Friends General Conference

Nurturing faith and Quaker practice

Chanting: Shelter for the Spirit

Workshop Number: 
Beverly Shepard
Who may register?: 
Open to all adults and 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)

Chanting takes us directly to the place of Spirit. Starting simply, the music grows richer; the worship deepens. Various words for the Divine, from many traditions, will be used, and not every chant will express every worshipper's truth. Expect joy, tears, healing, and surprises! No special singing experience is necessary.

Workshop Description

Chanting starts with a single musical line, sung by the leader. As others join in, and as the singing progresses, the music grows richer, deepening our worship and lifting our spirit.  Friends with little musical background often find their "inner musician" liberated by the experience of chanting in a group. In addition to the spiritual enrichment, many chanters find physical healing in chanting, as we regulate our breathing and become immersed in the vibrations of music. I will use a variety of styles from different traditions, including the Judeo-Christian, from which most of the chants are drawn. This is sacred chant, inspired by but not at all limited to the Taizé style, and theist language is prevalent. Most chanters find that the actual words used to express the personal perception of the Divine are not significant; it is the experience of the Divine that matters. The chants I choose for each day are selected carefully to create a prayer-like form, beginning with an invocation and ending with benediction. Nevertheless, I always find that I make changes as the morning unfolds, in response to the direction we are going together, or to something learned during the singing. We usually have an especially lively programme on Wednesday, and our tradition is for the Thursday session to be focussed on healing.  In the past few Gatherings I've attended, a day centred on the environment has also been part of the week.  Each day's session begins with a short introduction, usually consisting mainly of the contributions of participants, and ends with a short wrap-up; there is silence before, after, and between all the chants – as another chant leader has said, “the wrapping of each chant in silence”. I speak and then sing the chants first, and others join in as they are ready. We do not use printed music, although print versions of the chants I have composed will be available at cost for those who wish them. The harmonies and variations that arise spontaneously from the group may sweep you away! There's no wrong way to chant.  Some people hum or sing a ground; some dance; some lie down in the centre; some listen; some cry.  Drums are appropriate for some of the chants and participants may bring them if they wish. No special singing experience or gift is necessary: the Spirit makes the music.  Chanting has changed some Friends' lives dramatically.  Who knows?  Perhaps we can change the world!

Leader Experience

I've been leading chant for over 20 years in a variety of settings. I've chanted at Gathering (the last time I offered this workshop was in 2015 in North Carolina), at the Pacific Northwest Quaker Women's Theology Conference, at meetings of the Quaker Camping Network, at Camp NeeKauNis in Ontario, for several Monthly Meetings and regional gatherings, as one of the worship groups for Canadian Yearly Meeting sessions for a number of years, for a national conference to culminate the International Decade of Women, at Pendle Hill (two weekend workshops plus a recording session), in a weekend workshop for the Traveling Ministries Program in Hanover, NH, and in unaffiliated groups, including workshops for other faiths. I was also featured in a segment of a national CBC radio programme -- Tapestry -- on spiritual and faith-based issues, which considered chanting in several different faith traditions.