Chant workshop to feature renowned singer

In the Dept. of Shameless Self-Promotion, here’s a press release for the upcoming chant workshops here at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto:

Marsha Genensky, a nationally known singer with the classical music group Anonymous 4, will lead a free workshop on singing Gregorian chant on January 31 from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto (UUCPA). Anonymous 4 is a critically acclaimed a capella group that sings early music.

Participants in Genensky’s workshop will do more than just sing together. Jack Owicki, one of the four organizers of the workshop, says the workshop will be an opportunity for spiritual practice as well. “A flourishing spiritual practice requires a good balance of head and heart,” Owicki said. “I already get plenty of intellectual stimulation in my religious community, but I could use some more direct emotional connection to others and to the world as a whole, and chanting will help with that connection.”

Genensky will be returning to the Bay area to lead the workshop after Anonymous 4’s December East Coast tour.

“Singing chant in unison is a challenge, but a wonderfully rewarding one,” she said. “As we sing these beautiful, single lines of music together, the group will seek and find a ‘unity of musical intent.’ It is in the seeking and finding of that unity that communities that sing chant form deep bonds and rise to higher spiritual experience.”

Terry Passaroti, another organizer of the series, already includes chanting as a part of her personal spiritual practice. After chanting with a group of people for about 30 minutes, she senses a change in herself. “I start to hear the people around me in a different way,” she said. “My consciousness expands, and I feel connected to them because while I may not know what their personal details are, we all struggle in some very human way with ourselves and our connections to each other.”

The Jan. 31 workshop will be the first in a series of four participatory workshops on chant. “We’ll be covering several major spiritual traditions of chanting,” Owicki said. That includes Buddhist chant on Feb. 7. Then on Feb. 14, Chandra Alexandre of Sharanya will lead chant in the Hindu tradition. Contemporary North American spiritual chant will be featured on Feb. 28.

“You don’t have to be an expert singer to attend this workshop,” said Rev. Dan Harper, another organizer of the series, and the assistant minister for religious education at UUCPA. “We expect there will be plenty of experienced singers at the workshop, which will make it easy for a beginner to sing along with the group.”

Harper added, “You don’t have to be religious, either. This is a simply an opportunity to come and experience some fascinating musical traditions firsthand.”

Pat Thomas, the fourth organizer of the series, is not concerned with the spiritual side of chant. “I like to sing, but I’m not sure it’s a spiritual practice,” she said. She plans to attend the workshops for the sheer joy of singing these different chant traditions.

All workshops will be free, according to Owicki, although donations will be accepted from those who wish to help offset the cost of honoraria for instructors. “And please pre-register,” he said. “We’ll allow walk-ins, but if there are handouts, we may not have enough.” Participants can pre-register by emailing or calling the church office (650-494-0541).

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