Chanting devotions

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Discussion about this topic

RE: Frishkopf article/audio samples and liner notes

A helpful selection of distinct styles and sources of chanting devotions from Islamic religious performance traditions. My favourite is Track (11)--the Sufi Dhikr with inshad--as it is very lively, is fully participatory, utilizes 'vocal/breath percussion' (which remind me of some Angolan/Capoeirista traditions I know of), and the arrangement does not sound so much rehearsed, as it sounds like these men have been prayer-singing together for a long time (notice the changes in tempo cued only by a single hand clapper--who is likely also a singer).

The unity of the diverse voices (even during the tempo changes), the exchanges and interchanges, the call-answer and overlap, and the vocal percussion are very interesting to me, as I feel this is a musical demonstration of prayerful collective-music-making where 'the leader' is only subtly remarkable--more like a 'guide' or 'facilitatr' than a 'leader' (compare for example to track 4's call and answer--Q:How easily can you tell which voice is the leader in these two tracks?).

I also really like this Track (11) because it resonates with the musical circles and collectives I have worked with in the past, both in form (music/chant)and in content (prayer-full, traditional or imagined). This style seems to emphasize the importance of participation and of mutual support (rather than any kind of grandstanding), which I feel contributes to the cohesiveness of the group, both in music and in spirit. One way to by-pass the proverbial performer-audience dichotomy is to get your audience to fully participate--the performer, then, just facilitates! (Funny though how the more you get the audience involved, the more the performance is perceived as 'entertainment' which suggests some loss in artistic authenticity and dignity. Some people attach good connotations to 'entertainment', though, such as 'accessible' maybe.) ~~namaste, Kreisha

I like Tuck's article on Rabindrath Tagore. One paragraph struck me in particular (pg. 102 -- "The union of the worshipper ..."). Religious experience is beyond the communicaticve ability of language or any other tangible expression. That which occurs in one's interior, or in the spiritual sphere is so vividly real and intense that it eclipses the material exterior. From the very little I read in Tuck's article, I think that Tagore is successful to the extent that he can be in capturing the spiritual encounter.

The notion of a vivid interior spiritual reality eclipsing the exterior can be found in a good deal of Biblical writing as well. Reading especially the prophets, one at times gets the sense that the authors were so overwhelmed at the reality and transcedence of the experience that they too are at a loss for words. The prophet Isaiah sees the LORD (Isa. 6) and is almost completely undone. He is terrified and in complete awe, describing God as a being surrounded by cherubim. He mourns his and Israel's inadequacy in the face of his God; in the suddeness of the mystical encounter his beloved nation and even his own person seem as but pale shadows.

Ezekiel gives a rather odd description of God. In it he describes strange creatures (angelic beings), that possess human, animal, metallic, and luminescent qualities. He then describes "the Spirit" as a cloud filled with burning coal and lightening. He then gives a convoluted description of magnificent wheels rolling about on the Earth, a crystal sky and above it, God. God is a radiant human-like being on a shining throne.

This passage (Ez. 1), especially in its description of the angelic beings and the "wheels" seems confused. I am not saying that the author isn't intelligent. I am merely suggesting that he is so overwhelmed by the experience that words completely fail him. In my opinion, this passage has always sounded awkward to me, and I think that its awkwardness is perhaps part of its importance. Through its "failure" the text teaches the reader something important about the supernatural, that it transcends our limited understanding and is higher than us. A number of other examples exist in the Bible of intense divine encounters and many of them contain language similar to that of Isaiah and Ezekiel, of writers grasping with limited finite symbolism to communicate the limitless infinite. ~~Chris Biel

I thought I might add this thought to last week's reading but it seems a bit more applicable here. Thus far we seem to have concerned ourselves with recitation and chant. Both are rooted in written or oral transmission. Glossolalia (speaking in tongues), as understood in some Christian circles, is not rooted in oral or written source materials. It is thought to originate with the Holy Spirit. Essentially, the Christian speaking in tongues is believed to be giving voice to the spirit's words and prayers not his/her own. Often the language is not known (to the "speaker" or other Christians) and is generally meant to be a form of sub conscious/spiritual instruction, or strengthening the Christian participates in on a personal basis (though some denominations strongly emphasize public use of glossolalia). Speaking in tongues is believed to represent a strengthening of the inner person. It is almost like a subversive form of divine(self?)-instruction that bypasses the mind (by virtue of the fact that the language is not understood) and reaches the Christian's spirit.

