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Why Do People Sing?: On Voice

Paddy Scannell

ISBN: 978-1-509-52945-2 July 2019 Polity 180 Pages



In Why Do People Sing? Paddy Scannell explores some of the mysteries at the heart of vocal communication. What explains the communicative musicality of the voices between parent and child as a baby learns to talk? Can readers of fiction hear the voices of authors and characters within soundless written texts? How has radio affected voice, talk, music, and singing, and how has it made them public in new ways? And by putting the voice into recordings, to what extent have broadcasting technologies provided a radically new resource for historians? These questions and more are explored in the first three chapters. In the final chapter, Scannell boldly puts into words the inexpressible experience of listening to singing, wherein the glory of the human voice finds its purest expression.

This highly original book makes a distinctive intervention by stressing the inherently positive qualities of talk (rather than language) as the basis for communication. Concise and beautifully written, it is suitable for students and scholars of media, communication, and other disciplines across the humanities, as well as general readers with an interest in this fascinating topic.​

  • Preface
  • 1 The Voice of the Friend
  • 2 Talk, Radio and Television
  • 3 Technologies of Record
  • 4 Why Do People Sing?
  • Further Reading
  • References

“Scannell’s book is a gem – distinctive and original. His commitment to a broad phenomenology of communication and the media offers an approach unlike anything else in the field, and his historical insights about the development of talk in broadcasting are unrivaled.”
Martin Montgomery, University of Macau

“In this probing set of personal meditations, Paddy Scannell plumbs our existential depths as interactive animals who find our ultimate meaning and freedom in the play of music and voice.”
John Durham Peters, Yale University