Thursday, March 31, 2005

Journalism Class, big load

On Tuesday I played with Meeta Banerjee, Nidhip Patel, and Chaitanya Sampara at Washtenaw Community College. It was for a journalism class. We performed about an hour and then took some questions. It was set up by Deborah Pohrt, who is a freelance journalist in the Ann Arbor area. She has been helping me out a lot with promotion and the in's and out's of the journalism world. I had such a good time playing. I really enjoy playing with Meeta, and Nidhip. Chetainya is great to play with too, but he is a very busy guy right now. I believe he is going to U of M for his doctorate in engineering. Meeta and I are getting very geared up for the upcoming show at the Michigan Theater with the Michigan Pops. Things are so busy right now. Lots of exciting stuff, my mind has been racing lately. Jody and I leave for India in just two weeks!! I have an extremely heavy load of work right now up at UM Flint. Saxophone Jury, Percussion Jury, research papers, presentations....aaaaaaaa! It has been nonstop this whole month, but when I look at the calender in May, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Back to you soon,

John

Sunday, March 20, 2005

ICMD

ICMD is the Indian Classical Music and Dance group at the University of Michigan. I met them a couple of years ago when they were looking for instrumentalists for a show they were putting on. They contacted the Saadhanai Indian Music organization, which is an organization that does Indian music lessons in Ann Arbor. I had been taking lessons trough them with Dr. Rajan Sachdeva for about a year and a half. One day I showed up for lessons and they were there with about 15 instrumentalists all scattered about working out pieces. It was like a Indian music smorgasboard. I played with a flute player, sitarist, vocalist, and other tabla players. I have been playing with them ever since. They put on a big show every semester where they showcase music from the North and South of India. It has been such a great learning experience for me. We played a show on Friday called Geetanjali. I played with vocalist Amit Sawant, and a tabla ensemble made up of Nidhip Patel, Ashish Deshpande, and Aniket Joshi. It was at the U-club in the Michigan Union, a really cool old building that was one of the original UofM buildings. The concert was a lot of fun, although it was over 3 hours long! One thing I have learned is that when you are playing this music, time is not much of a consideration. You have to just get on board and go along for the ride. It is great though because, when you think about it, there are not many chances to see Indian classical music in America, so when you do, why not get your moneys worth. Actually, the more concerts I go to, the more I am comfortable with the time and the more I get into the musical journey. It is all so wonderful, and I feel lucky to be a part of it.

Thanks for reading,

John

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

5 pieces of music that changed my life

Hello,

I had this assignment for a class I am taking and I thought it would be cool as a blog entry, so here you go....


1. Black Night, Buddy Guy, album – Damn Right I’ve got the Blues
The first time I fell in love with music was with the blues. I have always listened to many different styles of music, but the blues was the first style that spoke to me on a very personal level. I felt the connection with lyrics, emotion, musical sense and spirit. I also, for the first time, felt a strong sense of what made a good and bad piece of music. Up until then I was blown away by the fact that someone could play an instrument, or write a song, but I lacked the capacity to consider musicianship or overall quality. I was a dumb kid. I would go down to the concert in the park and be in awe of the local Blues Band. They had good energy and were fun to dance to, but lacked an important element of really good music making...the feeling. For the most part, they were just up there hacking their way through their favorite blues tunes with as much emotion as a happy dog. They were entertaining, and had their handful of devoted fans, but did not give much of themselves to the music. It was this song by Buddy Guy that opened my eyes to what it really means to put yourself into the music. When I heard it I felt like everything Buddy was saying was the truth. I listened to the song hundreds of times, considering every note. I got emotional, and very private with it. I did not dare play it for anyone who I thought would not understand. It became my base standard for what one can put into a song.


2. Pride and Joy, Stevie Ray Vaughn and Double Trouble
I did not want to use up a spot on this list for this song, but the more I thought about it, the more I was sure that this song changed a significant part of my musical life. The first major band I was in played this song hundreds of times. I could not stand it. As soon as the lead guitar player would start with the opening riff, my stomach would turn. I would get physically sick even thinking about playing it. I argued my case on many occasion to boot it from the set list, but it always came back loud and obnoxious as ever. With this song I began a journey down a road that would lead me to conclude that music has the ability to elicit every kind of emotion we hold within ourselves. It is not just happy, wonderful, and great. It can also be sad, fearful, and torturous.


3. Shake Everything You Got, Maceo Parker, album - Life on Planet Groove.
This album, and in particular, this song, changed the way I think about improvisation, soloing, and live performance more than any other piece of music I can think of. It was taped live in Germany in the late 80’s, but the power, simplicity, and raw energy is timeless. About 3 minutes into the track, Maceo starts to chant, “Gunna give..the drummer some, ha, give it to the drummer”. He says this about 10 times and finally gives it away by yelling, “DRUM”. Just when you think the drummer, (Kenwood Dennard), is about to go nuts, he falls into this very simple, yet very deep groove that involves both linear drumming and a steady pulse kept by the audience clapping. It blew me away to hear the exchange of energy between the drummer and the audience. After awhile Maceo comes back to the mic and says, “ME…and the drummer check it out”. It is here where the real magic begins. Maceo plays with short very rhythmic phrases in the tonic key for about 8 measures, and then modulates up a half step. The crowd cheers in approval. He goes up another half step and the crowd screams a little louder. He then continues on for 11 more half steps, taking the crowd (and the listener) with him as he goes. By the end the energy level is so high that the release is inevitable. As the band kicks back into the main theme, the crowd claps and cheers as if to say ‘thank you’ and they land the song shortly after. I have never played for people the same since.