In a way if the purpose of speaking in tongues IS for the Holy Spirit to communicate directly to people through verbal utterance, then it could definitely be considered a form of "recitation of the sacred," but if it is an intirely faith-based activity that Christians make up, it could be seen as a means by which one can overcome language's failure to truly express the divine encounter.

~~ Chris Biel

It's interesting that you mention this passage from Ezekiel, because it has been theorized among conspiracy nuts that the burning wheels he describes are actually UFO's, and that the voice he hears in his head is in fact telepathic communication from said aliens. In case you were interested!--Andre 08:55, 31 January 2006 (MST)

I wanted to submit an article on the meditative songs and singing style that came from the Taize community in France, but can't seem to find anything on the web that has been published. So I thought I'd introduce it here. The Taize community is a sort or Catholic, only more ecummenical Christian group based out of a little town in France. I thought it fit with our topic because of their meditative singing style. The songs are often based on the parts of the Catholic liturgy (the gloria, alleluia, etc if you are familiar) which have some connections to Biblical texts, only aren't exactly Biblical texts. Other songs are writen about Biblical events or aspects of the Christian life. Usually the songs are short and repetative/contemplative. They may be just a chorus sung after sections of a prayer or interspersed with scripture readings. Other times the chorus/congregation sings an ostinato (little repetative section) while a soloist sings the verses overtop. Meditative singing gives you a link to the Taize website that explains it a little bit, again from an emic point of view, and if you want to you can listen to the mp3sof the music. These recordings have instruments, but they aren't always used. You may also notice the different languages...Latin seems to be the base language, but they are translated/written in many different languages. The first clip is in German, but I know the song in English...its talking about Jesus asking his disciples to stay with him and wait in the garden before he was crucified. The second last clip is Portugese, and give a bit of an example of the ostinato chorus with solo overtop. Kreisha's comments earlier also bring to mind the way that this singing style is performed. The leader here is not like a conductor, facing the choir/congregation. They may start or end the song, but the unity during the song seems to be an important factor. ~--Cari 18:32, 31 January 2006 (MST)

Hey Cari, I did an assignment on Taize and I too had difficulty finding articles on Jstor or other online sources. I did, however, find quite a bit on Proquest, a database available through the U of A library (under, surprisingly, "databases"). A number of dissertations on Taize are avilable (mostly abstracts -- full text must be ordered), but you might find something of interest. You might also want to check OCLC Worldcat (also available under databases). I found quite a few articles and books about Taize and if I remember correctly a number of them had links to a full text web site accessible through the U of A.

I did some looking around and found one article that might be of use (it is a full text online source). It is called Perspectives on Iona and Taize (or something to that effect). The author gives background info, and records the author's journey (pilgrimage) to both. The full text article is available from the Academic Search Premier database. The persistent link is as follows:

I think it might be good.

~~Chris Biel

Assigned readings, listenings, viewings

Islamic. Please read my survey of inshad dini (Islamic hymnody in Egypt). Then read listening notes for corresponding audio examples. You may also listen to a typical mawlid and read the associated album notes. The mawlid is a celebration of the Prophet Muhammad's birth, including devotional singing; it is frequently recited in the mystical orders of Islam, the turuq Sufiyya - in this case the Hamidiyya Shadhiliyya order of Egypt.

Hindu. Please read Slawek's Popular Kirtan in Benares For audio examples of various kinds of Hindu devotional singing (including kirtans and bhajans) see [1]. See also a map Kirtan recitation

Baul. The Bauls ('madcaps') are a little-known group of itinerant musicians from Bengal, whose religious tradition draws upon Buddhism, Tantra, and Vaishnavism, and is close to mystical Islam as well. Please read Capwell's Popular Expression of Religious Syncretism. Listen to two Baul songs performed by Subal Das Baul and his ensemble:

  • Gyan Anjana Nayane Dao. Text by Radhashyam Gonsai, 1960. Instrumental accompaniment: Khal (two-headed drum), Dhotari (lute typical of west Bengal), Ektara (a single-stringed instrument most emblematic of the Bauls; made of a gourd, it is said to be descended from the gopiyantra, the instrument used by the gopis, Krishna's cowhered maidens), Duggi (small round drum).

