Sunday, 15 June 2008

On the health benefits of Gregorian chant...chant hits the top ten

The news that the Gregorian Chant CD of Monks of the Cistercian Abbey Stift Heligenkreuz has hit the top ten in the UK reminded me of a story I heard many years ago, and was reminded of recently, on the health benefits of chant.

The calming and uplifting effects of chant are easily testable - just try listening to a small amount of it each day, or better still, singing some, and you will quick notice the difference it makes. One can only hope that this lovely disk will aid in soothing the fevered brow of our secular world a little!

But the really great story that deserves to be remembered and repeated concerns the effects of one of the recovators of monastic life. Here is the story as recounted on the Missions Saint Miguel website:

"In his paper "Gregorian Chant: Archaic Relic or Relevant Revelation?" music director and researcher Henry Doktorski documents how one researcher in particular, the French doctor Alfred Tomitas, pioneered research on the neurophysiological effects of chant on the minds and bodies of its listeners. According to his theory, there are two kinds of sound: "discharge" sounds (those that tire, fatigue and drain the listener) and "charge" sounds (those that give energy and health). According to Dr. Tomitas, Gregorian chant may be the most potent "charge" sound to promote strength and vitality.

In the mid-1960's, Dr. Tomitas was called to a monastery in France which had been taken over by a new abbot. The new abbot, a young man, was something of a revolutionary and had changed the internal rule of the abbey by modifying everything in accordance with the Vatican II reforms. He tried to eliminate Latin from the monks' vocabulary and replace it with prayers in their native language. The new Abbot had forgotten Saint Benedict's Rule: "Seven times a day will I sing your praises." (The Benedictine monks had normally chanted from 6-8 hours a day.) He succeeded in eliminating chanting from their daily schedule because he wanted to demonstrate that chanting served no worthy purpose. Of course the Abbot did not realize the benefits of what they were doing.

Gradually as the days passed, the monks started to get bogged down as they became more and more tired. In desperation the monks called a meeting to discuss what was causing their fatigue. They only slept a few hours each night; so they decided that they should start sleeping like other men --- go to bed early and wake up like everyone else did when they were no longer tired. After several days, they realized that this didn't work--- they were more tired than ever! The monks were so worried that they decided to call in several medical specialists.

Over a period of several months, they saw a procession of doctors. They even tried specialists of the digestive system. One great French doctor thought they were ill because they were vegetarian. So they began to eat meat and heavier foods. The monks became worse!

Finally by the time Dr. Tomitas was called in June 1967, 70 of the 90 monks were slumping in their cells like limp dishrags. He examined them and began the treatment "of reawakening their ears" - he treated them with sound only. Dr. Tomitas understood what no one else did at the time: that the monks needed to chant in order to "charge" themselves. He insisted that they immediately return to their schedule of eight hours daily chanting. Within 5 months, Dr. Tomitas succeeded in giving back to the monks their health and energy without drugs or medication."
All the more reason to committing to spreading the chant, as I suggested in my post of a few days ago! I'd be interested in news of other places (such as Brisbane?), or different views on the palces I did mention.

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