Monday, October 19, 2009

Pandit Samar Saha in Michigan 2009

Hello,

I have been so excited to write about the recent visit by my guruji, Pandit Samar Saha. This year Guruji and I began organizing his U.S. tour way back in February. The first order of business was to organize the first annual Samar Saha Tabla Retreat. This was not quite as easy as I was expecting. Because of the rough economy 2 of the retreat centers that I had scoped out near Ann Arbor had both gone belly up, so I scoured the internet hoping to find just the right place. I did. It was called Wind Rise Retreat Center. It was an artist retreat on a beautiful plot of land up in Metamora, MI. Once that was in place, I sent out the flyer to every tabla contact I could find. We needed at least 10 participants as per the retreat center's requirements, so I was e-mailing, calling, e-mailing, and e-mailing some more to find everyone I could. It was a 4 day 3 night retreat and, to sum it up, it went like this: Arrive, eat, play tabla, eat, play tabla, sleep, wake up, play tabla, eat, play tabla, eat, play tabla, eat, play tabla, sleep....on and on like this for 4 days. We did squeeze in some time for some tabla repair, a few listening sessions, and even a little tennis.  The retreat center was run by a very sweet lady named Estella.  The whole time we were playing tabla Estella was in the kitchen preparing some very excellent homecooked, organic, locally grown meals.  We felt blessed indeed.  It was a really beautiful place, although we did not do much more than sit and play, (I added it up...around 35 hours sitting behind the drums).  The end of the retreat culminated in a student recital held at Britton Recital Hall at the U of M Music School in Ann Arbor. The whole experience for me was great. Here are the pictures:



  The recital that followed the retreat was really amazing for me.  I had been working closely with Dan Piccolo on getting the venue, his U of M alumni status really helped in getting the Britton recital hall. So with that pressure off me, it was all about making sure we had a good sound system, putting up posters, more e-mailing, and arranging for Sumkali to open the show, (along with the Srishti dancers).  I knew that we would be out of reach once the retreat started, so everything for the recital on Sunday had to be arranged before the retreat on Thursday.  So when Sunday came, I watched everything sort of pull itself together.  I was tired, sore, and my brain was pretty much maxed out from all the tabla compositions running through it.  I loved it.  When Sumkali started the first thing that struck me was how nice the sound in the room  was.  After a weekend full of full volume tabla playing, it was very nice to just 'touch' the drum and hear the sound ring out.  It settled me down and really felt theraputic.  When the dancers took the stage I felt like I had front row seats to the show.  I hardly even realized I was playing.  I really enjoyed watching my son Charley sit on him mom's lap wide eyed with his mouth open completely focused on the dancers.  I felt like I was looking at a person who was falling in love.  It was sweet.  Here are the pics:


  When Sumkali was done it was time for all the drummers to take the stage.  When I was backstage getting ready, Samar ji said, "The sound was good".
   I thanked him and said, "That was the calm before the storm, now comes the thunder!"  He laughed.  It is not too often that you have 8 tabla players on stage at once.  We had everyone mic'd and turned up, so I knew it was going to be a huge sound.
  Once it started, it seemed to go by very quickly.  Compositions seemed to fly by.  I think that part of that is because I was used to playing them over and over, as we did at the recital, and now it was 'one-and-done', no turning back.  I was so happy to be doing something that we all worked so hard to do. When the whole thing was over I found myself standing alone in the theater just listening to my breath and bidding farewell to an incredible experience. I can't wait to do it again!



  After the recital Pt. Saha flew out east to do a bunch of shows in New Jersey, New York, and elsewhere.  I pressed forward doing more e-mailing and poster hanging for the big upcoming show on September 19th.  There was also a few other things on the docket.  Pandit ji returned a week before the concert, so I got some 'hang' time with him before getting down to business again.  On Wednesday the 16th he was scheduled to do a tabla demonstration at Go Like the Wind Montessori School in Ann Arbor.  He played and talked about the tabla for 45 minutes to the 1st-9th graders.  It was so great to present my teacher to my students.  They were very excited by the idea that I have a teacher too.  I was also happy to bring my son Charley to the show.  When it was winding down, Charley sat on Guru ji's lap and played a little tabla for the middle school students.  He was happy, and so was I!
  From there we went to the U of M music school for a Master class arranged by Dan Piccolo.  It was a two hour intensive, in depth look into the world of tabla with an audience of future professional percussionists.  It was great to see Samarji doing what he does so well.  I should mention that Meeta Banerjee was with him the entire day and also helped out for both shows by playing sitar accompaniment, and driving him from place to place.  Thanks Meeta!


Three days later we were at Towsley Auditorium for the Ancient Rhythms concert that I arranged with Sreyashi Dey. This was one of the first major concerts I arranged that I actually did not play in. I made the decision a while back. I wanted to put all of my energy towards putting on a great event and not have to worry about performing in it as well. I was very happy with my decision. I was able to help get the sound just right, make sure the artists had everything they needed, do the M.C. duties, and even work the curtain. It felt great to watch it all unfold. The first half was the Srishti Dancers. They were beautiful, and the lighting was perfect. They really work hard! A full hour of dancing like that was intense. I didn't actually feel the intensity until I saw them come offstage pouring with sweat and breathing heavy. Those are some of the details that are missed when you are watching from the audience. It was an inspiring perfromance.
The second half was a tabla solo by Guruji. I was so excited to finally see him on a big stage doing what he does best. I just sat on the side of the stage and admired his work. As always, he played a lot of the compositions that we had learned over the coarse of his visit here, and then a few of his big 'hits'. I felt like I was in tabla heaven. Here are the pics:


After the concert I felt relieved that all the arranging had come to a successful end. Guruji was in Michigan for a few days afterwords so there was some more opportunity to take lessons and just hang out. On the last day he was here, Monday the 21st, I set up a relatively spontaneous meeting with Muruga Booker, (if you have never heard of him, just google :). Muruga owns a beautiful recording studio in Ann Arbor, and I thought it would be great to get them together to do some recording. What ensued was epic. I actually don't want to go into it too much, (because it will probably end up in the liner notes of the album that was recorded.) So I will leave it at that for now.
The next morning Samarji was off to the East coast again where he had many other concerts organized by other students and then he was back in Kolkatta by early October. We have already started talking about next year, and I can't wait. In the meantime I will be practicing!

Thanks for reading,

John

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