Optional supplementary readings:

Optional supplementary viewings: See JVC Video Anthology of World Music and Dance, especially volumes 12-14 (Hindu, Sikh, Baul, Qawwali), along with corresponding notes.

Your selected readings

Include here articles about devotional chant - intoned religious texts apart from the recitation of Divinely-given ones. Try to cover (collectively) as many religious traditions as possible. Follow your citation with a capsule summary.

Jose Maceda, Chants from Sagada Mountain Province, Philippines Maceda speaks on the daily musical life in the mountain province in the Philippines. "Musical life is in connection with daily activities—dance, play, political, etc. There are various chants for different occasions, identifiable by tune/melody." This particular article analyzes the text and melodies (musical analysis) of seven specific chants recorded by Mr. Alfredo Pacyaya from this province, but played in the United States in 1956, and are currently housed at the University of Chicago. --Stella 21:39, 29 January 2006 (MST)

Precontact Music in Hawai'i by Elizabeth Tatar Tatar's article examines records of Hawaiian chants collected by Helen Roberts (1923) and Dr. Kenneth Emory (1933), along with spectographic, manually transcribed and linguistic analyses to explain why 19th Century performances sound so drastically different from contemporary performances. Her analysis indicates that "a chant phonology existed alongside a speech phonology, phonemically the same, but phonetically different", with noted variances in type, style and quality of 'mele' (chant). Tatar concludes that "if a Hawaiian musical trait found in chant appears in similar form over a sufficiently wide area of Eastern Polynesia, it is probable that it existed in precontact times."~~Kreisha

  • Attempt at audio sample/web-site [2]--Kreisha (signature button still not working for me!)

Embodiment and Ambivalence: Emotion in South Asian Muharram Drumming Wolf's article deals with the issue of music and emotion through different types of drumming from South Asia. This article is a case study of Shii's festival celebrates every year in the month of Muharram (according to Islamic calender). Wolf's extensive field research in South Asia particularly in Lahore, Pakistan and Lucknow India resulted this excellent grass root study of Shia Muslim. The author examines the historcial and theoretical background of Shia Muslim and tried to follow the anthropological tools to study the music and religious emotions of Shia Muslim and culutre. --User: Karim

What's in a Dhal? Evidence of Raga-like Approaches in a Gujarati Musical Tradition Gordon contributed this article to the journal for Ethonomusicology in 1995. The author critically examines the folk tradition of Gujarat India and compare with the Indian classical music. Gordon reveals many unresolved issues of religious folk music and give higher importance to the "dhal" musical tradition of Gujarat, which seems very similar to the Indian classical ragas but has its own historical background and tradition. Gordon also criticizes the western scholarship of only highlighting the Indian classical music as a music of high culture in "India" however there are many local-folk traditions perform throughout India and celebrates the richness of "high culture" and "standard" ==Karim

Plain Chant, the Handmaid of the Liturgy: A Challenge and a Prophecy I was wanting to find an article on a slightly different subject (that of Taize, which I'll mention in the general discussion instead) but decided in the end to include this one. It is a very emic article about the unique characteristics of Plain Chant (also called Gregorian Chant) compared with more "modern" music, and why its return to Catholic liturgy is/was such a positive trend. The article is from 1921 and you can definitely tell from the author's style and beliefs. I wonder what would be the current thoughts? ~--Cari 18:10, 31 January 2006 (MST)

