Chews’ ‘diverse traditions’ lift voices in Manhattan

Cantor Azi Schwartz, Vivian and Ray Chew.
Sonia Chin

A concept borne from a bi-annual Carnegie Hall gospel concert series billed “A Night of Inspirational” bloomed uptown Manhattan recently when Ray and Vivian Chew curated a free, musically, spirited collaboration of church choirs to sing inside the Park Avenue Synagogue.

Titled “Lift Every Voice: Welcoming Diverse Traditions” the event curated by the couple delivered a program of songs rendered by members of the Harlem Japanese Choir, the Christian Cultural Center and Baptist choirs gleaned from New Jersey and New York to feature cantor Rabbi Azi Schwartz who has been a staple headliner at the Carnegie Hall concerts.

To describe it as rocking faiths might be an understatement because a packed assembly filled the sanctuary to make a joyful noise and did just that when the choirs backed the reputed cantor and song stylist Valerie Simpson and others.

Introduced and conducted by arranger and producer Ray Chew, Simpson entreated the congregation with her hit composition of “Reach Out & Touch” and returned front and center to provide her version of “Bridge Over Troubled Waters.”

The reputed cantor tripled his gifted presence by introducing two of his sons who had a musical moment when they took the microphone to wail Hebrew anthems.

And more often than is recalled, many raised their hands in praise, applauded and expressively gave standing ovations to the message and purpose of the occasion.

“We want you to join in saying ‘Amen’,” Ray implored.

As a miniature orchestra amplified each melodic harmony, the diverse gathering eagerly echoed Amens to the cantor’s message of “Oseh Shalom.”

Plenty of Halelujahs also repeated throughout the evening too, at times compelling cell phone technology to capture the fervor and engagement of the interdenominational gathering comprising mostly Christians and Jews.

Brooklyn’s Pastor A.R. Bernard expressed joy at witnessing the assembly. He seemed spiritually lifted.

With Vivian Chew’s acknowledgement of several Baptist ministers, Rabbi Cosgrove and others, the possibility of a repeat performance might be looming large for future collaborations.

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