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Rivers of Sacred Sound

Chant

Series:

Solveig McIntosh

Rivers of Sacred Sound traces the flow of influences from East to West, from

BC to AD and from wordless jubilations to the setting of texts. It takes the

discussion about western chant beyond a European perspective.

The text of this book, preceded by an introduction, is presented in seven

chapters and covers a period of approximately five thousand years. There are

many references all over the world to praising the divine with sound. Thus

the starting point is the praise song, a fundamental impulse in mankind. The

Rg-Veda requests that our loudest-sounding hymn be accepted, as food most

delightful to the Gods. The Psalms request us to make a joyful noise unto God

and to sing forth the honour of His name. Spontaneous songs became ritual

events. In an aural culture what was the role of gesture and what is its role

now? There are many doors to open in pursuing these and other questions.

This book opens some of them.

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Chapter 5. Alaṅkāras and Neumes

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CHAPTER 5

Alaṅkāras and Neumes

Indian musical theory acknowledges two kinds of sound; one is the vibration of air and the other is the vibration of ether. This latter cannot be perceived in the physical sense but it is known by those with subtle hearing. Thus there has arisen a distinction between audible and inaudible sounds. The subject of embellishments, in the Indian tradition, belongs as much to the inaudible world as it does to the audible. In this tradition of sacred music the history of the use of embellishments (alaṅkāras) and tonal nuances is an ancient one. It can be traced in the written tradition to early treatises such as Dattilam and the Nāṭyaśāstra. But the written tradition records what already exists in the oral tradition. Thus, it is not possible to put an accurate date on the conception and use of specific kinds of embellishment.

The type of music which is for the ‘Path’ (mārga) is intended for the inner life. The other type of music is for both the inner life and the outer worldly life. Music which is for the outer life is secular music and each country has its own version of this kind of music. While it effects the physical body, the mind and the emotions it is not the same as music which is primarily for the inner life. Music which is for the inner life,...

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