The Znamenny Chant-->Joan L. Roccasalvo This article deals with the history of the Znamenny chant in 'Russia'. The article starts in the 9th century with the Kievan Rus people and the introduction of christianity from Moravian missionaries. At this time Kiev was the cultural center but the music had a lot of greek influence. The chant was very distinctive and represented the 'folk' culture. The chant eventually started to move away from Kiev in two directions-SW and N. The transmission of the music through oral and rudimentary notation (ie. neumes) across the large area combined with changing social and political circumstaces (ie. cultural decline of Kiev, various ups and downs of Byzantine Empire, changing rulers and borders)led to distinct changes in the chant. Adoption of western ideals (namely western schooling systems) led to the development of a fairly complex westernized chant, including trained singers, and fairly complex notation (heavy influences from polish renaissance). In the 17th century the Nikonian reform simplified and truncated the chants which resulted in the loss of many of the traditional elements. Books including words and notaion were published (irmologia) and circulated from the 16th century on and almost all 20th century Znamenny melodies are found in the 'Tsenkovnoye Prostopiniye' which is a version of a set of books published in 1674.--Bkey 11:30, 1 February 2006 (MST)

Camp Meeting Hymnody, by Charles A. Johnson A brief history of the music of camp meetings, a popular type of religious meeting in 19th-century America. Topics include context, type of music sung, hymn boooks, and pedagogical techniques.--Meghanbowen 13:23, 1 February 2006 (MST)

Manuel, Peter Cassette Culture: Popular Music and Technology in North India. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1993. Gordon Thompson's article on the Gujarati "dhal" has already been contributed by Karim, so I will add the 6th chapter of Peter Manuel's book. The book explores the new "Great Tradition" (Milton Singer, 1972) that is developing in India as a result of cassette technology. Cassettes are able to produce (and reproduce) music cheaply, making recorded music widely available and very affordable. The chapter, on devotional music, discusses how cassettes are making religious music, particularly from smaller regions ("Little Traditions"), popular and have sustained regional devotional music, such as katha and vrat (ritual prayers that are chanted, sung, and/or recited, depending on the nature of the prayer). Also, cassettes have reinvigorated the trend towards the traditionally-favored, faith-based devotion (as opposed to ritualistic devotion), hence contributing to the popularity of bhajans and kirtans. Negative effects of cassette culture on devotional music include the lessened need for live performances and the influence of film aesthetics on devotional music (though this could arguably be a new "Great Tradition," according to Manuel's preface). --Niyati 21:02, 1 February 2006 (MST)

Folklore Elements in the Yugoslav Orthodox and Roman Catholic Liturgical Chant, Vinko Zganec Zganec surveys the musical elements of liturgical chant in both Orthodoxes Churches and Roman Catholic Churches in Yugoslavia and finds in both cases an infusion of musical elements borrowed from local folk music. He examines different regions to determine origins of the chants as well as variations in practice. Zganec also considers briefly the possible reasons for the infiltration of the different genres.--Lpauls 21:47, 1 February 2006 (MST)

The Politics of Reception: Tailoring the Present as Fulfilment of a Desired Past, Leo Treitler I found this really interesting, because it debunked a lot of the myth surrounding the use of chant in Latin liturgy, and also explains the origins of the tradition rather well. I was surprised to learn that a lot of plainchant came from Greek. --Megfow 21:55, 1 February 2006 (MST)

Origins of the Musical and Spiritual Syncretism of Nomai in Northern Japan By Susan Asai This article discusses the 10 stages a person must go through to achieving enlightenment or 'Buddahood'. For the sixth training step, a dance is learned to accompany a sistrum while chanting the word 'misosai' which means 'to increase your age' while dancing. This is followed by dancing. It is steps like this, which include dancing, music, and chanting that allow a buddist Japanese person to move closer to nirvana. The article also discusses the importance of the performing arts in Japan, and specifically in these ceremonies. --Khaver 22:51, 1 February 2006 (MST)

Hill, Jackson. 1982. “Ritual Music in Japanese Esoteric Buddhism: Shingon Shomyo.” This article is about the types and uses of music in (mainly) the Japanese Shingon Buddhist sect. Hill says that this is rich territory for research because it is a one-thousand-year-old written and oral practice which has a notation system developed in the ninth and tenth centuries. Hill says that music is “the direct experiential vehicle to the Buddha-awareness that lies at the heart of Shingon teaching.” There is “esoteric” and “exoteric” music in the Shingon practice: in general, the more melismatic and esctatic the “esoteric” chants (secret – meant only for priests) are, the more potency they contain for manifesting the Buddha. I found this article to be interesting because of its history of Japanese Buddhism. Hill ‘s interest is in “the myriad beliefs that interlock worldwide between music, magic, and ritual.” He posits that for the Shingon, or maybe in actuality, magic takes place in the secret chants. User: dstark 2 Febraury 2006

