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Musicking Bodies

Gesture and Voice in Hindustani Music

Matthew Rahaim

Publication Year: 2012

Indian vocalists trace intricate shapes with their hands while improvising melody. Although every vocalist has an idiosyncratic gestural style, students inherit ways of shaping melodic space from their teachers, and the motion of the hand and voice are always intimately connected. Though observers of Indian classical music have long commented on these gestures, Musicking Bodies is the first extended study of what singers actually do with their hands and voices. Matthew Rahaim draws on years of vocal training, ethnography, and close analysis to demonstrate the ways in which hand gesture is used alongside vocalization to manifest melody as dynamic, three-dimensional shapes. The gestures that are improvised alongside vocal improvisation embody a special kind of melodic knowledge passed down tacitly through lineages of teachers and students who not only sound similar, but who also engage with music kinesthetically according to similar aesthetic and ethical ideals. Musicking Bodies builds on the insights of phenomenology, Indian and Western music theory, and cultural studies to illuminate not only the performance of gesture, but its implications for the transmission of culture, the conception of melody, and the very nature of the musicking body.

Published by: Wesleyan University Press

Series: Music Culture


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pp. 1-3

Title Page

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pp. 4-4


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pp. 5-5


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pp. v-6

List of Illustrations

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pp. vi-viii

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pp. ix-xii

The heart of this work has been the patient guidance of the many teachers who sat with me over the years, beginning with my parents and brother. In writing a book that comes to focus on the tacit transmission of musical knowledge from teacher to student, I was reminded...

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A Note on Transcription

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pp. xiii-xv

The notation system used throughout the book is designed to be easily readable by both Hindustani and Western musicians and also accessible to readers with no musical training. It is based on the Hindustani sargam system, akin to...

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A Note on Languages and Terminology

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pp. xvii-21

Many of the technical terms in this book are borrowed from the Hindi- Urdu lexicon of Hindustani music. Hindi and Urdu are mutually intelligible to such an extent that they can be considered a single language, and their grammatical flexibility has allowed an easy fl ow of loan words from...

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pp. 1-15

What does gesture have to do with music? This question came from an All-India radio executive, over tea and biscuits. She was trying to persuade me to stop thinking about how bodies move and focus on the real stuff of music: sound. She placed her teacup aside and spread her arms wide, palms facing...

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1. A History of Moving and Singing in India

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pp. 16-32

Somehow, it is in discussions of gesture — where the body and the voice work together in the most obvious way — that music scholars insist most emphatically that the body and the voice are, in fact, separate. The body serves as a discursive pivot that modulates from matters of aesthetics (beauty vs. ugliness...

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2. Gesture and Melodic Motion

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pp. 33-52

Melody is motion; melody is notes. The young singer at the concert switched smoothly between these two ways of understanding. In this, she showed a mastery of two complementary models of melody among Hindustani musicians. One model, embodied in the young musician’s note-by-note transcription...

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3. Ragas as Spaces for Melodic Motion

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pp. 53-69

The heart of Hindustani music training is learning to render melody freely and spontaneously in various ragas. Ragas are distinctive melodic worlds full of characteristic color, affect, and motion, encompassing many compositions and a wide scope for improvised elaboration; a well-trained musician will have mastered...

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4. Melodic Motion in Time

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pp. 70-86

If Iqbal Ahmad Khan was improvising, how could I know what he was going to do? This apparent paradox is rooted in a conflict between two ideas of how a musician moves in time. On one hand, each moment is new: the musician continuously generates new melodic material. On the other hand, each moment...

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5. The Musicking Body

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pp. 87-106

Chapters 2, 3, and 4 investigated ways in which the moving hands and the moving voice work together in a fl ow of musicality. The body in this musical state sometimes feels so different than it does when chatting or reading the newspaper that beginners are often noticeably awkward when first learning and look...

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6. The Paramparic Body

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pp. 107-134

Chapter 5 focused on ways in which the musicking body (the body that comes alive gesturally and vocally while musicking) serves as a vehicle for melody. But where does this body come from? The origin and development of the flesh-body, though bewilderingly intricate, is straightforwardly...

Appendix A: Planes of the Body

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pp. 135-156

Appendix B: Teaching Lineages of Jitendra Abhisheki and Gajanan Rao Joshi

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pp. 136-137

Appendix C: A Note on Methods

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pp. 138-141


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pp. 143-151

Guide to Transliteration, Glossary of Terms, and List of Names

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pp. 153-162


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pp. 163-174


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pp. 175-182

E-ISBN-13: 9780819573278
Print-ISBN-13: 9780819573254

Page Count: 208
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Music Culture
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OCLC Number: 828424781
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Musicking Bodies

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Singing -- India.
  • Gesture in music.
  • Hindustani music -- Philosophy and aesthetics.
  • Raga.
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