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Of Sacred Sounds, by guest blogger L'Oncia Willams

The following post is an interpretive view of the Smithsonian Traveling Exhibit "Sounds of Religion" by L'Oncia Williams, Heard-Craig Volunteer.


Chanting. Humming, Signing, Meditating - - these are a few ways sound can be presented through different religions.

There are five major religions of in the world: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. The Smithsonian Traveling Exhibit displayed at the Heard-Craig Center for the Arts entitled “Sounds of Religion” explored the many forms, styles, and depictions of sound. 


Let’s take a look:  In Judaism, sounds exist in traditional religious music as well as singing in the synagogue, in prayers, and in secular music. Early synagogue music included various instruments like the harp, tambourine, trumpet, and rams horn.

Contrast that with Buddhism. Chanting is a traditional form used to mentally prepare for meditation. The humming sound that is heard during this preparation represents “the spirit of enlightenment.” The most familiar word, which is a sacred syllable in the religion, is “aum/om”. It can be chanted with sounds from other instruments like wind chimes and gongs.


Similar to Buddhism, Hinduism uses the syllable “om” which carries stratified diversity in varied environments. “Om” is a vibration that flows through the body while engaged in yoga or meditative movement. It can be felt during stillness, too. The sound is heard in chants and passages of sacred texts.  It is the sacred sound of the Shankha, a conch shell found in the Indian Ocean.



In the Islamic Religion, some Muslims believe music is prohibited by the Sunnah and Qur’an. Others disagree, believing music is permitted depending on the form. The work of Muslim musicians can be presented through singing or with instruments such as drums or gongs as long as the listeners are not led to temptation. Depending on the region, there is a difference in music styles. Differences can be experienced through musical/religious drama, devotional reciting, secular and folk music.


Christianity, on the other hand, is quite peculiar. The religious sounds vary from humming, clapping, foot tapping, or jingling from the metal disks on a tambourine. In the early Christian church, hymns were used for singing as well as were chants and the biblical passages of Psalms. In modern times, Christianity can be seen through multiple genres ranging from Pop, Hip-Hop, Rock, and Gospel.


For questions about new Smithsonian Exhibits coming to the Heard-Craig Center for the Arts, call 972-569-6909. www.heardcraig.org

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