Music has great power to move the human spirit. It can mediate our relationship with God and become an integral part of religious and spiritual ceremonies. Music is customarily part of the rituals of every group of people and it often has a significant role in the major events of human life (birth, union, death), as well as in regularized ritual and worship. Sacred music usually has a text, which may be from traditional writings such as the Bible or Qur'an, or from spiritual texts such as the poetry of Henry Vaughan. Much of sacred music is notated but some is still transmitted through an aural tradition. Depending on the tradition, it may be sung by a soloist, choir, congregation, priests, or laypeople. In religions that worship in a church, an organ often accompanies the singers since it is the instrument capable of the most diversity of sound (volume and timbre). In other cultures, the singers may be unaccompanied (a cappella) or sing with instrumental accompaniment of various sorts.
THE BUDDHIST TRADITION
Chant is the principal sacred music of Buddhism. Buddhist chants vary according to region and beliefs. The chants, learned largely by rote, are complex and may include recitations of sacred texts, usually in Tibetan or Sanskrit. Yang chanting is performed without metrical timing, and is accompanied by resonant drums and low, sustained vocal pitches. Throat singing (or overtone singing), typical of Buddhist chant, is a type of singing that manipulates the harmonic resonances of air in the throat. One regional example is Shomyo, a style of Japanese Buddhist chant found mainly in the Tendai and Shingon sects that has two styles, called ryokyoku and rikkyoku. According to Tibetan Buddhist theory, the orchestration, rhythm, tempo, and repertory of ritual music must be suited to the deity to which it is offered. Performance of Buddhist music is almost exclusively done by monks and occurs regularly throughout the day at monastic hours.
THE CHRISTIAN TRADITION
The earliest form of sacred music for the Christian Church is Gregorian chant (or plainsong), for which large numbers of melodies were composed and then codified toward the end of the 1st millennium. Over many centuries, a tradition arose in which music was offered to God on behalf of the congregation by a choir. This has produced complex and innovative music in a wide variety of styles and genres. Examples of Christian liturgical and nonliturgical music can be found in every period of music history from the medieval era to the present. The most common forms of Christian music are the anthem, antiphon, cantata, canticle, carol, chorale, hymn, motet, and requiem. Not all Christian music is intended for liturgical performance; an example is the oratorio (e.g., Handel's Messiah). The hymn has a long tradition of being the primary form of congregational music. Hymns and carols are usually divided into verses (strophic) that are sung to a tune that is repeated.
Within the Christian Church, there are large variations in the type and use of music. In the Catholic tradition and following the Reformation, much of the music is sung by the congregation and, since the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), the traditional use of Latin has been replaced by texts in the vernacular. In the Orthodox Christian tradition, most singing is done by priests and is unaccompanied or accompanied by bells. In the Protestant tradition, certain distinct musical styles have evolved, notably the spiritual (a type of folksong that originated in the African- American community in the mid-18th century) and gospel music (American religious songs that developed from black evangelical groups). Contemporary Christian music, or CCM, is influenced by secular popular music of the late 20th century. CCM has become enormously popular, and is the principal music played on Christian radio.
THE HINDU TRADITION
Bhajan is the general term for popular Hindu religious music associated with bhakti, an approach to union with God. The bhajan literature is extensive and diverse, comprising thousands of songs in many languages. Bhajans may be performed anywhere, alone or in groups, and may take from an hour to many days to perform. Musical instruments are used to accompany most bhajan songs and rituals; drums and cymbals are common, although many different instruments are used, including the well-known string instrument called the sitar.
Like other non-Western musical systems, Indian music divides the octave into multiple segments called srutis, which are roughly equal to one quarter of a whole tone of Western music. Indian sacred and secular music uses thousands of melody types called ragas, each of which is ascribed certain ethical and emotional properties, and is associated with a certain season and a certain time of day. Ragas are used with rhythmic patterns, called talas, and form the basis for improvisation.
THE ISLAMIC TRADITION
The Islamic tradition has several musical elements in regular use, such as the Adhan, the call to prayer, performed by a muezzin (singer) from a minaret (tower); the Salat, the prayers recited five times daily; and recitation of the Qur'an. Music for public religious celebrations includes Mawlid, music performed for the birthday of Muhammad, and Ashurah, music performed during the mourning period commemorating the death of the spiritual leader Imam Hussein. In Islamic religious music, there is great diversity in the use of instruments. There are also many regional variations to the music. Some Muslims believe that only vocal music is permissible (halal) and that instruments are forbidden (haram). South Asian Muslim religious music falls into two broad categories: talh_- n (cantillation), which is scriptural or liturgical, and insha - d (plural nasha-'id, invocations), which is nonscriptural or nonliturgical.
THE JEWISH TRADITION
Jewish liturgical regulations call for the regular chanting of scripture in a florid style of cantillation. This requires great skill, so it is performed by a professional called a ba'al qeriah or ba'al qore who uses specific modes (scales) and melodies. The traditional manner of singing prayers in the synagogue is known as hazzanut, "the art of being a hazzan" (cantor). Another important part of the Jewish liturgy is the sequence of benedictions or blessings (berakhot) known as the Amidah (or standing prayer). Jewish devotional music is almost entirely vocal. As a special call to prayer and repentance on certain High Holidays such as Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year), a shofar (ram's horn) may be used. Liturgical music is an important part of events marking the passage of life, such as bar-mitzvahs and bat-mitzvahs and at weddings.