Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Practicing, Rehearsing, ICMD Concert, Gratitude

Hello again,

Today is Halloween. I am at Go Like The Wind School in Ann Arbor. I spend Monday through Thursday here teaching music and helping out with the Middle school classroom. Normaly on Tuesdays I teach general Music to the 1st-3rd graders, however, since it is Halloween, the students are eating candy and going crazy. The middle school students brought a ton of sweets, so I am now sitting here with a belly full of sugar and no music to teach. What a great time for a blog entry!
The time with Pandit Samar Saha was so refreshing and inspiring. I had lessons with him on Tuesday and Thursday and then drove him to a house concert on Friday. It was a great week. He is one of the best musicians I have ever watched perform, and one of my most influential teachers. He is the person responsible for the Tabla Festival I went to in Calcutta last December. It was a concert for his Guru, who passed away 10 years earlier. Now he was on a U.S. tour with a vocalist. The concert on Friday was the first of the last 3 concerts for his tour. In one of the lessons he told me he had a tabla for sale that he did not need any more and did not want to fly back with. I bought before he said another word. It sounds so sweet!
The lessons were great. He said he saw improvement in my hands and then he said I need to practice every day. Although I do practice a lot, I do not spend everyday with the same instrument. I took it as a challenge to practice tabla every day for the next year. A scary proposition indeed, but so far so good! Wish me luck on the next 11 months.
It was great to have lessons all week and then follow it up with a concert on Friday. The only other time I have seen Samar Saha perform is when I was on stage with him at the Macintosh Theater at the U of M music school just over 2 years ago. I had been taking lessons with him the whole week, just like this last time. He was supposed to perform a concert at the end of the week with Sitarist Kushal Das, (whom I saw perform in Calcutta [check out the December 05' blog!]). As it turned out, Kushal Das got really sick in Chicago and could not make it to the AA show. Without hesitation Samar Saha asked Ajit Acharya and myself to accompany him on stage. I was genuinely terrified for the first time in my professional career. I felt like I had no business on stage with such a great performer. From what I remember of the concert it went well and I praise and thank him to this day for asking me on stage. It opened my eyes to a 'big stage' experience and gave me a front row seat to one of the great tabla players alive in the world today as he performed an incredible solo. I have considered him my Guruji ever since.
After the concert on Friday I took him to my house where we slept for a few hours and then left for the airport. I don't know when I will see him again, but I look forward to it. Got to go now....will write again soon......

....Picking up from the same spot in time, but it is now one week after holloween...

The following week I was rehearsing for the upcoming Indian Classical Music and Dance performance at the University of Michigan. The timing of the show could not be better. I performed the concert on Friday. Both my Mom and sister were in town and came out to support me along with my wife Jody. It was great to have them there. Compared to the drumset, I have not perfromed tabla very much and it felt great to have my biggest fans in the audience. I performed one piece with my friend, a flute player named Chetainya, (it took me 4 months to learn how to pronounce his name!). I also perfromed with a vocalist named Meghna. It was a fun show, and good to see some old friends from past ICMD shows.
The next day I was rehearsing with The Gratitude Steel Band in their new rehearsal/office space. We were prepairing for a 20 minute showcase gig at the Grand Traverse Lodge in Traverse City. The showcase was for the Michigan Festivals and Events organization. I am not sure what the actuall name of the organization was, but the convention was filled with musicians, entertainers, party suppliers, and anything that has to do with the big festivals in Michigan. We performed a giant medly that ended up being 19 songs long and included Hawaiian dancers. The show went so smooth. It was a great boost for the band to put on such a powerful show. This band has always been great at listening, changing, and moulding the music being made on stage to fit with the mood of the band and the audience. I see a strong link between the way they make music and the musical philosophies of Indian Classical players. Improvisation within the structure of the music being played sounds like a great idea, but is not easy to pull off. Gratitude does it nicely. I am not sure how much work we will get out of the showcase, but I am sure I will write about it.
That brings me up to date so far. A couple of gigs coming up this weekend. One in Ann Arbor with a poet and one in Bronson, MI. with rock band Paledave. In the meantime I have stopped doing my Monday night workshops at Oz's Music Environment and have moved my private lessons to my home studio. I had a great time teaching at Oz's and look forward to working with Steve in the future. But for now, it feels good to be at home. I have dreamed about having a home studio for the past 5 years and now I have it and it feels great! I have attached my farewell e-mail to all those who are on my e-mail list to avoid repeating myself. Thanks for reading and I will write again soon.

