Chanting: Discovering Spirit in Sound

Overview

The ancient art of chanting has long been embraced by the world's great religious traditions as a path to healing and enlightenment, but only recently has Western science begun to recognize its therapeutic effects on the body and mind. Chanting provides a fascinating introduction to this powerful and increasingly popular practice and shows you how to use chant in your own life as a powerful tool for relaxation, body-mind healing, and spiritual self-discovery. Drawing on Robert Gass's own experience as one of the ...
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Overview

The ancient art of chanting has long been embraced by the world's great religious traditions as a path to healing and enlightenment, but only recently has Western science begun to recognize its therapeutic effects on the body and mind. Chanting provides a fascinating introduction to this powerful and increasingly popular practice and shows you how to use chant in your own life as a powerful tool for relaxation, body-mind healing, and spiritual self-discovery. Drawing on Robert Gass's own experience as one of the world's best-known leaders of contemporary chant, as well as the wisdom of sound healers from around the world, Chanting explores the science of how sound affects both our bodies and our consciousness and takes us on an engaging tour of chant as it is used in Hindu, Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, Islamic, African, Shamanic, Goddess, and Native American traditions. Chanting provides simple exercises and more than twenty musical scores to help you develop a personalized chanting practice that can fuel everyday activities with purpose and meaning.
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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Chant. Chant alone and find your spiritual center. Chant with others and find community. Chant and radiate peace. Chant and open yourself to God. Can chant do all this? The authors insist that it can. Chant is not merely incantation fostering self-hypnosis but an effective tool of spiritual growth. Every religion has a chant tradition rooted in its doctrine and worship. Gass, a scholar of religious music and the founder of Spring Hill Music, and Brehony, a Jungian psychotherapist, lead us on an exploration of the forms of chant used in several religious traditions and discuss their physical and psychological effects. Eclectic and ecumenical, their approach encourages one to experiment widely, all the while recognizing and respecting the tensions and competition among religious beliefs. Readable and informative, Chanting will reward both casual readers and those seeking a more in-depth understanding of this aspect of religious music. Recommended for both public and academic libraries.James F. DeRoche, Alexandria, VA
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780767903233
  • Publisher: Broadway Books
  • Publication date: 3/14/2000
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 5.24 (w) x 7.95 (h) x 0.64 (d)

Read an Excerpt

A Journey: From Bach to Rock to Chant
"Music is well said to be the speech of angels."
--Thomas Carlyle

At the age of eighty-five, my grandmother Miriam was still wearing miniskirts and teaching folk dancing on the boardwalk at Coney Island. She had studied yoga, and whenever I came to visit she immediately demonstrated her continued splendid health by standing on her head in her miniskirt. I once asked Nana, who had outlived four husbands, the secret of her vitality. She confided that she had taught herself meditation and had been practicing for over ten years. I was intrigued, given my own many years as a meditator, and asked her, "Nana, what do you do when you meditate?"

"I read in a book on yoga that you're supposed to take an Indian word and repeat it over and over again," she answered. "So I picked my own Indian word, and I've been chanting my mantra (she pronounced it man-tra in her thick Brooklynese accent) every day all these years."

Growing more curious by the moment, I asked, "Nana, what is the word you use?" Proudly she answered, "Cheyenne, Cheyenne, Cheyenne."

Not knowing the difference, my dear Nana had chosen the name of a Native American tribe instead of one of the sacred Sanskrit syllables from India that are usually used in meditation. But as she talked about her experiences of chanting her sacred "man-tra" over ten years, I was struck by the obvious benefits to her life and being--physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

And so it is with profound respect for the power of chant, as well as a smile in the face of the mystery that is life, that I begin this book.

A PersonalPath

Many people I know speak of the deep connection they felt to Spirit when they were children. I'm not sure that was true for me. I grew up in a liberal Jewish family with a strong emphasis on values, but there seemed to be about as much living Spirit in my synagogue as in an average shopping mall. As a child, my only Gods played for the Boston Red Sox, and the chief deity I worshiped was leftfielder Ted Williams. I came out of childhood and many years of religious-based education a proud agnostic.

