If I understand correctly, chanting in that tradition is reserved for someone who both practices strict sila and has and advanced understanding of Pali. There are other teachers in that tradition who have been given permission by Goenka-ji to do the chanting themselves in courses, instead of using the audio tapes of Goenka-ji chanting. In that tradition, many of the meditation centers offer Pali courses, and they also offer an online Pali learning center. So in theory, any lay person could develop the ability to be a "chanter", but it requires a lot of training. I have also heard (from eye-witness testimonial), that in some centers a visiting bhikkhu might be invited to do the chanting.
I have also heard that paritta is a common practice in Burmese monasteries, believed to be the origin of this specific meditation practice. I am told that there is a deeply rooted belief that such chanting affects the "energy" or "vibrations" of the people who participate in the paritta and the places where the paritta is conducted. Before I attended one of these courses, I would have said "hog-wash". (See Tilt's comments above about Westerners applying their own cultural context to Buddhist practices.) Having attended a few, I am willing to concede that there might be something to the practice. Whether science or just "feel good", I find it very relaxing and soothing on one hand but it helps me stay awake during long sits on the other.
Now, Goenka-ji chants both in Pali and in Hindi, and some of his chantings are poetry of his own creation. At first I was very concerned about this (I am ever-vigilant towards "cult-like" behavior.) However, I have grown to accept this as a symbol of Goenka-ji's dedication, and not in anyway sinister.
Last edited by Monkey Mind
on Mon Jan 30, 2012 10:45 pm, edited 1 time in total.
"As I am, so are others;
as others are, so am I."
Having thus identified self and others,
harm no one nor have them harmed.
Sutta Nipāta 3.710