Can I get an Amen?
January 6, 2018 10:57 AM   Subscribe

A book on chanting Despite its centrality to many highly valued practices, there has been very little scientific study of joint speech to date.[via mefi projects] Joint speech is the act of humans speaking together, in prayer, in protest, in support of a team. Excellent examples and analysis at the site, my favourites were under the miscellaneous section. Many chants are to be found on UNESCO's list of masterpieces of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity.
posted by J.R. Hartley (22 comments total) 48 users marked this as a favorite
I'm always very stirred, almost on a primal level, by these sort of manifestations and I would be curious to know if hakas would count as joint speech?
posted by J.R. Hartley at 11:00 AM on January 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

Chanting is an integral part of the annual St Stupid's Day parade in San Francisco. I like to think I was the guy who started the now common "No more chanting!" chant there.
posted by njohnson23 at 11:04 AM on January 6, 2018 [7 favorites]

More examples:

The Pledge of Allegiance (and other common group oaths)
Voice polling ("all in favor say 'aye'")
Audience participation (e.g. Rocky Horror, or the chant in the taiko song "Omiyage")
posted by Foosnark at 11:37 AM on January 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

This is probably the thing I love most as a football supporter.

Enjoy this version of You'll never Walk Alone, sung by both Liverpool and Dortmund, a chant they both share. They just couldn't;t quit it this day.
posted by salishsea at 11:39 AM on January 6, 2018 [3 favorites]

Growing up in a Hindu household, whenever we have a puja (prayer) at Temple, there would be various hymns and songs. Usually though, we'd start the prayer with a "om shanti om" chant. And at some of the larger temples, you'd witness several hundred people chanting "om shanti om" together. It's quite powerful. Even if you're not particularly religious, it overwhelms to be in that space and hear that powerful voice/sound.
posted by Fizz at 12:01 PM on January 6, 2018 [8 favorites]

This is fascinating. Thanks for posting.

Children's folklore is just full of chants - "no more pencils, no more books" and the like. There are also a number of camp songs that are nothing more than chants - like Three Short-Necked Buzzards or Hermie the Worm or Boom Chicka Boom.
posted by Miko at 12:02 PM on January 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

Well Mongolia is here.
posted by Oyéah at 12:47 PM on January 6, 2018

Fizz, vedic chants are on the UNESCO list, are they in the same religious tradition? And yeah of course Miko! Not to mention call and response chants in scouting and of course the military marching cadences (I don't know but I've been told, etc) or are they too melodic?
posted by J.R. Hartley at 12:55 PM on January 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

This is fascinating!

From the miscellaneous section: If you are silent on your own, nothing much happens. But if we are silent together, as when we mark a tragedy, the event is powerful. I view it as a limiting case of joint speech, where the words are reduced to a minimum, while the performative act of being-with-each-other is everything.

This brought to mind a MeFi comment from scaryblackdeath a little while back on unexpectedly experiencing the two minutes of silence that's widely observed in Canada on Remembrance Day:

I'm a veteran.
Today I was in Vancouver for a comic book convention. Despite living in Seattle for a long time, I've only been in Vancouver a few times, and this was my first experience with Remembrance Day. At 11am, basically everything stops for two minutes of silence. Even the comic convention ground to a complete, respectful halt. And then, when it was over, life moved on. It immediately struck me as being more moving and more meaningful than any of the Veterans Day observances I've seen in the United States. Not drawn out, not gushing with praise, just thoughtful and respectful for a moment and then moving on.

It was really interesting hearing that perspective on something that I'm just used to experiencing annually and just sort of assumed "Yeah, this is just what you do." Anyway, that just bolsters the whole point about the power of collective silence.

That made me think of silent protests which, while not commemorative, have the capacity to be unexpectedly powerful:

Silent Protest of Senator Susan Collins, Bangor Maine, February 22 2017

UC Davis Chancellor Katehi walks to car amidst protesters

The "Standing Man" protests in Istanbul.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 12:57 PM on January 6, 2018 [5 favorites]

Fizz, vedic chants are on the UNESCO list, are they in the same religious tradition?

I couldn't' speak from a place of confidence, so take this with a grain of salt. But I've heard those chants from people practising yoga in a non-Hindu context as well as in both Hindu and Buddhist Temples when practising their faith.
posted by Fizz at 1:01 PM on January 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

One of my my favorites is the "Air Ball" chant at basketball games, which very quickly settles on a consistent rhythm and tonal interval. (Journal article here; somewhat silly Dave Barry piece about it here.) It's kind of amazing! Hearing voices come to agreement so quickly is like watching starlings in flight or a school of small silvery fish evading a bigger one--except it's humans trying to be jerks, and agreeing wordlessly & instantly that they can be bigger jerks together than individually. I dunno, maybe starlings and sardines are trying to be jerks too.