Yet one of my earliest memories is of sitting at the old ebony piano in my grandparents' house on Sunday afternoons, 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 colors and energy.

As I grew up, the piano became my playmate in times of happiness and, later, my refuge when, at eleven years old, a great darkness settled over our home as my mother lay upstairs painfully dying of cancer. Swaying on the piano bench, my hands now more masterfully working the aging ivories, I felt and expressed things through music that were too hard to express in words. Again, I was transported into another realm where colors were brighter, where pulses of energy created a continually changing tapestry of patterns, being woven and rewoven; a realm where I was no longer desperately alone, and where I felt alive and connected to something larger than myself.

Some years later as a graduating high-school senior, I was asked to pick a quote to accompany my yearbook picture. Though I was still an avowed unbeliever with no conscious relationship to religion or Spirit, I chose the quote, "Music is well said to be the speech of angels." Looking back, I see that even without a religious context or any concept of spirituality, I intimately knew God through music.

Recognizing my passion and my gift, my parents had supported me in intensive study of keyboard, music theory, and composition from the age of six. My piano teachers saw in me the possibility of realizing their own unfulfilled ambitions and tried to push me toward competitions and concert halls. But although I loved the classics, I had already begun to discover the power of simple music to move groups of people. Long before I encountered chant, there was musical comedy, and whenever there was a piano for me to play, people would gather round and we would sing songs from West Side Story and My Fair Lady. I also began playing my accordion in "hootenannies"--jam sessions with people of all musical abilities, singing and playing simple folk songs. Long-repeating choruses were a specialty, because everyone could forget about the words and get lost in the music.

My classical training at the New England Conservatory, Tanglewood, and Harvard exposed me to music that was increasingly complex and abstract. In fact, my fellow composers liked to intimate that if too many people "understood" or liked your music, it meant that you had probably "sold out." Although I was engaged by the intellectual challenge, I never fully embraced that path. I wanted to make music that was accessible, that was from the heart--music through which others could express their own songs and dreams.

Harvard in the late sixties was in creative ferment, and like others of my generation, I was swept away in a tidal wave of passion and politics. Music was married to causes, and I learned to intentionally use song to shift the consciousness of people gathered at political rallies and protests. Thousands of us, chanting as we marched or swaying hand-in-hand, experienced a form of communion. We were a tribe, joined in common cause, and music helped hold us together.

In 1967, I became a professional rock musician. Rock concerts in those days were tribal events--true Dionysian rituals. One night it was the Fillmore East in New York City, the next it was the banks of the Charles River in Cambridge, or a nameless club in D.C. Jimmy, our drummer, laid down a heavy beat as the lead guitar screamed a series of crashing power chords. The crowd jumped to its feet as it received the pulse of energy emanating from the stage. As the music took off, I began to experience a familiar cycle. Throbbing from the stage, the music aroused the energy of the audience. Their excitement reverberated back to the stage. It was palpable. I felt myself amplified as if possessed by their collective passions. They played us, as we played them. At its height there was no performer, and no audience. There was only the music.

Upon graduation, I chose to go into music full-time. Our group had signed a recording contract with a major label and seemed poised for success. My father, obviously displeased to see the prodigal son heading off into the unsavory world of rock and roll rather than law school did his best to dissuade me, but after testing my commitment, supported me by purchasing new equipment for the band. Nevertheless, a few years in the professional music world proved to be enough. The scene was packed with glamour, sex, and drugs, but I found myself sitting in hotel rooms after the gigs reading Zen Buddhism and Krishnamurti. The more "successful" we became, the less I experienced the heartful, tribal communion that was what I really loved about rock and roll. I left the band, deciding that I was done with being a "professional musician."
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