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Youths find music bridges religious and cultural divides

Memories of the night in 2010 when Jason Feddy met Todd Mack at a Tel Aviv concert are still poignant for the Laguna Beach production director at KX 93.5. The show included performances by American, Israeli and Palestinian musicians in an effort to draw people together.

"At the time I didn't think there was much I could do to help," Feddy said of the 2010 encounter with the founder of Music in Common, a global nonprofit designed to encourage understanding between the Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, strengthening ties between U.S. and Middle Eastern cultures, and giving a voice to under-served communities.

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The organization also incorporates youth performances into its efforts which is how Feddy was able to get involved.

Mack founded Music in Common in 2005 following the 2002 death of his friend, bandmate and Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. Pearl was kidnapped and killed by terrorists in Pakistan while on assignment.

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Feddy had also been noticing a buildup of mistrust within society and evaluated his own cultural knowledge.

"I realized I didn't know any Muslims, and therein lies the problem," said Feddy, who is Jewish and grew up in Britain.

Through connections he established in Laguna, Feddy set out to bring Music in Common youth performances to the city. With help from songwriter and composer Alisa Eisenberg, the first one was held at the Laguna College of Art + Design in December following the San Bernardino shootings.

The second event was held at Laguna's BC Space Gallery on Sept.11, the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attacks.

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"In Orange County we tend to live in our cars and rarely meet our neighbors, let alone people from other communities or faiths," said Feddy, an Aliso Viejo resident. "If we want to break down barriers between people, we have to get to know one another."

Eight participants from Christian, Muslim and Jewish faiths ages 14 to 20 spent two days writing a song that they eventually performed in front of what Mack described as a standing-room only crowd.

In the program, participants discuss pressing issues related to religion, ethnicity and culture, and write a song together as a group. Participants filled out questionnaires upon arrival to spur ideas and generate conversation.

Survey questions included, "What pressures do you feel both inside and outside of your faith group?"

They wrote a three-minute song titled, "Rehumanize," which "acknowledges the impact stereotypes have on individuals and the importance of spreading tolerance of the world," said Trey Carlisle, 17, one of the group members.

Trey, a student at Soka University of America in Aliso Viejo, said despite the condensed time frame, creating a song was relatively seamless.

"Even though everyone came from different backgrounds...we shared similar beliefs of love, peace and respect for all," Trey said.

He played bass guitar while the group was buoyed by a pianist and ukelele player.

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Trey, who is Christian and African American, has developed a passion for fighting injustice through personal encounters and learning about groups throughout history that have been oppressed, such as the Jews during the Holocaust and Cambodians during a genocide in that country in the late 1970s.

Trey co-wrote a documentary about the Cambodian genocide for the Righteous Conversations Project, a program of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust.

"I've been perceived as a possible threat by the way I wear my hair or the color of my skin," Trey said. But, "when I take the time to go up to them, be kind to them...I see their perceptions are changed."

Feddy said the event was transformational.

"I don't use that word lightly," Feddy said. "I am still on a high."

Backyard sessions evolve into world tour

Music in Common has directly served thousands of people in more than 250 communities across the globe.

Shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, Mack said he noticed a rise in anger and unwillingness to understand other people's narratives about other religions. Pearl's death sparked Mack's concept of Music in Common.

In its early days, the idea was to honor Pearl with small concerts and jam sessions with friends in Mack's backyard in Sheffield, Mass. The gatherings were meant to give people a sense of community.

Mack and his bandmates eventually hit the road sharing the idea of understanding while playing in clubs around the country. Music in Common was born out of these events.

The offshoot youth program includes song writing and video production. As a nonprofit Music in Common receives funding from private donations and grant money.

Organization officials recruit youth through networking and partnerships with various institutions, including churches, synagogues and mosques, Mack said.

Participants' musical acumen spans a wide range, Mack said. Music in Common will provide equipment, such as guitars and pianos, if participants do not have their own.

Mack hopes to hold future events in Orange and Los Angeles counties, with Laguna Beach as the hub.

"All we want is for them to want to be there and be curious; curious to learn about others from different faiths and cultures," Mack said.

For more information about Music in Common, visit musicincommon.org.

Twitter: @AldertonBryce

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