I have less personal experience being around chanted prayers. And though I've found some of it extraordinarily moving and beautiful, I've never noticed as much unison in a church as in a stadium.
posted by miles per flower at 1:02 PM on January 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

you know who else liked rapt chanting crowds......
posted by lalochezia at 1:15 PM on January 6, 2018

miles per flower, what's interesting is that many football chants in the UK use the melodies of common church hymns that at one time, everyone going to school knew: Bread of Heaven, Swing Low Sweet Chariot, Glory Glory Hallelujahetc. Like pop tunes, these melodies are a common culture and are quickly repurposed for terrace wit.
posted by salishsea at 1:16 PM on January 6, 2018 [4 favorites]

So say we all.
posted by Barack Spinoza at 3:10 PM on January 6, 2018 [4 favorites]

I've been doing a lot of chanting meditation lately. I find it incredibly helpful, and sometimes do it in the car along with a YT video.

Thanks for the post. This is awesome. (That UNESCO list...*swoons*)

I tried to find a temple of some sort locally, or a meditation group where they do chanting. Could not find anything. I do some breathing meditation also but I would really like that connecting experience of being with a group and producing something together. Which is weird because I'm introverted and normally find ideas like that hair-raising.

And I've had a lifelong terror of chanting crowds and group think. I think there is something about it that manages to be both one individual and many individuals at once, whereas the kind of chanting crowds that have always given me the heebie jeebies actually seem like one organism, like a hive zombie.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:23 PM on January 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

We went to a kacak performance in Ubud, Bali yesterday and can warm recommend it. Although, what with the polyrythms and all I wonder where the line is between group performances and chanting...

Thanks for the post!
posted by monocultured at 8:20 PM on January 6, 2018

I spent years practicing Siddha Yoga. I realized At some point that I didn’t believe any of it, I was just there for the pure bliss I got from the chanting sessions. They were ecstatic. I miss that. I just can’t put up with the religion surrounding it anymore.
posted by greermahoney at 8:54 PM on January 6, 2018 [3 favorites]

Thanks so much for making this post! The interest in chant and joint speech is clearly wide.

Hakas? Are absolutely joint speech as defined, but the definition is just a heuristic to focus attention on important collective behaviours. There is no sharp border. We should also include the working songs of the chain gangs. But what about the synchronised breathing at about 34" of the Sufi Dhikr example on this page? It's clearly of the same genus.

> you know who else liked rapt chanting crowds......

Precisely. Chanting has a vaguely positive aura, due to its inclusion in so many valued rituals and practices. But it is just at home in the Nuernberg Rallies, or in the massed synchronisation displays in North Korea.
posted by stonepharisee at 12:53 AM on January 7, 2018 [5 favorites]

There is an amazing, out-of-print book called A Rocket in my Pocket, published in 1947, which collects children’s playground chants. These are the things kids taught to other kids to facilitate team-choosing, or game-playing, or just to have fun with words. I first discovered the book many years ago in a library, and was overjoyed when my sister recently gifted me a pristine copy she’d found online.

The chants contained in the book range from extremely silly to subtly racist but cover the gamut of play: bounce ball, jump rope, tongue twisters, counting out, riddles, spelling rhymes, fingers and toes, rounds, etc.

Remember this? One for the money / two for the show / three to make ready / and four to go. I remember using it all the time many years ago. Is it still around? How about: Apples, peaches, pumpkin pie / who’s not ready, holler “I”? On a hot summer night in the mid-60s you’d’ve heard that one repeated often.

My sister is now a librarian at a grade school who spends lots of time with kids. She told me sadly that chants are largely gone, no longer taught or passed along. She rarely if ever hears kids using them for any reason.
posted by kinnakeet at 8:01 AM on January 7, 2018 [3 favorites]

Going to basketball games is a lot of fun when everybody starts chanting.
posted by gucci mane at 1:25 PM on January 7, 2018

I spent years practicing Siddha Yoga. I realized At some point that I didn’t believe any of it, I was just there for the pure bliss I got from the chanting sessions. They were ecstatic. I miss that. I just can’t put up with the religion surrounding it anymore.

I kind of feel that way about yoga in general
posted by thelonius at 10:22 PM on January 7, 2018

She told me sadly that chants are largely gone, no longer taught or passed along.

That's interesting. I spent a lot of time as a teacher and camp staff up through about 2005, and there were still counting-out rhymes, chants (and clapping games, etc) - they were alive and well and I enjoyed informally studying their variations. I haven't been around groups of kids much in the past 10 years since my job changed, but that would be a dramatic drop-off. However, as I reflect, what seems to be possible is that chants and counting-out rhymes are a product of children's independent play, and children's independent play has been starkly curtailed in favor of organized recreation, formal instruction, and device-based play.
posted by Miko at 6:11 AM on January 8, 2018 [3 favorites]

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