Amazing Cultural Singing: Monk Chanting. How Does It Help Us?
Updated: Apr 29, 2020
This is the 2nd blog of a 4-part series in which I will be exploring different vocalization styles that stand out for their unique characteristics. We will not only consider singing as a tool for self-expression but also as a basis for cultural identity. What can we learn from these to advance our own singing?
It is while visiting Asia in 2011 that I discovered the fantastic powers of vibration in the form of monk chanting. Buddhism being a predominant force throughout this continent, it is not surprising that temples abound. One of them in Luang Prabang (Laos) was particularly memorable for me. I vividly remember being guided towards magical voices in a room full of monks praying. The enigmatic reverberation of sounds embraced my body and lifted my spirit immediately. I stayed a moment to give thanks to the Universe and show gratitude for the wonderful gift of singing. What does Monk Chanting teach us?
1) Connecting To The Source
No matter what our religious beliefs are, singing is often a spiritual experience allowing us to reflect, channel emotions and connect to the source. Whether you believe in God(s), the Universe or in yourself. A form of meditation. In fact, many of my students have shared singing better after meditating or even practicing yoga. Why? Because quieting our mind or focusing it on something greater then what we are opens up the way to greater consciousness. Successful singers must be able to tap into that energy to renew inspiration and sustain the connection between body and soul. Before your practice, band rehearsal or a performance, take a few minutes to stop everything, concentrate on your breath and connect. Clearly state your intentions, make positive affirmations and go! You are ready to sing. This is what it means to sing from the heart.
2) Relaxation And Vocal Harmonics
Did you know that Om represents the sound of the Big Bang when the Universe was created? The origin of everything as we know it! Pretty powerful stuff if you ask me... No wonder it is known to have infinite healing properties. Tibetan monks use throat singing for their mantras and to sing Om. We can produce vocal harmonics similarly to how Tibetan monks do to relax, loosen up the throat and embellish our voice. Contrary to popular beliefs, it is the increase of resonance that improves projection and adds richness to the tone; not solely power. Take a deep breath, choose a pitch at the bottom of your range and sing the letters A (Aw), U (ooh) and M. Relax to drop and loosen your jaw. Listen carefully to hear the layered high pitch flute-like sound resonating on top of the base note. It usually appears on the 3rd or 5th above what is sung. Much softer than the main pitch, it blends in perfectly and can be difficult to perceive at first. When a group of people sing Om together, the undertones and harmonics filling the room are intense: out of this world actually!
3) What You Sing Is What You Are
Repeating mantras, positive affirmations or intentions shape our present and future reality. Most importantly and consequently: who we are. I believe that we must choose what we sing very carefully because of the hidden power words carry. Choose songs that brighten your spirit. If you tend to gravitate toward sad songs, ask yourself whether they help you process certain events and emotions or encourage feelings of defeat, self pity and depression? Does your heart feel lighter or heavier after singing? Singing is an exceptional tool for resilience. But remember, thoughts attract things. Use singing to your benefit. Choose your thoughts deliberately and your songs accordingly. And as always, sing your heart out!