Thursday, May 14, 2009

2 Kirtan, 2 Nick Strange, Gratitude at UofM, GLTW, Tap Room, Alma, Sumkali at Castle and CW

   This picture was taken at the Interfaith Center in Ann Arbor on March 1st by Catherine Lilly.  I was warming up and checking the sound for a gig with the Kirtan group.  We were sharing an evening with a singer named Norma Gentile.  It was the third or fourth time I had performed in that venue and I enjoyed hearing the Kirtan in the new space.  
I have been going through some changes in the way I am hearing music that I am a part of.  It is a bit hard to explain but I feel like I am able to hear with more than my ears. I have been sensing how the vibrations coming out of my instrument are affecting the whole space.  I don't hear my instrument as if I was out in the audience listening, and it is different that close listening when I am playing by myself in a quiet room.  I think perhaps I am getting a sense of the resonance of certain frequencies and how they affect the space around me.  When I make the mistake of turning up or playing louder when I can't "hear" myself, then the risk of throwing the musical picture out of balance becomes great.  Of coarse the way to really fine tune this type of listening/feeling is by performing a lot, not to mention having like minded musicians around you. When the feeling is just right it feels so good that neither you, or no one around you, can deny the richness and quality of the 'experience' of the sound.  It has been a journey I have been on for a while now and I feel like I am beginning to see some light.  Hopefully, if the musical opportunities keep presenting themselves and I can fine tune this feeling.
So after all this contemplation about the greatest part of my journey, there is another reality I have had to come to grips with...double booking (aaaaaagh!)  Actually, about one hour after the picture above was taken, I was quietly and quickly packing my tabla to head into downtown and play a show at Gracies with the Nick Strange group.  I did not even get to see Norma Gentile perform.  It doesn't upset me or make me tense/nervous to have to do this for a number of reasons; I love to play, I have the ability and I want to use it, and I am the one booking myself, so I must come to grips with these realities weeks and months before they happen, but that doesn't mean it is easy. Traveling from one gig to the next without a breath in between takes discipline, calmness, and some help.  Luckily I have some great students, friends and band mates that are willing and able to help me out with the otherwise impossible logistics.  Without them this madness would not be possible.  Thank you!
The next day was a treat, or more like a homecoming.  I was at the U of M school of Art and Design playing with the Gratitude Steel Band. It was the third year in a row that we have played at the ceremony. It is a nice show to play, not just because we are a part of a very special day for the graduates, and not just because it is one of the first outdoor gigs of the year, no, it is really nice because we set up our stuff, and then we have a long time to catch up with each other.  It has turned into a great time to reflect on the past year, look to the future and appreciate the relationship we have forged together as a group.
The next week was jam packed with a lot of different stuff. I won't go into much detail because honestly, I have been putting off this blog for too long and I really want to get caught up!  So this is what it looked like:  

   Tuesday the Go Like The Wind Jazz Band played a fundraiser at Noodles and Company in Ann Arbor.  It was to raise money for the middle school adventure trip to Colorado.  For most of the band it was their first real gig, so it was great to see them put on their serious faces and play their best.  I was a proud teacher. 

Wednesday I went to the Tap Room Annex in Ypsilanti, MI to play a jazz open mic with the Skylounge band.  It was mellow, fun and very easy going.  It is always fun to play with those guys.

On Thursday I played tabla with the Emerson School 4th graders for their rendition of Piru Bole, which is a piece written by my CalArts mentor John Bergamo.  It was part of a whole evening of music from South Asia. Judy Barthwell put on the event, and she did a great job.  As a music teacher, it inspired me to do more with my students. As a student of music, it was equally as inspiring to see my teachers composition performed so enthusiastically by young musicians.

Friday was a double hit. First, Meeta and I went up to Alma College to do a lecture/demonstration of Indian Classical music for a music appreciation class. We were excited to do it, and the professor was great. The students were a little quiet and we wondered why.  We figured out that we were coming to them on one of the nicest days of the spring so far, on a Friday afternoon, right after they turned in a big paper and right before they found out about their last big assignment. So this was not the best time to get a lot of new information.  It had been a while since Meeta and I had done a presentation like this, so we were having fun with it, and for the most part, it went well.

From there it was back to Ann Arbor to get ready for the GLTW Spring music concert.  This was a first. In the past the music concert was paired with the promotion/graduation night so it limited the amount of music that could be featured. This year we played everything we knew, 25 pieces in all.  It was a great night to showcase the music program and it was much looser than in years past, which made it fun for the students.

The next Monday I left for a week in Colorado with the GLTW Middle School.  It was the yearly adventure trip.  I brought a guitar, but other than that, it was a nice break from the whole music scene. Here was the view:

So we got back on a Friday, and Saturday I had another gig with the Nick Strange Group, but at the last minute it was cancelled.  What I heard was that there was a lightning strike and the club had no power, so they could not open up for the night.  Although I was bummed not to play, it turned out to be a nice evening at home with the family.
I didn't play again until Friday the 22nd with the Kirtan group at Friends Center in Ann Arbor; our regular gig.  I was barely moving though...literally.  I had spent the day prior busting up concrete with a sledge hammer.  Sure it is the worst possible thing for a drummer to do to their hands, but I have gone full bore into a home improvement project, (building a deck), which required the cement to be gone quickly, so I had to do it.  I made it through the 2 hours of chanting alright, but I now have a whole new appreciation for healthy hands.
The following day was a little less sore, which was good because Sumkali had another gig at the infamous Bennett Castle.  It was a benefit gig for Sparsh, which is an organization that provides surgeries for children in India that can't afford it.  The castle is on the outskirts of Ann Arbor and was once the fortress for Henry Ford's right hand man, Harry Bennett.  It has secret tunnels, 2ft thick walls, and a beach house to escape to.  Needless to say Mr. Bennett was a wanted man by unwanted men.  Anyway, it is now a private residence and the owners have been nice enough to let people come in and use the space. We felt lucky as a group have a chance to play in such a cool environment.  We did the same gig last year with the Kozora group. This year the musicians were Meeta Banerjee on sitar, Scott Brady on flute, Dan Piccolo on tabla and percussion, Atmaram Plummer on tampura and myself on tabla.  We were missing Prashanth on the violin, but the music was still sounding great.  
The next week we were in full force at the Crazy Wisdom tearoom downtown Ann Arbor.  It has been such a pleasure to work with this group and we are all getting so pumped up for our show at the Top of the Park festival on June 30th.  The tearoom gigs feel like they are a buildup to it.  We have been getting great crowds and the spirit among the group has been high. We get so into it at CW, that we usually play the entire two hour show without taking a break. It is an energy that I have not felt in a while on such a consistent basis and it makes me very excited to see what happens next.
  Well that is what happened in the month of May.  I know it took me a while to get this post up, but rest assured, there will be more to come.  The summer promises to be a good one. Thanks for reading, and I will write again soon.

John

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