A Hard-Won Harmony
Learning to sing a Psalm.
The Washington Post Magazine
May 25, 2003
For 2 1/2 weeks, Miriam Dixon studied, whispered to herself, sang. She listened intently to a cassette recording of the song 'Hone Malakh A' " and repeated the Hebrew lyrics over and over. She struggled with the guttural "h" of "Hone," mouthing the words and humming the tune on her Metro ride home.
Like a number of the Christians rehearsing for a joint African American-Jewish concert at Washington's Jewish Community Center, Dixon, 53 and dreadlocked, had hardly sung in Hebrew before. The foreign tongue's "stress marks," she said, were the hard part. "I just wanted to be sure the pronunciation was right."
Because at first she got it wrong. On a cool spring night at Chevy Chase's Temple Shalom, she watched cantor Ramon Tasat shake his head no. "HO-nay!" Tasat commanded. The clock showed it was past dinnertime, but Dixon, Tasat and three other singers kept at the madrigal, taken from Psalm 34.
"One more time," Tasat told Dixon.
Dixon, a soprano with the Heritage Signature Chorale, was drawn to the joint musical celebration out of faith: "We're saying the same things in a different language."
But what a language. "It's deceptively easy!" Tasat insisted as the rehearsal wound down. "Ha!" rejoined Dixon.
On the evening of the performance, Dixon put on a billowy black skirt and shirt and ascended the community center's stage alongside members of the mostly black Heritage Signature Chorale and members of the all-Jewish Bountiful Light Choir. Bountiful Light performed first, soaring through two Hebrew selections. Next Heritage Signature belted out two gospel numbers. Then the choirs came together for 'Hone Malakh A'," which translates to "The Angel of the Lord Encamps."
Dixon listened as an alto solo began the piece. Then she, Tasat and the others joined in -- a great sound. When the song ended and the applause began, Dixon looked out at the audience and acknowledged their enthusiasm with two words. This time, the language was her own: