Friends General Conference

Nurturing faith and Quaker practice

Chanting From the Silence

Workshop Number: 
Tony Martin, Kristin Fuhrmann Clark
Who may register?: 
Open to All (adult & high school)
Experiential Activities: 
part time-attenders welcome (can come any day; some might only attend Thursday or Friday)
half gathering attenders welcome
First half (Monday-Wednesday)
Second half (Wednesday/Thursday-Friday)

Simple melodies and simple words sung over and over can become extraordinarily powerful, especially when each chant emerges from and returns to deep silence. Enter into and become part of a sacred river of sound and silence, trusting that its current will take you where you need to go.

Workshop Description

Chanting is a gentle but powerful way we can awaken to, be moved by, and create deeper union with the Spirit within and all around us. We choose melodic, easy to learn, and deeply meaningful chants to help create an experience that is empowering, opening, grounding, transforming. Surrounding the chants with silence, this effect is even deeper and more powerful.

The format for this workshop is simple. We will begin each morning with about 30 minutes of worship, followed by a brief check-in. Then we will continue in worship with around two hours of chanting and end with a brief period of sharing about the experience.

The emphasis of this workshop is on the experience, rather than talking about the experience. There are wonderful workshops at the Gathering in which participants built a loving community over the course of the week through sharing their stories. This workshop is not like that. We will build our community primarily by joining our voices in the chants, creating a sacred space through sound and silence, and by the shared depth of the experience.

The chants themselves come from a variety of sources and traditions: from Taize – an ecumenical monastery in France, from Bev Shepard, a Canadian Friend who introduced Tony to this form of worship at The Gathering 15 years ago, from Native American spirituality, from other sacred traditions of east and west, and those we have written ourselves.  Most of the chants are in English. Many of them  use Christian language, others use non-Christian language. It’s possible that some words might not resonate for you. However, although the words we chant are important, they are not so important as our intention – which is to find together and give voice to “the place where the words come from.” If we reach for the feeling or experience the writer was trying to express, we can find that place. We have chanted these chants with eclectic groups who identified themselves as Buddhist, Catholic, Pagan, non-theist, Presbyterian, free thinker, Episcopalian, and spiritual – and invariably, we have felt a unity of Spirit that transcends our various beliefs.

There are wonderful musical workshops at the Gathering where participants practice melodies and harmonies, and learn to make beautiful sounds. This workshop is not like that. We will neither rehearse nor perform these chants.  We will not have sheets with words or music. Out of the silence, Kristin or Tony will first speak and then sing through a chant , participants join in when they are ready. The chants are simple enough that they can be learned after just a few repetitions – and after many repetitions they grow in richness and complexity of their own accord. In a process something like improvisational jazz, harmonies emerge, and sometimes dissonances too; tempos change, tenderness becomes intensity or vice versa. Beautiful sounds often happen, but it’s more about the flow than the beautiful sounds – as we open our throats and give voice to joy and gratitude, lament and longing, petition and praise. Some of the chants are slow, others upbeat. The repetition often leads us to a meditative state and puts our minds in a more receptive place. Many become like mantras we return to again and again.

Friends of all musical abilities are welcome in this workshop. Even without musical training or talent, our very bodies are naturally, perfectly made instruments that we don’t so much play as allow to be played by this mysterious life giving energy that animates us. We are made to sing – the way wolves and whales and frogs are made to sing. And chant isn’t about being a singer, it’s about connecting with the Divine.

Although the chants do not require accompaniment, some of them beg for percussion – Friends who wish to bring a percussion instrument are invited to do so.

Part time attenders of this workshop are welcome. We ask that you be conscious of the sacred space and safety that has been created already by our time of deep connection, community, chant, silence, and Divine presence. We invite you to drop into this sacred space with us.

Leader Experience

Since taking Beverly Shepard's Chanting workshop at the Gathering in 2000, Tony Martin has been leading chanting groups in various settings - A Catholic Retreat Center, his monthly meeting, at a Wednesday night church group, in hospitals. He  leads chanting groups once a month at his  Meeting House, at a community center in his  town, and at the Unity Church in nearby Lynchburg. 

A lifelong seeker, singer, and Quaker, Kristin Fuhrmann Clark is deeply moved by blending spirituality, music, and silence. Through a deep discernment process, she was led to take Tony’s chanting workshop at her very first FGC Gathering in 2013. Not having a previous connection to chant, she ultimately discovered a new way to connect with Spirit, to meditate, to express oneself. Ever since, she has been leading chanting at her own chanting circles, at Celtic Masses, and during other Quaker and non-Quaker gatherings. Kristin writes chants, listens for new ways to access Spirit through words, melodies, rhythm, and silence, and desires to create spaces where anyone can have a spiritual experience.