Buddhist Chant

   Chant of the sacred texts in monasteries. The language of chanting by Theravāda Buddhists is the obsolete Pāli. The original language of Mahāyāna Buddhists was Sanskrit, but that tradition allows chanting in vernaculars, including some anachronistic or mixed languages. Transmitted orally, the texts are doctrinal. There is great variety in the chanting styles among sects of Buddhism. One general type, sutra chanting, is a virtual monotone, with occasional inflections at the beginnings or endings of phrases. Longer and shorter note durations usually accord with the long and short vowels of the text, although in some Tibetan chant a system of strong and weak accents is used instead.
   A second style, gāthā or hymn style, occurs with poetical texts in strophes. These chants have wider melodic range, usually three to five, but sometimes seven notes, organized into modal patterns. There is a central tonic for recitation and traditional melodic motives with occasional melismatic ornamentation. Gāthā chanting is most often in unison, but may be heterophonic, responsorial, or even polyphonic.
   Instruments are sometimes used to articulate liturgical chant and its ritual. Depending upon locality and sect, these may include drums, bells, and clappers most commonly, but also gongs, cymbals, and other percussion. In Vietnam, these can be used to construct as many as three polyrhythmic layers.
   See also Yushan.

Historical dictionary of sacred music. . 2006.

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