"Muslim Devotional": Popular religious music and Muslim identity under British, Indian, and Pakistani Hegemony This article traces the recording history of quwwali from 1902 to the early 1990s. It highlights the contrasts between the function, technique and sound of the recordings in each of the three areas of hegemony and also discusses how recording limitations and advances have affected the marketing and recording of the devotional genre.-- 00:05, 2 February 2006 (MST) KellyM

The Lyric in the Fante Methodist Church This article gives a glimpse into a small but vibrant part of Ghanian Methodist Christianity in the early 20th Century. Williamson briefly describes what he calls Fante "Lyrics," which are an insertion of local culture into the largely western worship practices of the Methodist church in Ghana. He identifies two forms of lyric, one a fixed song tradition and the other a freely improvised style. He realizes the genre's worth (often the most popular among Christians and most effective part of evangelistic efforts) but questions their content -- and this may be the point where the time of writing possibly becomes more apparent -- claiming that the texts are too grouded in a pre-Christian reality. Though he sees this as being a potential problem for the churches, he hails the shift in focus from Western to local cultural and devotional expression as a positive move that he feels will bring the churches to greater depth, influence and theological maturity. However, he laments the fact that he sees few among the younger generation that are still grounded enough in their peoples' own traditions to create meaningful works like the lyrics written in the first few decades of the 20th. He clearly perceived the potential dual threats of globalization and westernization. ~~Chris Biel

The Conflict of Word and Tone Alfred Einstein's (Albert's cousin) article about the relationship between sacred texts and the music. The describes the relationship during the Middle Ages as stifling to creativity. The role of the music is clearly to emphasize the text, not to instill emotional affect or subjective responses. This is supported by the notion that music can subvert the text. Einstein also highlights the use of pure diatonicism as symbolic of "self-purification" to prevent undesired emotional responses. He notes that this tendency changes over time, with the musician gaining creative and intellectual control where none existed before. -- 09:15, 2 February 2006 (MST)

Congregational Singing Traditions in South Carolina This article is based on (poorly funded...) fieldwork done in African American Baptist churches around South Carolina. It was part of a larger project concerned with preservation of oral hymn and spiritual song traditions. There are a lot of interesting parallels to other traditions we 'experienced' and read about. For example, the way that the music serves the purpose of intensifying the mood of worship and invoking bodily worship in the form of specified movements within which worshipers are free to express themselves and 'let the spirit take over'. The author also deals with issues of preservation, prayerfulness, the use of spiritual songs out of context, and regional variations, as well as specifics of the various traditions and musical characteristics. I really found this one interesting for some reason. --Gloria 10:30, 2 February 2006 (MST)

Buddhism and Music by Ian W. Mabbett. An overview of the three branches of Buddhism dealing specifically with the paradox of this life as ephemera and as distraction yet the importance of music in these three sects. Especially intriguing is the use of instruments thought to imitate the internal sounds heard only by a monk deep in meditation. (will try and post the link again later today) - Kelly Thomas

Ancient Musical Traditions of the Synagogue Francis L. Cohen expounds upon the modern chronocentric view of what "jewish" music is in the chanting and reciting of certain sacred and non-sacred texts. he notes that much of what is today considered "ancient" Jewish verse and melody form merely date back two generations. As such, he attempts to examine peculiarities in truly ancient verse and melody. Matt Israelson

The Splintered Art World of Contemporary Christian Music One theme I found in Michael's article, that is, the potential for the blurring of lines between the sacred and secular, art and entertainment, in devotional music, is dealt with by these authors. In an article published in Popular Music, they suggest categories into which artists of Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) can be grouped. These categories are 1)seperational, 2)integrational, and 3)transformational, and correspond to different views of the relationship between Christ (and faith) and the world. The music may be an expression of personal faith and intended for an audience of the like-minded (seperational); the music may be geared for a wider audience, by its style or message, with the goal of selling better or evangelising (integrational); or the artist may be more concerned with biblical themes of e.g. social justice which can appeal outside the church but also critique the church itself (transformational). --Jordanv 08:51, 9 February 2006 (MST)

Final heading (please don't delete)