The following Saturday I was at Goodnite Gracies in Ann Arbor playing with the Nick Strange Group. It had been a little while since we last played and it actually felt pretty good to play. Rob Crozier, the bass player had just started at the prestigious University of Michigan Music school and he was on cloud nine. It was great to play with that kind of energy. It seems to me that when you get so involved in something that you love to do, such as making music, that you begin shaping your life around it, you begin to bring your absolute best to every little piece of the puzzle, knowing that it all fits together. I felt this in Rob's playing that night. It reminded me that I also do what I love, and I owe it to myself to bring my best every time I pick up the sticks. Thanks and good luck at U of M Rob!
The next Friday I was with the Kirtan group again at the Friends Meeting house in Ann Arbor. It was a special night for me because I got to bring my Dad, who was in town to see his grand kids for the first time. He sat through all the setting up, the sound check, and the short rehearsal that has become our customary 2 hour pre-kirtan routine. I wasn't sure how he would like the chanting, or the music for that matter. He said he was pleasantly surprised. He wasn't expecting it to 'groove so much'. I saw him in the back singing and having a good time, so I was happy. For some reason I get a nervous feeling before someone I love watches me do something I love to do. I worry that they will not like it as much as I do and it will somehow be diminished in my own reality. It never happens though. I think I am very lucky to be surrounded by a loving and supportive family. Perhaps this nervous feeling is really just adrenaline released by the excitement of sharing what I love.
The next night I was playing with Nick Strange again, only this time we were in St. Clair Shores, MI. at a place called Fishbones. This is a much different place than Gracies. It is much bigger, and there are T.V.'s everywhere, including a huge large screen just to the right of the band, and the KENO screen right above the guitarists head. This sort of atmosphere doesn't usually lend itself to great music making. On this night however, the music was really clicking. It was one of those nights where everything was right on and everyone in the group knew it. It felt great to go out for a night's work and have something like that happen. The one downside of the night was that there was no dancers, no applause, and seemingly no interest from the crowd. Interestingly enough though, once the sets were over, people would walk up to us and tell us that we were sounding great. It was like the culture within that venue did not usually acknowledge the bands, so even if people were digging it, it wouldn't be 'cool' to show it by dancing, or applauding. I don't know, perhaps we were all just so into what we were doing that 'capturing' the audience did not seem like such a high priority.
Music is a funny business. There is definitely a difference between being a musician and being an entertainer, although as a performing musician, you must be a little of both. It seems self-indulgent to forget about your audience and just turn into the music. If you played a couple of extra pop tunes instead of a couple of extra rounds of improv, then you might get a few people to dance, or a hoot from the back of the room.....so is that worth it? Would they rather hear professional musicians doing what they love, or it is more worth their time to hear these musicians play some thrown together different version of a favorite song from the past? This question has plagued the independent musician since the creation of the cover band.
I was happy to be having this conversation with the group when we were done with the show. It made me feel like I was part of a group of musicians that has moved to the next level together. We weren't lamenting the lame crowd, or mistakes that may have occurred, instead we were contemplative, like-minded, and satiated. It is easy to play music all night with most any musician, but moving into the next level, where things click and you all know it, and the music becomes something that nourishes you....that is fairly rare. I am not sure it felt like that to the audience, if that even matters. They seemed happy, entertained, and in good spirits. I am just grateful that we were too.
The following weekend I was in Grand Rapids Michigan for the Michigan Music Educators Conference. I was there to give a presentation on Indian Classical music. It was a great opportunity to introduce Indian Classical music to music teachers from all over Michigan. I asked Meeta Banerjee to join me and she graciously agreed to drive all the way across the state to do this 45 minute presentation and then turn around and drive back. Thanks Meeta. the presentation went great. The time flew by and there were all kinds of great questions from the audience. We were lucky to be the last presenters in the room that we were in, so we could hang out after and talk with the teachers and professors.
I spent the remainder of the conference going to many many presentations, workshops, clinics etc. about all different stuff like music and movement, notation programs for the computer, music technology for educators, choir visualization techniques, cello teaching techniques, and so on. Not to mention it is a great way to network with other music teachers. I hope to go again next year.
On the Monday after the conference I drove down to the Depot Town Community Center in Ypsilanti, MI. to do an improvised recording with Jesse Plummer, (of the Skylounge band) on Keyboard, Rob Crozier on Bass, and Jessie's soon-to-be brother-in-law Paul Bower also on Keys. It was an inspired night of playing. Something about recording brings out the best in musicians, perhaps it is the impending permanence of what you are about to do. Whatever it is it worked, and I can not wait to hear the record when it comes out. Look for it in a month or two at http://www.communityrecordsmusic.com/
On the last Saturday in January I had a double header. Meeta and I were asked to play at the Saraswati Puja for the Mitiali community group, which is made up of mostly Bengali's living in the U.S. We played the same one last year. This year I got to also play a tabla duet with my student Preetom. His dad Pulak, is the organizer of the event. I have been his teacher for over a year now and putting together a short duet came pretty easy. Meeta played the lehera and we just did a few compositions both together and one at a time. It went well, except that the sound guy could not get Preetom's mic to work, so he was silent to the crowd. Bummer. I guess we will have to try it a gain next year.
As we were all standing backstage waiting to go on, a sweet 85 year old woman saw my tabla and grabbed my arm and asked if I knew Bhajani Theka, which is a simple groove on the tabla that many songs (bhajans) are sung to. I sat down and played for her and she lit up. She said "That is perfect! You will join me on stage". So I sat with her on stage and played about 3 songs. It was very nice and she had a beautiful voice. Pulak told me later that she was a professional singer in India and she sang on Mumbai T.V. and all India Radio. It was an unexpected treat.
So as soon as we were done, Meeta and I had to split to hurry to get to Crazy Wisdom tearoom for a show with Scott Brady, Prashanth Gururaja, and Atmaram Plummer. It was the debut of what I hope will be a great group called SumKali. We played some Indian classical, folk, and just straight up improvised stuff. It was so much fun, and the crowd was great. There was standing room only. I am hoping we are able to play much more in the near future.
That does it for January. It was a very productive month for music, and things don't look to be slowing down anytime soon, so keep reading and stay in touch!