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. (PT, HG1, HG2)
The format for this workshop is simple. We will begin each morning with 30-40 minutes of worship, followed by a brief check-in and discussion about the chants. 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 is on the experience, rather than talking about the experience. I have participated in wonderful workshops where we built a loving community over the course of the week through sharing our stories. This workshop is not like that. We will build our community primarily by joining our voices in the chants.
The chants themselves come from a variety of sources, from Taize – an ecumenical monastery in France, from Bev Shepard, a Canadian Friend who introduced me to this form of worship at The Gathering 12 years ago, from Native American Earth spirituality, from sacred traditions of east and west. Many, but not all of them, use Christian language. To Friends who may have a problem with God language, I would say this – 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.” I have chanted these chants with eclectic groups who identified themselves as Buddhist, Catholic, Pagan, non-theist, Presbyterian, free thinker, and Episcopalian – and invariably, we have felt a unity of Spirit that transcends our various beliefs.
I have participated in wonderful musical workshops at the Gathering where we practiced melodies and harmonies, and learned 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, I will offer up a chant, others will join in; 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 longing, lament, and petition and praise.
Friends of all musical abilities are welcome in this workshop. I believe that 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.
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.
About the leader :
Since taking Beverly Shepard's Chanting workshop at the Gathering in 2000, I have been leading chanting groups in various settings - A Catholic Retreat Center, my monthly meeting, at a Wednesday night church group, in hospitals, and for the past four years my wife and I have led a chanting group once a month at a community center in my town.