Tomal Hossein

Major: Double major in music and computer science
Before Amherst, lived in: Los Angeles
Music playing at photo shoot: Choral music by Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, then the Senior Dagar Brothers, legendary singers of dhrupad, a genre of Hindustani classical vocal music

On the experience of being photographed:

Because I was allowed to be myself and just do what I wanted to do, it was not difficult at all, not intimidating at all. If this was like an Abercrombie & Fitch ad photo shoot, that’d be totally different.

I’m not surprised that I was kind of groping my neck, in the photo, because I’ve got this vocal injury, in the extralaryngeal muscles in my neck, that’s prevented me from singing for about a year now. I just try to feel around my neck and make sure that I’m massaging it from time to time. I think I especially feel a bit tensed-up when I hear other people singing or speaking or anything, just because we have these subconscious, just muscular, reactions when we hear other voices that we try to reenact in ourselves.

So then I’m especially conscious of my injury whenever I hear music, or obviously when I try to sing again. I’m a tenor and I sang for DQ, Amherst College Glee Club and Concert Choir. I’ve sung in a jazz combo, jazz ensembles, and then I’ve done little side projects for Hindustani music.

As for sitting cross-legged: I find it to be really comfortable. And, you know, there are tons of ways of doing it. There’s, like, one leg over the other, both legs kind of under, both of them over, full lotus, half lotus, whatever. The kind of music that I was listening to is commonly performed cross-legged on the floor for extended periods of time. Just as one is to perform it, one is to really listen to it the same way.

I was listening to a recording of a duo of vocalists, the Senior Dagar Brothers. They’re a duo of this kind of prototypical, Hindustani, classical, vocal subgenre called dhrupad. They carry on the tradition of family lineage of vocalists, who have the surname Dagar, but they all are performers. The genre is sort of in decline nowadays, almost endangered. I guess it goes back at least four or five centuries or so, and was first sponsored by courts around South Asia. They’re kind of what I listen to more than anything. I especially got into the genre in the beginning of my time here at Amherst.

It definitely puts me in the most meditative state of all the music that I listen to. The [Dagar Brothers’] music in and of itself is calming. And because I’ve been listening to that stuff for a while, you know, it was familiar. It was a nice thing to have in the background [of the photo shoot]. I think I initially put on something by Arvo Pärt, and it’s nice, but I didn’t feel totally, totally comfortable still. So then I just shook it up. I’m like, “You know what? Let me just change the music.” I think the experience would have been entirely different if I’d kept that music going or chosen some other, I don’t know, generic piece of music to play. 

On the idea of belonging:

The Belong Project is a really appropriate or fitting project. I did something during the photo shoot which was super-specific to how I would practice this sort of music in my own time, in private. And to have that displayed for other people to see is kind of asking that question, like, “Oh, is this something that should be able to exist and should be displayed and should be condoned? Should it be a part of the fabric of this college?” And so, to belong would be, for me, for people to see a snapshot of this practice and to think that this image isn’t out of place here. To think it should be supported here.

I hope people would like to know more about what’s happening in this picture. That they aren’t closed to the idea of letting this and other practices and other backgrounds and other identities prosper in this space, using the same resources in the same spaces.