkill considering the size of the room, but now there were many sitting about the room of different ages, a few older children sitting in the front. Once the liturgy came to an end an hymns were being sung did I really feel the connection within the community, the teens that I’d observed sitting up front, stepped up to sing did the atmosphere change, from the reverent progression of chant between the many different voices that had something to say, it gave way to the joyful sounds of the children singing and the proud exclamations of their parents with cameras in hand, capturing such a beautiful moment. By then the place was packed to the point that there were people outside standing at the doorway as every seat taken in the sanctuary was taken.
(Insert Children’s hymn recording here if possible)
Though chant plays a very important role in conveying theology and belief through ritual and practice, I noticed that sound in this community carries so much more. Sound, through the vessel that is chant, in this particular community carries culture and tradition that would otherwise be lost to the dominant culture that these young community members must assimilate to. By providing their children the opportunity to immerse themselves in the language of the motherland that is rarely heard outside of the confines of one’s home, these parents, that have traveled so far to provide a better life for their children, are doing what they can to create and maintain a connection to a culture that includes them all.
By Nayely Vargas Ramos