How do I start chanting?

Good news: you are already “wired” to chant. You have it in you. To give yourself the gift you already have, three basic steps:

1- Breathe. (Re-)gain awareness of your breathing. If you think you have no gift for singing, the path towards positive change is through a better awareness of your breathing. Do not worry about “not having an ear” (see more below). Focus on your breath. How? Three examples:

– Through meditative prayer, like the “Jesus Prayer” . From Wikipedia: “In The Way of a Pilgrim, the pilgrim advises, “as you draw your breath in, say, or imagine yourself saying, ‘Lord Jesus Christ,’ and as you breathe again, ‘have mercy on me.'” Another option is to say (orally or mentally) the whole prayer while breathing in and again the whole prayer while breathing out and yet another, to breathe in recite the whole prayer, breathe out while reciting the whole prayer again. One can also hold the breath for a few seconds between breathing in and out. “

– Through voice techniques. For example, steps 1 to 5 recommended by this voice teacher are a good start: Ten-Steps-to-Better-Breathing

– East-meets-West: adapting yoga breathing to “centering prayer”

A combination of all the above is OK too.

To better understand this connection between breathing and chanting, first practice at home, alone, with a simple “mantra” on one tone (ex: “God come to my assistance, Lord make haste to help me”, or “Maranatha”, or “Abba”). You can also try a daily devotional practice. Please also read “Chant and Time”. This relation to time is essential to chant.

More about hearing: if singing is not yet part of your weekly or daily routine, you may need to practice “matching pitch” at the beginning. This Video demonstrate how. Your ear will take only a few days to get (re)trained. Your breath will take longer.

2- Come to Mass and further your practice in the “natural habitat” of chant. Click here for a list of the Southern California parishes where some chant is sung during Mass. Join the Soli Deo Gloria schola.

3- Educate yourself about the “big picture” of chant. Chant is not old, it is ageless. Check out Books, books, books,… Consider listening to the Square Notes podcast on your drive to work. Read. If you feel you need an academic foundation, this 14-page paper is a great start: Reilly, Music of the Spheres. One quick look at the “Instructions on Music” emphasizes the “pride of place” that should be given to Gregorian Chant in post-Vatican II liturgies: Musicam Sacram (14 pages).

Finally, do not let anyone, including yourself, convince you that you cannot chant. See also Talent and Participation. Believe no “expert” who would say that it is “impossible” to  sing all the Proper from the Roman Gradual at Mass. Several parishes in Southern California do it regularly, some with scholas comprising only self-taught musicians. Those who say it is “impossible” have just not tried.

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