Including details about chanting's history and traditions as well as new scientific findings about the many medical benefits of humming and vibration, this guide to vocal meditation provides readers with easy instructions, breathing techniques, and tips on how to create unique, personal chants.
From the author:
People sometimes ask me, "How did you get into chant?" Looking back on our lives, we can sometimes see patterns that were not so obvious while we lived them. My earliest memory is of sitting at the old ebony piano in my grandparent's house, turning dog-eared yellow pages of musical notes, pretending to read, my hands romping freely across the keys. I would lose track of time, journeying far from their musty house with its faded memories and bric-a-brac of another era, and entering another world, a magical place filled with colours and energy.
Recognizing my gift, my parents supported me in intensive study of keyboard, theory and composition from an early age, but although I loved the classics, I soon became enamoured of the power of music to move groups of people. Long before I encountered chant, there was musical comedy, and wherever there was a piano and people, we would swing songs from West Side Story and My Fair Lady. I also began playing my accordion in hootenannies - singing folk songs in living rooms and around campfires. Long-repeating choruses were a specialty, because everyone could forget about the words and get lost in the music. In the late sixties, I became a professional rock musician, the throbbing, pulsing rhythms of our electrified instruments unifying the dancing crowds in ecstatic Dionysian rites.
Setting forth on the spiritual path in 1971, I attended a meditation and yoga retreat with Swami Satchidananda, and first experienced chant. I felt like I had come home - that I had found my true musical calling. It was music whose purpose was to awaken and heal, rather than entertain. For me, chanting combined the warmth and communality of a sing-a-long, the ecstasy of a rock concert, the devotion of worship, and the stillness of meditation.
What is chant? Chant is the worship and celebration of the sacred through vocalization. Chant is singing our prayers. Chant is vocal meditation. While the word "chant" often brings to mind images of robed Catholic monks intoning Gregorian chant, chanting actually encompasses a stunningly wide array of musical forms: from Orthodox Jews wrapped in their prayer shawls to the timeless, mystical overtone chanting of Tibetan monks, to the pounding, complex drum rhythms of West African and Afro-Cuban chant. Whatever its forms, chant is "discovering Spirit in sound."
From a musicological standpoint, let's face it - chanting can be kind of monotonous. My father's first reaction to our recording of the Sanskrit mantra Om Nama Shivaya was, "It's the most boring music I ever heard! It puts me to sleep right away--you should market it as an aid for insomniacs." But chanting is one of the most powerful ways I know to transform our consciousness. We chant our prayers to God, so that our lives may be graced by more intimate Presence of the One known by so many names. We chant because it's fun. We chant to help the stress and freneticness of our busy lives melt away. We chant for the feeling of communion with others when we join our voices in song. We chant to spread our wings and let our soul take flight.
One of the gifts of chant is that it can be done anytime and anyplace. We can chant while cooking dinner, cleaning house, commuting, or opening junk mail (the average American spends two months of their waking lives engaged in this last activity). We can chant our kids to sleep, chant before eating a meal, chant while watering our plants or walking in the park, or chant with our beloved before making love.
I feel blessed that something I love so much can bring such goodness to others. In the fire of our chanting, or in the sweet silence as the last tones fade into nothingness, words such as "love" and "oneness" become living reality. It is my hope that this book will help fill your heart and home with the beauty and joy of chant.
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