Washington, D.C. is home to some of the nation’s best cultural experiences, and music festivals certainly fit into that category. This summer I had the opportunity to experience two festivals running concurrently, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival and the Serenade! Choral Festival: A JFK 100 Celebration.

The Smithsonian Folklife Festival, which celebrated 50 years this summer, is a free cultural festival that takes place each year on the National Mall. The festival consists of a variety of cultural exhibitions and showcases, including music. One theme of the festival was On The Move, exploring how America has been shaped by migration. Contrasting this migration with indigenous people, the opening performance for On The Move featured Native American songs by Dennis and Ralph Zotigh along with remarks by Gabi and Sebi Tayac of the Piscataway nation.

Next, Japanese taiko pioneers and experts, Roy and PJ Hirabayshi, demonstrated their unique drumming style, which is a distinctly Japanese American art. Their enthusiasm and energy was as impressive as their drumming.

The Serenade! Choral Festival was presented in conjunction with the Kennedy Center this year as part of the JFK centennial celebration. For five evenings, this free festival brought vocal groups from around the world to D.C., focusing on groups from countries that were in some way impacted by the Peace Corps, one of Kennedy’s initiatives, including Panama, Zimbabwe, Bulgaria, India, Mongolia, Latvia, and China.

The standout group for me was Gandharva Choir from India. They performed three times, and I was continually blown away by their unity, focus, and mastery.

Other highlights included Egschiglen, a trio from Mongolia featuring Mongolian throat singing, Insingizi from Zimbabwe, an entertaining trio who included an audience sing-a-long of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” in their set, and Latvian Voices, six women with tight vocal harmonies and ethereal tones.

Perhaps the most multicultural group came from Portland, Maine. The Pihcintu refugee girls’ choir includes immigrants from the British West Indies, Burundi, Cambodia, China, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Lebanon, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, South Sudan, Uganda, Vietnam, Zambia, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen.

In addition to being impressed by all of the talented groups at both festivals, I was incredibly inspired by the breadth of musical styles I was able to experience. If you’d like to share part of this experience, you can watch every performance from the Serenade! Choral Festival on the Kennedy Center’s YouTube.

– Submitted by Erin Yousef, Music Design