Chanting is art, music, worship, therapy – many things to many people from many cultures. I am convinced by my own experience, and that of others, that the power of music, combined with the blending of hearts and spirits in an atmosphere of worship, is a force for joy and healing, both physiologically and spiritually.

Modern medical research has shown that chanting (as well as other forms of vocal music) has measurable and beneficial effects on cell oxygen levels, heart rate and blood pressure, the immune system, hormone levels, and other physiological systems. The way chant affects the spirit is more mysterious, but just as real. Rhythm, focus, vibrations, breathing, and – in group chanting – harmony and sharing all play a part. The effect on our bodies of pervasive vibrations and controlled breathing is to relax and regularize them. The effect on our minds is to release them from troubling thoughts and distractions. The effect on our spirits is to free them from mundane burdens and allow them to soar in worship. Chant is a ministry to body and soul.

When the chants are sung in a group, the ministry is the more powerful because all the participants bestow it upon and receive it from each other. Yet chants may be sung by a single person – with similar benefits, for the body, of rhythm, vibration, and controlled breathing, and, for the spirit, of focus, beauty, and worship – or by just a few, as aids to meditation, prayer, or other spiritual practice, such as walking a labyrinth or doing sacred circle dance.

Inspired by the chants of the Taizé Community for Reconciliation in France, I have been leading sessions of spiritual chant for close to 25 years. During this time I have responded to the needs of those with whom I worship, the calling of a particular text, or simply a movement of my spirit, by composing new chants. Like those of Taizé, where they are the primary form of worship, my chants are short, melodic, repeated, and easily-learned and harmonized by those singing them. Many are quiet and soothing; others are more rhythmic and lively. They are varied both in literal meaning and in musical form, written to speak to and from the heart in many different conditions.

If you listen to the recorded chants you will hear that I offer each chant first in its simplest form: just words and a melody. After a few repetitions, almost everyone is singing, and soon there are harmonies, below, above, all around the melody. Sometimes people just hum or sing a single word on a single note. The harmonies flow from the spirit of the group and they rarely remain the same throughout the singing of a chant. This is the most moving and glorious way of chanting, yet as I have said, it is not the only way. I often sing them by myself, as do many other individuals I know.

If you look at the scores for the chants on this website, you’ll see that I have included, for those who would like a suggestion or two of a harmony that could be used, two- or three-part harmonies for each chant. These are not meant as the “right” way to sing them, but only as one way that might give direction or inspiration to those who seek it. The right way – for one singer or a group of any size – is to sing from the heart, with the Spirit; it is just to begin, reverent and centred in the moment, and let the music grow. Every experience will be different. May they all be blessings.