The most significant thing that I’ve accomplished in the last few months as a musician is completing two tours as a Dhrupad singer. When I embarked on the Fulbright journey a year and a half ago I never dreamed that I would someday be performing as a Dhrupad singer. I imagined I would go much deeper with it and it would become a bigger part of my life, but that it would mostly service my creative work as a composer and improvising percussionist. But things changed. I practiced hard (and continue to practice hard) and by the time I left India my Gurus were encouraging me to perform.
I work best when I have deadlines and targets. I knew that if I didn’t have any performances lined up my practicing would languish and my progress would slow considerably. So back in April I set up two Dhrupad tours: one in the Midwest and one up in the Montreal area.
The Midwest tour included four performances at U. of Wisconsin-Madison, a yoga center in Madison, U. of Northern Illinois, U. of Michigan, and a performance/workshop at Oakland University near Detroit, Michigan. Todd Hammes accompanied me on these concerts, playing tabla. Pakhawaj is typically the preferred instrument for Dhrupad, but there are no pakhawaj drummers in the Midwest. I’ve known Todd for a long time so it was a great excuse to work with him. He played beautifully and I enjoyed my time with him very much. I learned something important, though: the tabla don’t have quite sustaining power of the pakhawaj, so we had to adjust the tempos upwards a bit so things didn’t sound so empty. Interesting.
The performance at Madison was especially engaging for me as I was singing in the Morphy Hall, the same place I heard my Gurujis the Gundecha Brothers about twelve years ago. Little did I know then how much they would change my life . . . At any rate, all five presentations in the Midwest were successful, with good turnouts.
The tour in Montreal was also wonderful. Shawn Mativetsky was with me for those three concerts, which included two yoga centers and one bookstore (the bookstore was part of an improviser’s series). Shawn is a long-time collaborator and although he usually plays tabla he got himself a pair of jori drums, which imitates the sound of pakhawaj. He really did his homework and his jori playing was just as solid as the pakhawaj drummers I work with in India.
I loved touring as a singer. Dhrupad is such a sacred and special place. It was so enjoyable to get up each morning and focus my entire day around the evening performance. I would sing for a bit, review my compositions, go for a walk, take a nap, stretch, do yoga, and then go perform, feeling the energy of the location and incorporating that into my singing. Dhrupad saturated my every moment.
I grew by leaps and bounds. I recorded each concert and listened back the next morning with hyper-critical ears. Doing this sharpened my ears and I had a chance each night to improve upon the previous night’s performance. Singing night after night also built a lot of strength in my voice. I was pretty worn out by the end of each tour, but noticeably stronger as a singer.
This was also the first time I got to sing at Yoga centers and in some ways I prefer it to concert halls. I’ve been very blessed to have performed as a percussionist and singer at many of the best concert halls in the world and I always enjoy that, but there is definitely a distancing from the audience that I didn’t feel at the yoga centers. I felt much more connected to my audience. I suppose it was the lack of formality, but it was really nice.
There is more to come. Stay tuned . . . And thank you so much to my Gurujis for all of their support and generosity.