Gesture and Voice in Hindustani Music
Wesleyan University Press 2012
Have you seen North Indian vocalists improvise? Their hands and voices move together to trace intricate melodic patterns. If we think that music is just made of sequences of notes, then this motion may seem quite puzzling at first. But the physical motion of singers reveal that there is much more going on than note combinations: spiraling, swooping, twirling–even moments of exquisite stillness in which time seems to stop. This kinetic aspect of melodic action is the topic of Matt Rahaim‘s new book, Musicking Bodies: Gesture and Voice in Hindustani Music (Wesleyan University Press, 2012). Rahaim first traces a history of ideas about moving and singing in Indian music, from Sanskrit treatises to courtesan dance performance to the 20th century boom in phonograph recordings. He then leads the reader through vivid melodic and gestural worlds of ragas with illuminating and concise analyses of video data and interviews from years of training in North Indian vocal music, and suggests ways in which melodic motion serves as a vehicle for traditions of ethical virtue. In this interview, Rahaim discusses the bodily disciplines of gesture, posture, and voice production that are so fundamental to singing. Enjoy!