Saturday, January 03, 2009

Happy 2009

Happy New Year everyone.  I am back to blogging after taking time off to see what life is like as a new dad.  I love it.  Charley Bear is a happy boy. He sleeps relatively well, and when he is not tired or hungry, he smiles.  What more could I ask for!  He is just about 2 months old now and on at least 4 occasions he has stopped crying as soon as I start practicing.  It makes me feel so special and lucky to be a musician with a captive audience.  Of coarse, on twice as many occasions, he has cried harder.  At the same time I am more inspired than ever to play nothing but good music for his young ears, and also filled with humility when it comes to pleasing your audience.  As musicians, sometimes we think that one song, or one line in a song will bring people to their knees, (so to speak).  The anticipation of that moment actually brings us further from it.  I believe music can soothe, heal, and inspire, but we must remember that it can also annoy, enrage, and even fan the flames of anger.  In the most innocent, and definitive way, Charley reminds me of that.  
This new state of fatherhood brings with it lots of introspection, appreciation, anticipation, and desire.  I feel luckier than ever to be in a line of work that helps me to understand, express, and share these feelings with others.  I had planned it out for months that November and December would remain as gig-free as possible to give me ample time for adjustment to my new role.  As it turns out, I have been more inspired than ever to play, and the few shows that I have played have shown me that there is life after kids, and it is very good.
So the first show that I did not plan to do was the monthly Kirtan.  It was scheduled for the 21st of November, just 10 days after Charley was born.  I had lined up my friend Dan Piccolo to sub for me.  Well a few days before the show Dan called and said he had another gig come up and wondered if it would be alright for me to cover the show.  Things were pretty under control at home, so I said sure.  Now, as a new parent, one of the things you have to deal with is getting no more than 2-3 hours of sleep at a time. On top of that, I was still working at Go Like the Wind.  When it came to the night of the show, I was so tired I could have fallen asleep while sitting at my tabla.  As a result I don't remember much of the show.  It felt like a dream and all I could do was close my eyes and play.  It felt very "out-of-body".  I remember enjoying the feeling and everyone was happy and supportive of my tired state. Lots of smiles and good wishes filled my consciousness when the music was over.  Thanks for the support Kirtaners!
My next show was not until 3 weeks later and it was with the Skylounge band.  I may have said it before, but playing an evening show focused on dancing with no alcohol on site makes for a very interesting crowd.  People fill and empty the dance floor many times throughout the night, rather than trickling on and staying until the end and screaming for encore after encore until the bouncer shoes them out the door.  At this event, people come to really dance.  Many of the attendees this night were dance students and some instructors. When the band would hit a song with just the right tempo and feel the floor would fill up.  People would request styles of music rather than particular songs..."Could you play something with a Latin feel?" Another thing that is a little different is that the dance floor would sometimes still be full on the set breaks.  We play swing music over the PA and people just dance like the band never stopped.  At the end of the night when we play our last song and then turn off the PA, the place empties out faster than a fire drill and it is just the band packing stuff up in a student center.  They turn on the house lights and you would never know what just took place.
I'm not saying it is a bad evening to play or anything.  It actually feels pretty good to have people appreciate music in that way, sober and dancing for the art of it. Not to mention the band sounds great and they are a great bunch of people to play music with.  My next show with them is in February and I am looking forward to it!
I spent the rest of that weekend at Dan Orcut's house recording some drums and percussion tracks for the new Nick Strange album.  Dan lives just outside of Ann Arbor on a few nice acres of land.  It is a quiet retreat away from the city where he does fine wood working and his music.  The recording went very well.  He had all the tracks done for the most part. He just wanted some drumming on a few of them.  It was a bit of a challenge to play the drum set as the last track. Usually the drum tracks are the first ones laid down.  Luckily, the rhythm of the other musicians was good, and since it was all his own equipment we could do as many takes as necessary.  One of the last tracks I laid down was some marching type snare drumming for a slow pretty song.  I was in a room overlooking the woods in the backyard.  Big fluffy snowflakes were falling just slow enough to seem like they were in rhythm with the music.  It was very quiet and peaceful.  I can't wait to see how it turns out!
The following week was the most hectic one of the year at school.  It was the week of the Christmas concert at GLTW.  We transform the gymnasium into a Christmas auditorium complete with a huge reef, stage, sound system, decorations, and hundreds of folding chairs.  We do two shows, one on Thursday during school hours so parents who can not make the next evening's concert can see their children perform, and the pre-primary students can see what their musical future holds at GLTW.  I wrote a review of the concert for our schools newsletter, so instead of rehashing it again I will just cut and paste:
The Christmas concert this year was one of my favorites to date. The gym was transformed into a wonderful holiday stage, thanks to Mr. Collier, Sam, and many other parent and staff volunteers. It is a pleasure to work with the GLTW community to create a great evening of celebration.
The first graders were the first to take the stage, and they did a wonderful job singing two Christmas classics, "Silent Night", and "Over the River and Through the Woods". This year our lower el students worked with both upper el and middle school students for their songs Little Drummer Boy and Carol of the Bells. The students were excited to have the instrumentalists come to their class and support their singing with live instruments. It is so great to see all of our GLTW students working so well together. They also worked with Mrs. Scott on choreography, which made the stories in the songs come alive.
A nice bonus of the evening was when the Upper El and Middle School Spanish students sang a song in Spanish together. I must say, after watching the Lower El students, the older students looked like giants on the stage. Thanks again to Mrs. Scott for working with the students on choreography. A nice addition to the music this year, Upper El students gave us a very nice rendition of "The Night Before Christmas", complete with posters they designed themselves. They took turns reciting the poem in between the musical numbers.
The second half of the concert started with the debut performance of the GTLW beginning band. It is hard to appreciate how much work goes into playing an instrument just 3 months after getting it into your hands for the first time. They did a great job! The String Orchestra, which nearly doubled from last year, played wonderfully. I must also acknowledge Andrea Arts, who, after breaking her bow on the second note of the first piece, did not quit. She set her bow down and played the rest of the concert plucking her instrument. She exemplified the true spirit of never giving up.
The Advanced Band took the stage after them and really showed how all the hard work of practicing your instrument pays off. Their performance was highlighted by a piece entitled "Sorcerers Procession" which is the longest, and most difficult piece ever performed by a GLTW advanced ensemble. Great work!
The final segment of the concert featured the newest group in the GLTW musical family, the Advanced Jazz Band. This group started out of the desire of advanced students to pursue new musical ventures, and that desire came shining through in this concert. They performed 2 original pieces and one swinging version of "Dashing Through the Snow". I can't wait too see what is next for this group!


