Guest Lecture: 'Hearing Embodied Timbres in Sikh Devotional Music (kirtan)' Gurminder Bhogal, Wellesley College


Location: 306 O'Neill Hall (View on map )

Gurminder Bhogal

Hearing Embodied Timbres in Sikh Devotional Music (kirtan)

An embodied, synaesthetic perception of music, sound, and timbre is central to Sikh devotional worship. It is an intensely vibrating body that signals spiritual attainment where different musical timbres mark each stage of the meditative journey. At the deepest level, a heterogenous blend of distinct timbres creates an unstruck sound (anahad naad) that is heard inwardly to indicate an experience of the divine.

This lecture uses Sikh encounters with timbre and vibration to expand our understanding of musical ontologies and related topics concerning auditory attention and distraction, the notion of the work concept, the event of musical performance, and the status of musical sound.

The pursuit of heightened bodily vibration is not an individualistic goal linked to social withdrawal and a search for nirvana. By listening to Sikh devotional music (kirtan) as a group, Sikh sacred verses emphasize the amplification of corporeal vibration to build bonds and to disperse vibrational energy through the community to facilitate acts of service. Viewing kirtan through the lens of Sikh music theory provides insights into how music impacts the consciousness to engage a sense of ethical responsibility.


Gurminder Kaur Bhogal is the Catherine Mills Davis Professor of Music at Wellesley College in Wellesley, Massachusetts. She has published two books with Oxford University Press: Details of Consequence: Ornament, Music, and Art in Paris (2013); and Claude Debussy’s Clair de Lune (2018). Gurminder is at present completing her third monograph about Sikh devotional music (kirtan) for the University of Chicago Press. She currently serves as Editor for the American Musicological Society’s Studies in Music monograph series and is past reviews editor for the Journal of the American Musicological Society.

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