Saturday, May 26, 2007

Kirtan, Gratitude in Lansing and Troy

Hello,
Last Friday was another Kirtan event. We had a small group due to some schedule conflicts and a couple of members leaving the group, so that put Dr. Chernin in the first time position of being the only chant leader. To top it off he was feeling pretty sick. The responding crowd was as big as ever, so we were faced with a real challenge of keeping the energy up. It was great to see the members step it up. It felt like each voice in the group was now just a little more prominent, important, and exposed. When you play in a big group, it can be easy to loose yourself in the music. It takes a lot of performing experience to really hear yourself through all the layers of sound. I think this stripped down version of the group was very good for the members involved. I still have a great time playing tabla for 2 hours straight.
The next day I was with the Gratitude Steel Band on the mainstage at the Lansing Art Fair. Actually, it wasn't the full band, (once again), because the Russell family was up in Escanaba MI. So we had Guy Barker on Guitar, Anthony Tollson on bass, and Lamar Woodall on the lead pan. Guy and myself were providing the vocals. It was one of the first times I was a lead vocalist. I had a great time and the group was sounding great. This group is one of my favorites to play with. They love to improvise, have fun, and put on a great show. I have a lot of shows with Gratitude coming up this summer and that excites me.
So a couple of days ago, as if to make up for the smaller groups, I played with a delux verstion of the Gratitude Steel Band that included the Russell family, Guy Barker, Lamar Woodall, and Miguel Guttierez on percussion. It was for a wedding reception, but it didn't seem to matter where we were. The band was sounding so nice that we were just completely involved in the music. I think the crowd appreciated the music more than at a normal wedding reception, but they were not much in the mood to dance. Lucky for us, the Pacific Island Dancers were also there doing their hula and tanietian drum dances. Charles had coordinated the music with the dancers, printed off set lists for everyone and handed them out right before the show. The leader of the dancers however, brought a set list from an old show and used it to determine her costume changes and order of dances. Needless to say, it caused a great bit of confusion and we ended up having to improvise a set list on the spot. It all worked out, and we were back on track by the second set. The gig was extra long - 6 hours! But it was sounding so good, that even when it was all over, and everyone had left we continued to play. They actually had to ask us to stop so they could pack up. This show got me even more excited for the time ahead.

Thanks for reading and I will talk to you soon!

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Martha Reeves, Student Recital, Nick Strange, Crazy Wisdom

Hello again,

So last Saturday I was lying in bed wondering what I might do with myself when I got a message from Gratitude Steel Band...."John, we are playing in Ann Arbor this afternoon for a graduation thing, can you come out?" I called them right up and said sure. It was U of M's big graduation day. In the morning all the graduates and their families filter into the big football stadium and sit through a general graduation ceremony complete with a big name speaker, (this year was Bill Clinton), then they make their way back to their respective schools for a more intimate ceremony and procession. Gratitude was slated to play for the Art and Architechture school's ceremony. I showed up at around noon and set up in the back of the stage. We had time to run through a calypso version of "Pomp and Circumstance" melded with the U of M fight song "Hail to the Victors".
The ceremony began at around 2. We played as the families filtered in, then did the procession music for the heads of the school. The spirit was high. As they came in they started dancing and everyone was happy and relaxed. In the morning the weather had been cool and overcast. As soon as we started to play, as if it were planned, the clouds lifted and the sun came out. When everyone was in we sat just behind our instruments right on stage, ready to play when the time was right.
The keynote speaker for the ceremony was none other than Mowtown ledgend Mrs. Martha Reeves. She was a great speaker. She told a wonderful history of Mowtown and how she made it to the big time. One of my favorite thing she said was when she was talking about the atmosphere in the Hitsville recording studio when she recorded hits like "Heat Wave" and "Dancing in the Street". She said "The spirit in the studio was so fresh and positive, and alive....we all knew something special was happening." She went on to say that "even when I play these songs today, that same spirit is re-awakened and the energy it creates makes me feel like I am young again, and it never lets up!" I was so inspired. All I could think about was the spirit of the recording I had just done in Chicago with my good friends from back home, and all the joy that could bring me in the years to come.
In her speech she sang a little gospel tune that her father used to sing to her. The audience loved it. They were so into her message. When she finished, people clapped and stood up. imidiately, Charles stood up and went over to his instrument and started playing "Dancing in the Street". Martha started dancing and went back to the podium to sing. The band was too lout though and she could not hear herself, so she came back by us and grabbed a mic. WOOOOHOOOO!!!.....thats what I was thinking as she started to belt out her signature song infront of the pumped up crowd. I got the shivers as the song went on. She had everyone on their feet and clapping. She was improvising lyrics and hitting some insane high notes that proved what she had said about her spirit. I remember feeling so happy and honored to be a part of it all. I felt like I got a tiny taste of what it may have been like to be a part of the Mowtown sound. After the ceremony we got a chance to talk to her backstage and share stories about our experiences in music and growing up. She was a very sweet genuinely caring person and I was honored to meet her. Even in my dreams, before waking up that morning, I could not have come up with a better way to spend my Saturday. Thank's to the Gratitude Steel Band for giving me a call!!

The next day I had to shift gears a bit and get to work as soon as I woke up. I was prepairing for my sixth student recital and my first ever Drumset Workshop. About 12 of my drumset students had signed up to learn how to assemble and tear down their drumset and then learn a piece all together that we would play at the recital that night. I called it the Ann Arbor Drumset Orchestra. It was a fun day, but very long, and a LOT of work. We started at noon and I did not leave until 9p.m. The workshop was great. We went through each piece of the drumset and learned how it worked, then everyone set up their own set and we learned a piece together.
Sounds simple, but it took almost 5 hours. At 6, the recital started. I must say, I felt more relaxed at this recital than all my other recitals. The students did great. I really love watching them develop as musicians. I really notice a difference in their playing after they do a recital too. I think the recitals give them direction and a sense of what it takes to make music. The last piece of the evening was the Drumset Orchestra. It was such a great sound.
it ended up being 11 drummers and they all got to have a little solo section in the piece. The only bummer of the night was that I messed up the recording, so none of the peices were recorded. It doesn't seem to happen often, but when it does it hurts. Oh well, perhaps the memory of the night is richer than the copy.

On Thursday I was filling in for the Nick Strange group again at Goodnite Gracie. It was fun to play with them again, although the crowd was a bit thin due to the University being out. Nevertheless it was a good night of good music. I am glad to have put in the initial work to learn all of Dan's music so now sitting in is more of a joy than a job.
The next Night I was at Crazy Wisdom Tearoom doing a show with Dr. Dennis Chernin and friends. He talked about meditation and then we played for about an hour and a half. The music is starting to really take shape, and I am learning a lot about different perspectives on meditating.

Thanks for reading, and I will write again soon!

John

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