The day after the X-mas concert madness was the 2nd annual Kirtan holiday gathering.  Last year this was done at a different venue, but this year we were at our regular place, the Friends Center in Ann Arbor.  It was a fun evening.  People brought food and we ate and talked an hour or so, and then we did the Kirtan.  It was especially fun for Jody and I because this would be the first musical event we brought Charley to since he was born.  He seemed to be soaking it all up, just staring around. Looking at all the people smiling back at him.  It was nice to have him there while we played, although he didn't make it through the whole night. He got tired, hungry, and wanted to go home early.  I thank him for coming anyway!
And so we come to the last gig of the year. It was the day after Christmas at the Detroit Institute of the Arts with the Gratitude Steel Band.  Now I have played many many times with Gratitude over the years, but for many different reasons, Janiela went off to college, I was busy getting ready for a baby, money was tight, schedules didn't mesh, etc.,  2008 only brought us together 3 times.  Regardless of that, when I sit down to play with them it feels familiar, comfortable, and as if we never skipped a beat.  I had been looking forward to this show for awhile, and it did not disappoint!  We played in the Diego Rivera room which was filled with huge murals depicting Detroit's auto industry.  The sound was amazing.  I brought my tabla and before the show I just sat in the room and played them for about a half hour and just listened to the sound bouncing off the marble walls and echoing throughout the museum.  It felt great to play with the group again. On another level I felt great satisfaction to be bringing musical vibrations into a place that had great art hanging everywhere.  On our set breaks I was checking out some paintings by Degas, who must have spent a lot of time at art schools, painting dancers, musicians, and other artists.  I felt like his paintings were somehow accustomed to being around music.  I then thought about all the other artists who must have painted while listening to music. I felt like we were creating the environment they were intended to be in, one of celebration and song.  Not to mention that the band also brought a dancer to dance to some of our tunes.  It was all of the arts in one place and it just felt right.  I felt honored to play the show and it filled me up in ways that I haven't felt since being at CalArts.  It was the perfect way to end the year. 
So here we are, just a couple of days into the new year and I am as excited for the future as ever.  Looking ahead I see a lot of shows involving Nick Strange, Kirtan, and Indian Classical music.  Also, I am very excited to be presenting Indian Classical music for the Michigan Music Educators Conference later this month.  I can't wait to see what else is around the corner and I look forward to sharing it with you.  Thanks for reading, and I will talk to you again soon.

John

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