Yesterday, my cousin introduced me to this idea of Riyaz—a daily singing practice that is integral to the vocal preparation of Hindustani music singers.
Every morning, singers in the Hindustani tradition wake, prior to dawn, and take their voices through a series of vocal exercises that are designed to not only keep them in good nick, but also to anchor them into the complex and historic tradition that is Hindustani Music.
It was my father who taught me about Riyaz, she said. He would start each day drawing something or the other (he was an architect). It was a form of daily practice, a prayer, an offering to his art.
How cool, I thought. I love this idea of a daily practice, maybe even a daily writing practice as a way of paying homage to the art itself.
In the western tradition, practice has taken on a secular, rigorous, regimented connotation that serves to prepare the singer (or any kind of artist, really) for some later (and better) “performance,” a means to an end. There is a distinction between the exercise and the “real thing.”
But I much prefer this idea of Riyaz, a daily practice, a sacred practice, where there is no distinction between the two—practice and performance—rather one extends into the other—the lines are blurred—and, in fact, the one builds, and in a sense creates, the other, actualizes the artist who is already there.
I love that quality of no distinction. The sense that writing is writing is writing. And that there is no practice separate from performance. They are one and the same.
I also love the idea that from practice emerges improvisation. This seems counterintuitive. How can practicing scales (or in the case of writing, practicing poetic forms, for instance) result in improvisation or creativity? But that’s how it works in Hindustani music. Yes, there are conventions, ragas that are well defined and prescribed, but each raga is also an opportunity for interpretation and improvisation, and no two singers sings one in exactly the same way. That is the art. That is the “music.”
As it is with writing.
Every poem, every blog post, every entry in a commonplace, is also a space to try something new, To noodle, to riff, and yes, to create. The bones are the same. Sa Re Ga Ma. But the flesh, the curve of a hip, is created anew each time. And this is the practice. And this is the art.
The practice creates the art and the expertise and the writer all at once. No lines between. No boundaries.
In western tradition, practice develops expertise and rigor and conveys prestige and credibility. Riyaz, on the other hand, conveys not only expertise to the musician but also a sort of grace or “bhakti.” The dedicated or devoted artist transcends the mundane, in a sense, and becomes one with God (or the Universe, if you prefer).
This makes me happy.
Not the God part, but the transcendental nature of practice. It always seems like such a slog. And so unsexy. The thing before the thing. And so much of my time is spent in “just practice”. And so much of everything I write is just thrown away. Like the Sa. Yet here is new way of looking at it: Practice as Prayer. Essential. As in “essence” not “necessary.”
It is the very thing that makes the writer, that the writer is made of.
Riyaz makes the artist stronger. Not just physically stronger, as in developing the vocal cords or the stamina, but also mentally stronger, as in concentration and intellectual technique. The artist must be in top shape to perform at the highest standards.
So, too, must the writer.
Writing requires mental and physical fortitude, discipline, a certain asceticism, and Riyaz—a daily writing practice—can be the way.
So it is that I come to my daily writing with a new understanding—that this is a performance.
Performance, the extraordinary, derived from the more ordinary perform (or doing).
One embedded in the other.
One and the same.
A sacred practice.
An actualization of the artist.
Categories: On Writing