4. Piru Bole, John Bergamo, album – On the Edge
This was the first major piece I learned on hand drums. It changed the way I thought about composed music. I guess part of it had to do with the fact that I learned it from the composer, so I felt like I was coming in from a ground level understanding, without interpretive guessing, (i.e. I did not question anything, which gave me a sort of freedom. He stressed the importance of individual interpretation as far as instrument choice and especially in the treatment of the improvised sections. He also stressed the importance of the form and staying true to the 16 beat cycle that it is composed around. This was the first time I was introduced to the idea of structured free improvisation. I must admit… for the first few months I did not do well with it. It was a marriage of composition and improv that gave me headaches. Once I learned my space in the music, and then how to enter and exit that space without interruption, my musical world was changed forever. Now when I listen to any number of recordings of the piece, I feel a very personal connection to it.


5. Astia Agbekor
This piece is a formal work for drum, dance, and song from Ghana. It can run anywhere from a half hour to 45 minutes, and it was THE defining piece for my understanding of African music. It was not until my third year in the African music and dance program at Cal Arts that my ears opened up to the depth and complexity that was in the music, and it happened almost instantly while I played this piece one night at a concert. For three years my main duty was to play a drum called the Kaganu, which only plays on the upbeats. I spent the first year learning how to play on upbeats, the second year watching the dancers interact with the pattern, and the third year trying to hear all the other drum parts around me. I would listen to the drummer next to me, then listen to the lead drummer, then the other supporting drummers, and so on, all while holding down the upbeats. I could hear how it all fit together, but still did not have a sense for how it was supposed to feel. Then suddenly, about 20 minutes into the piece, I felt like we all just took off together. It was like a plane that had been trying to take off for 3 years had finally just went skyward. We were all together and there was no unsure thing in existence. I ceased to think about what was happening, and could feel all of the music. There seemed to be layers, and textures that were never there before. I was floored. I remember sitting in a blissful stunned silence for about 2 hours after the show was over. It was kind of like putting on glasses for the first time, and realizing how beautiful the world around you is. Everything was in focus and it all made sense without explanation. Of all the things I miss about my experience at Cal Arts, being in that ensemble is one of the biggest. What took three years to understand was gone in an instant, and I miss it so much. One of my great desires in life is to play music like that again.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Workshop

Hello,

It is Wednesday and the smoke has begun to clear from a great weekend of music. I had a blast on Saturday at 10,000 Villages with Meeta, Nidhip, and Chetu. It was very relaxed and the music has never sounded so good. We were playing new stuff, reworking some of our favorites, and just having fun. I was bummed a little because I forgot to record, but there will be more performances like it in the future. Sunday was just great. It was the "Indian Classical Music workshop, a Vision of East Meets West". There were about 30 people at Oz's for it. We had food, some hands on learning, performances by myself, Meeta, Nidhip, Chetaynia, Jian (my first student in Ann Arbor), and the regulars from the hand drum workshops. There was a great response from everyone there. I am hoping to do more workshops like this soon. Also, this past week Meeta and I met with Chris, the conductor of the Michigan Pops, to talk about the upcoming show. We are all so excited about this project that we just get together and laugh most of the time. Chris has taken a Rag (Rag Yemen) that Meeta and I perform and orchestrated it using Finale (a music notation program). He played a bit of it for us on his computer and it sounds incredible. If you read this in time, the show is April 3rd, and tickets are for sale at the door.

Thanks for reading, and I will write again soon.

John

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Exciting Weekend

Hello Friends,

Well it has been a busy week as I prepair for my Sunday Indian Classical Music Workshop at Oz's. The idea behind the workshop is to give people an introduction to North Indian Classical music, perform, and showcase some ways we can combine the musical concepts of East and West. I am also going to have some Indian food, tea, and a few giveaways. I am excited to be playing with some great musician friends of mine. Meeta Banerjee will be on the Sitar, Chetainya Sampura on Bansuri, and Nidhip Patel on tabla. There is much work to be done to make it successful though. I am making an information handout, trying to schedule rehearsals, and organizing the food delivery. Plus I have absolutely no idea how many people are going to show up. I have been hearing lots of positive feedback, but you never know until the time comes. This is the first Indian music workshop I have ever done, and I hope to be doing much more like it in the future, so I want to do everything I can to make this one go off smooth. In the meantime I will be playing a couple of other shows in Ann Arbor. On Friday night I will be with Deep Blue, (jazz trio), at Cafe Felix from 9-Midnight playing drum kit and hand drums. Then on Saturday I will be accross the street at 10,000 Villages with Meeta, and hopefully Chetainya playing Indian Classical music from 7:30-9 p.m. It should be a good warm up for Sunday's workshop.

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