John

From: jcmqt@johnchurchville.com
To: AA Masterdrum
Subject: No More Monday Night Workshop
Date: Sun, 05 Nov 2006 22:26:21 -0500
>Hello Friends,
After 3 and a half years I am sad to say that last
Monday was the last hand drum workshop I will host on a regular
basis. It has been an absolute joy to spend 2 hours every Monday
exploring rhythm and building relationships with some wonderful
people. Through the years I have seen hundreds of people come through
the door from all walks of life. In this workshop I have met and
played music with doctors, lawyers, students, business men and women,
hippies, slackers, hindus, buddists, christians, atheists,
democrats, republicans, liberals, conservatives, grandmas and
grandpas, sisters and brothers, mothers and fathers. I have
met people from India, China, Japan, Great Britan, Mexico, Trinidad,
Hawaii, and all over the U.S.A. Some came to learn, some came
just to play, and some came and discovered a love of drumming that
will never leave them. I feel blessed to have been a part of this
experience and I hope that if you are reading this, and you had
planned to come to more workshops, that you do not let this stop you
from playing your drum.
I want to thank everyone and anyone who has
attended a workshop and hopefully we will keep in touch and find ways to
keep drumming. I would also like to thank Steve Osburn and Oz's
Music for his support and encoragement for this kind of community
event. Be sure to keep an eye out for some of the exciting things
happening at Oz's in the near future, including live internet
broadcasts, intimate performances, (and maybe even some
specialty workshops hosted by yours truly). Though this marks the end of
Monday night workshops, it does not mark the end of my desire to
build a community of musicians that can come together, no
matter what walk of life they are on, and learn to play great music.
Thanks again, and keep in touch!

John

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Swaggering Rouges, Brand New Band, Tabla, Tabla, Tabla

Hello again,

The past 3 weeks have been a tidal wave of adventure on the musical front. First off, my new position as music director at Go Like The Wind Montessori School is going great. It actually feels pretty good to have a regular schedule and a place to go to do work apart from my home office. I am also getting along with the students very well, so it is sort of like hanging out with friends. Well, friends that you must constantly remind of and correct their behavior. I don't mind, and I hope they will appreciate it in the future.
About 3 weeks into the school year I got a weekend gig with the Swaggering Rouges, a group from Midland Michigan. Their drummer was out of town, or somthing along those lines, so I filled in. It was a flashback to my first giging group the Flat Broke Blues Band, (who, incidentaly, are still together and performing today). It was a late night gig at a the Midland Street Pub. It was your typical smokey pub. The band was right on the floor in front of the waitress station, right in the middle of the crowd. It made for an intimate evening. Crazy loud rock and roll. The group is a cover band that spans 3 decades of classic rock. They covered Tom Petty, ACDC, Led Zepplin, U2, Blink 182, and many more. It sounded pretty good, and was a ton of fun to play. It was like classic rock Karaoke for drummers.
On the second night, in the second song I did something I have never done in over 20 years of playing the drumset, I put a hole through my bass drum head. I looked down and saw my bass drum beater had dissapeared into my head. The band played an acoustic version of Elton John's Daniel as I switched the broken head with the front bass drum head. The head had a big sound hole cut into it, so the sound for the rest of the night was lacking much needed bottom end, but no one seemed to mind too much. We kept on playing and had a great night. Jon Carmona was the bass player and the one responsible for hooking the gig up. He played with me for the Paledave recording project and a few gigs. He also played with me up in Marquette, MI. with the short-lived rock band Soul Sausage, where I was the lead guitar and vocalist, (imagine that!) Thanks for the gig Jon, I had fun.
A couple of nights later on Tuesday I got to check out one of my good friends Jared Smith playing at the Blind Pig in Ann Arbor. Jared and I both grew up in Marquette and went to CalArts together. I moved back to Michigan and he stayed in L.A. to persue a band that is currently on a 3 month U.S. tour. They are called Hello Stranger, and I think they will be in the mainstream consciousness before you know it. The Blind Pig show went great except for one thing....The drummer, Joachim Cooder broke through his bass drum head on the first song! He couldn't beleive it and neither could I. He said it had never happened to him before. Luckily there was another band playing after them, so they just borrowed their bass drum. It must have been the fall air.....
The next week was a big one at Go Like the Wind. The students had spent the last 3 weeks learning about the different families of instruments and now it was time for them to get their own. We set a night aside called 'Band Night'. It was the night that all the students who did not yet have an instrument would come and rent an instrument to use for the school year. Almost everyone was very excited. A big music store came in with bins full of instruments and rented out to everyone. It took about an hour and a half and suddenly I was looking at a brand new band. When they came to school on Monday the excitement was in the air. When music class started, I was looking at 40 brand new musicians with and instrument in their hands and about 10 questions each. I don't remember much about that day except for feeling like a tidal wave had hit me and the end of the day felt as if I was washed up on shore with no energy left. I can't wait for the rest of the year to unfold. I hope that I am through the hardest times.
So right now I am sitting in my home and I can hear the sweet sounds of the Indian Santoor being played with Tabla accompaniment. It is acctually live muscians practicing for an evening concert tonight at one of my students' house. Dhananjay Daithankar is playing the santoor and Harshad Kanetkar is playing tabla. They got in on Friday and are starting their U.S. tour right here in Ann Arbor. Harhshad has been teaching lessons to some of my tabla students and on Monday they will perform a concert at Go Like The Wind. I am so happy they are here. It is always inspiring to be with active musicians. They will leave tomorrow after the concert and just by chance my guruji from Calcutta, Pdt. Samar Saha will be arriving. He is playing a concert on Friday night at someones house in West Bloomfield. I will be sitting with him all week for lessons and then attending the concert. It is an inspiring time for me right now, and I look forward to seeing one of my favorite teachers.

Thanks for reading and I will write again soon,

John

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