The Chanting and Chocolate band, from left: Charles Cohen, Lorne Mallin, Charles Kaplan, John Federico and Martin Gotfrit. (photo from Dave Kauffman)
On the last Sunday of every month, you can find a group of people gathered around a band of musicians, chanting Hebrew text to the rhythm of beautiful, rich melodies of the likes of Rabbi Shefa Gold and Rabbi Andrew Hahn (also known as the Kirtan Rabbi). It is a deceptively simple concept with surprisingly diverse results.
These harmonies of chant, through the repetition of just a few words, seem to have the power to carry you away from the daily hustle and bustle into a realm of music and spirit. This is Chanting and Chocolate, Lorne Mallin’s creation, which just celebrated its 10-year anniversary.
“In the summer of 2004, I began a two-year training called Kol Zimra (Voice of Praise) with Rabbi Shefa Gold of Jemez Springs, N.M.,” said Mallin about how Chanting and Chocolate came to be. “During our first gathering, Shefa encouraged us to create chant circles where we live and so, on Nov. 28th of that year, I began offering monthly evenings of sacred Hebrew chanting in Vancouver, initially called Evenings of Jewish Chant, which were then held at Sourcepoint shiatsu centre on Heather Street.”
This became a monthly tradition until Mallin moved to Uganda to live with the Abayudaya Jews in 2009. Not one to let geography, language or architectural challenges stand in his way, he was intent on sharing his passion for Jewish chant with the Abayudaya.
“At the mud-brick synagogue in the village of Nabugoye Hill, I led Shefa’s Nishmat Kol Chai, using the Luganda translation of ‘The breath of all life blesses you,’ ‘Okuusa kwebilamu kukutendereza.’ I tried to start a chant circle but, at the first announced session in the shul, I drummed and chanted alone until there was one arrival – a clucking hen skittered into the room.”
Fifteen months later, and back in Vancouver, Mallin and his band started the monthly evenings again.
“One regular participant brought tea and some baking to celebrate,” he recalled. “I noticed people enjoyed the opportunity to linger and get to know each other, so I began baking triple-chocolate brownies and rebranded the evenings Chanting and Chocolate. Two years ago, we moved to Or Shalom Synagogue at Fraser Street and East 10th Avenue.”
Beyond the good it does to its participants (naches to the soul and an uplifting of the spirit), Chanting and Chocolate is also a tikkun olam project on another level: the musicians perform for love, with the proceeds from admissions going to support the education of four Abayudaya orphans.
So, after a decade, what is it about Chanting and Chocolate that keeps Mallin going?
“For me, nothing creates a space for connecting with the Divine like chanting. The chants combine short sacred texts, beautiful melodies and deep spiritual intention. They often last 10 minutes, which strengthens the intention and clears the mind. After each chant, we give time for inner silence and connection, which is the most profound experience of the practice of chanting.”
Although Mallin has been the driving force behind this monthly undertaking, bringing it together and making it happen is very much a group effort.
“I am very grateful to my beloved teacher Shefa, the holy Kol Zimra community, Or Shalom, our band – Charles Cohen, John Federico, Martin Gotfrit and Charles Kaplan – and the lovely people who come to chant with us.”
While Mallin and the band have recorded little so far, they are planning to record their first CD in February, so stay tuned. In the meantime, to experience a unique kind of musical Yiddishkeit, attend the next Chanting and Chocolate, which will be held at its regular venue on Sunday, Dec. 28, at 7:30 p.m., with Rabbi Laura Duhan Kaplan as a special guest. Since no previous singing or chanting experience is needed, all you need to bring is some kavanah and yourself. And maybe a friend.
For more information, visit chantingandchocolate.com.