Chanting a Person’s Way to Salvation
Music lightens up the soul.Various kinds of sounds and rhythms are designed to touch and awaken the human heart.These are some of the reasons why music is considered universal, a medium that can be understood by anyone needless of any further explanation.
In the world of various religions, music have been found as a useful instrument, either to encourage the praised God, or to encourage the followers. This is true not only in the present setup but even as far as the beginning of religion itself.
Islam, Christianity and Shintoism are three varied religions originating in various parts of the world. How these three utilized music in their respective practices? Specifically, how musical chants are viewed by these especially during the period 200 CE to 1400CE?
The debate whether the Prophet Muhammad meant that music is something considered to be a vice still goes on. However, a religion not employing music in its rites or ceremonies seems to be an inexistent religion. The Quran does not say anything about music but if one gets near a Mosque, especially at noon and during Fridays, the chanting Imam’s voice can be heard as he leads the community prayer.
Generally though, music is viewed as secular concern in Islamic religion, especially those that employ instrument. “The desert Arabs know no religious song and only sing of love and war in their old wild way” (S. M. Zwemer). However, chants existed and the Islamic chants in the early days were dedicated to the Prophet.
In Mecca as well as in other “religious,” centres there is a sort of sacred-music of which Hurgronje gives several specimens. They are chants in honor of the prophet or prayers for him which are sung at the Moleeds or festivals in memory of Mohammed (S. M. Zwemer, 1900).
Although music, as previously mentioned, is not promoted in Islam, the Arabians love for music were not hampered, which is totally different from the beliefs of the Mohammedans who consider music as one among the doubtful musements for true believers.
The Catholic Church, referred as the “Western religion” in the early days have its purpose in using music. One very specific example is found in its ritual chant, which, eventually became the foundation of unaccompanied contrapuntal chorus based on the medieval key and melodic systems and also the foundation for the evolution of the present popular and dominant choir music which mixed solo and chorus music with free instrumental accompaniment, based on the modern transposing scales.
As stated in the Catholic liturgy from the Missal, music are written to be sung. Unless they are put into tone, the words are useless. Even in the early years, before the Carolingian Renaissance, Catholic chants already served as a supplemental and reinforcing element for the human emotions.
In reading the words of the Catholic liturgy from the Missal we must remember that they were written to be sung, and in a certain limited degree acted, and that we cannot receive their real force except when musically rendered and in connection with the ceremonies appropriated to them. For the Catholic liturgy is in conception and history a musical liturgy; word and tone are inseparably bound together.
The immediate action of music upon the emotion supplements and reinforces the action of the text and the dogmatic teaching upon the understanding, and the ceremony at the altar makes the impression still more direct by means of visible representation (Edward Dickinson, 1902).
Chants are not as simple as the usual chorus sang these days. The early Catholic church have made chants very special and not easy to achieve. Why? With chants, it is not only employing voice and vocal quality. To serve the dogmatic nature of the religion, which was so strong at that time, chants must also be perfect to those who are strongly believing in the Church’s dogma. They must be done with interaction of both body and soul as the persons who do the chant put into action their praises to the Lord.
All the faculties are therefore held in the grasp of this composite agency of language, music, and bodily motion; neither is at any point independent of the others, for they are all alike constituent parts of the poetic whole, in which action becomes prayer and prayer becomes action (Edward Dickinson, 1902).
Another known religion, which originated in Japan, employing chants in its practices is the Shintoism. In fact, this religion highly regards chant compared to other forms of music when it comes to religious and spiritual application. It is believed to be the God’s chant. According to Shinto Shaman Hideo Izumoto, “chants resonate the vibrations of the universe and power of creation.”
In fact the 47 words of God in Shinto is chanted and it dates back as far as the religion existed and chants became an integral practice of Shintoism. These chants specifically refers to the forty-seven words of God, believed to have been given by angels centuries ago. Moreover, the same Shaman noted that singing God’s Chant daily is the simpliest way to prepare oneself for earth’s upcoming ascension.
Even before the Japanese culture and religion was influenced by China and Korea in the sixth century, it has already a respectable culture of music. However, when it comes to Shintoism, the chanting was viewed as a borrowed practice from Buddhism.
…Japan has received all teachings with open mind; and also that the instructions which came from outside have commingled with the native religion in entire harmony, as is seen by so many temples built in the name of truth with a mixed appellation of Buddhism and Shintoism… (Walter R. Houghton, 1893).
With all the three religions mentioned and how they look at music, there is only one underlying factor, the praising of their respective Gods. However, not all of the three mentioned look at music positively, as being the case of the Islamic practice. However, for Christianity, specifically the western Roman Church, and the Japanese Shintoism, music is essential.
With a single aspect of music which is chanting, it can be viewed that Shintoism has the strongest belief of the spiritual and physical effect of this kind of God-praising. It is a reasonable belief since chanting offers all of a person’s self, the concentration, the bodily movement, the language and of course the soul being offered to the God. This view is being shared by both Roman Catholic Christian and Shinto followers.
Finally, music can be concluded as an integral part of one religion. Without music, religious rites and majority of its dogma would appear meaningless to its followers. With music, religious followers are exhilarated, resulting to jolly hearts ready to open and to accept what the dogma of their respective religions offer.
Dickinson, Edward. “Music in the History of the Western Church: With an Introduction on Religious Music among the Primitive and Ancient Peoples”. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1902. 92.
Houghton, Walter R. “Neely’s History of the Parliament of Religions and Religious Congresses at the World’s Columbian Exposition”. Chicago, IL: Frank Tennyson Neely, 1893. 158.
Zwerner, S.M. “Arabia: The Cradle of Islam Studies in the Geography, People and Politics of the Peninsula, with an Account of Islam and Mission-Work”. Edinburgh: Oliphant Anderson and Ferrier, 1900. 278.