One of my favorite spiritual practices is creating and singing niggunim or chants from resonant Hebrew verses. Although I have had several influences, one important book has been Shefa Gold’s “The Magic of Hebrew Chant”. It is a tremendous resource of her own chants (with musical notation) and some of her thinking that went into creating them. Additionally, Shefa provides insights into the larger framework of what it means to engage in chant and how to use chant individually and in groups.
Here are her thoughts on how chant can be a form of text study.
Chant is a lifestyle. In the Talmud (Sanhedrin 99a-b) there’s a discussion about the importance of learning Torah and reviewing it. Rabbi Akiva’s opinion is that we must “sing every day, sing every day.” Rashi explains that when you sing Torah, then it follows you even to the next world…
The practice of chant allows us the luxury of exploring one phrase at a time, igniting the fire of our enthusiasm and pouring our passion into those particular words. Our prayer life will start to reflect the personal and passionate experience we have had with those words. Chanting wakes up our liturgy and brings it to life within us.
We take a phrase from the text that holds some power or mystery for us, and we experience it with melody and rhythm and repetition until it unlocks its secrets for us.
What are phrases that have power for you? What phrases trouble you, and may merit your spending some time with them striving to find a new perspective? What texts do you live by, so that your actions sing out the meaning you find in the words?