I used to see chant as a very beautiful but strange and esoteric practice which I associated with strange and esoteric cults. When I listened to a recording of people on a Buddhist retreat chanting, however, my perspective changed completely; as a Buddhist myself for several years, I now see chanting as a musical form of meditation. Although I do not label my denomination, the first Buddhist chant I heard, the one which changed my viewpoint on the practice, was ‘Gate, gate’, the closing chant of the ‘Heart Sutra ‘, a key part of the Zen Buddhist scriptures. It reads:
‘Gate, gate paragate, parasangate, bodhi svaha’; In English, roughly, ‘Gone, gone, gone beyond, gone beyond the beyond, awakening Alleluia.’
The melody and text of the chant, and the striking effect of thirty or forty untrained voices singing then in unison, inspired me to write my solo cello piece ‘Gate, gate’. First performed by Oliver Coates at Café Oto as part of Kammer Klang last June, the piece divides into 7 sections. The first 6 open with a phrase from the chant, followed by a meandering line inspired by that phrase; the second section is the full melody of the chant.