Chant (from Old French “chanter”) is the rhythmic speaking or the singing of words or sounds, often primarily on one or two pitches called reciting tones. Chants may range from a simple melody involving a limited set of notes to highly complex musical structures, often including a great deal of repetition of musical sub phrases. Chant may be considered speech, music, or a heightened or stylized form of speech. In the later Middle Ages, some religious chant evolved into song (forming one of the roots of later Western music).
So, what is the essence of chant that so many rituals, rites, and rewards promise? I am not a scholar in this regard, so I will simply speak from my own experience and observations.
Chant touches us in ways that work. Quietly, the mind is silenced, the voice of recurring thoughts diminished. There is great depth in the space between thoughts. Chant, meditation and mantra are tools to help us mine this depth, regardless of religious background. It is a human resemblance we share. Often in Kirtan style chanting, there is space left at the end for reflection, meditation and to soak in the experience.
Physiologically, there are many measured benefits to chant, meditation, yoga, and mantra practice. Do we do these practices because of the purported benefits or do we do them because of the way we feel during and afterwards? I encourage you to experiment for yourself. Find what works for you. When I was studying meditation, I was told to never meditate with my eyes closed. I had a yoga teacher instruct me never to practice yoga outdoors. I have had my most profound life experiences meditating with my eyes closed as well as practicing yoga outdoors. Each individual is a unique structure of truth. The art of any practice is the ability to listen to this truth within you, and to bring it forward. Learn the practice, the structure and the techniques. Then listen.
In learning to play golf, I practiced pitching, driving and putting so that I play the game of golf well. In volleyball, I practiced bumping, spiking and setting so that I played the game of volleyball as best I could. In yoga, mantra, and chant, I practice so that I play the game of life to its fullest.