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Rivers of Sacred Sound



Solveig McIntosh

Rivers of Sacred Sound traces the flow of influences from East to West, from

BC to AD and from wordless jubilations to the setting of texts. It takes the

discussion about western chant beyond a European perspective.

The text of this book, preceded by an introduction, is presented in seven

chapters and covers a period of approximately five thousand years. There are

many references all over the world to praising the divine with sound. Thus

the starting point is the praise song, a fundamental impulse in mankind. The

Rg-Veda requests that our loudest-sounding hymn be accepted, as food most

delightful to the Gods. The Psalms request us to make a joyful noise unto God

and to sing forth the honour of His name. Spontaneous songs became ritual

events. In an aural culture what was the role of gesture and what is its role

now? There are many doors to open in pursuing these and other questions.

This book opens some of them.

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The praise song is at the heart of the origins of chant. Words with similar sounds and constructions are found in many regions of the world and praise is at the core of their meaning. The vibration of sound, audible and inaudible, is the substance of the primordial world. Praise is the dynamic expression of this sound. Ritual is often the context.

In this book we have tried to show early evidence for the use of words found in more than one region of the world, the impetus for which comes from the human capacity for producing sound, speech, chant and song in sonorous acknowledgement of that which lies beyond the mundane world. We have argued that the melodic structures which are intrinsic to the Indian tradition of chant and music are those of the Western tradition too. We have discussed similarities in style between one of India’s oldest genres of vocal music, whose origins lie in the temples, and Europe’s tradition of Gregorian plain chant, whose practice and preservation is to be found in the monasteries. We have mentioned many aspects of chant rendition, both Indian and Western, where there seems to be evidence for similar influences infusing traditional practice. We have acknowledged the significance of the Indus River Valley civilisation in nurturing and developing musical intelligence and its relationship to the cosmos thousands of years ago. At the same time we have pointed out that the word ārya, the name given to those claimed...

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