Tabla at the Percussive Arts Society International Convention 2013

From November 12-17, I was in Indianapolis for the Percussive Arts Society International Convention. And what a great time it was! I arrived in Indy on the Tuesday afternoon, and met percussionist Neeraj Mehta at the airport. We were soon picked up by Tony DiSanza, who had driven in from Wisconsin, and off we were to Butler University to meet up with Jonathan Ovalle and Dan Piccolo to begin rehearsals for Saturday's clinic/performance. We rehearsed throughout the week, and played a run-through for the students at Butler before the official premieres at PASIC.

The Saturday concert, Neeraj's brainchild, was a trio of concertos for world percussion instruments and percussion ensemble. The first piece on the program was Tony DiSanza's Time's Arc: 2nd Concerto for Darabukka, with Tony as the soloist, accompanied by Neeraj, Dan, and Jonathan on percussion. The piece opens with a duo alap on slide whistle, which is quite something to behold. The piece showcases the darabukka in a variety of settings, and blends music of the middle East with flavours of samba! Tony had quite a collection of darabukkas on stage, and brought out many subtle nuances of tone and timbre.

Tony in rehearsal with Dan Piccolo, Jonathan Ovalle, and Neeraj Mehta.
Next was the premiere of Payton MacDonald's 4th Concerto for Tabla and Percussion Quartet. I have a long history of performing Payton's music, and am so happy that he wrote this new concerto especially for this occasion (the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Concertos are all available on our CD, Works for Tabla). Many thanks to Neeraj, Tony, Jonathan, and Dan for their excellent accompaniment on marimba, vibraphone, and multi-perc setup. I especially enjoyed the interaction with Dan (who also has training on tabla), doubling the tukras on bongos and tom-toms. Throughout the opening bant improvisation, I had some great exchanges with Tony, who was holding down the fort so to speak, playing eighth notes, over which I improvise in 3:2 and 7:4 before finally arriving at the dugun (double speed) of the bant (somewhat unusual that in this concerto, Payton decided to omit the thah, or single-speed exposition of the bant). Lots of tension there! A highlight for me was Payton's pre-recorded intro (Payton could not attend, as he is in India studying dhrupad with the Gundecha brothers), which made me smile and also provided me with a C tanpura to tune to while he introduced the piece. :)
Lots of baya!
Photo credit: Ken Porter, PASIC 2013
Always smiling! :)
Photo credit: Ken Porter, PASIC 2013
UPDATE: Here's a video clip of the performance!



The concert concluded with Neeraj playing solo conga on Jonathan Ovalle's Three Movements for Conga Soloist and Percussion Trio. Neeraj really rocked the congas, in what was a very virtuosic and energetic performance. The piece references a number of Latin music traditions, and brings them together in a percussion ensemble context. It's a very exciting piece, and a wonderful way to end the concert.

Neeraj Mehta rocking the congas! With Dan Piccolo, Jonathan Ovalle, and Tony DiSanza.
Photo credit: Caroline Tabah
Later that afternoon, another idea of Neeraj's came to fruition: the world percussion panel discussion, with the topic of Practice to Performance: Taking World Percussion Traditions from the Field to the Ensemble Concert. Moderated by Neeraj, the panel was made up of Russell Hartenberger, B Michael Williams, Michael Spiro, all legends in the world of percussion... and me! It was truly an honour to have been invited to participate. Each panelist represented various world music traditions, and I was involved because of my experience with North Indian classical music and the McGill Tabla Ensemble. Numerous relevant and throught-provoking subjects were brought up. The common thread revolved around how we can present world music cultures authentically, and with respect for the source cultures, without compromising the integrity of the music, or the cultural context in which it is found. It was unanimously felt that cultural education is as vital as musical education, and that one should not happen without the other. The session was extremely well attended, which is rare for panel discussions; especially for ones taking place at 4pm on the last day of the convention! 

Neeraj Mehta, Russell Hartenberger, B Michael Williams, Shawn Mativetsky, Michael Spiro
Photo credit: Brian Diehl, PASIC 2013
Neeraj Mehta, Russell Hartenberger, B Michael Williams, Shawn Mativetsky, Michael Spiro
Photo credit: Brian Diehl, PASIC 2013
Many thanks to Neeraj Mehta for these two great ideas, making them a reality, and for having involved me in both of them!

During PASIC, I also had a chance to meet David Yovino for the first time. David is the inventor of the TransTabla, which is a new tuning system for tabla. I have one, and use it quite a bit with Ragleela. It's especially handy in the wintertime (which is soon upon us), when I need to detune my tabla before going outside, and then quickly retune again once inside. David actually redesigned the mechanism somewhat since the early version that I had purchased, and offered to upgrade mine. The new version is even easier to turn, and it's a real pleasure to use. Thanks, David! It was also a great chance to see and try out some of David's other innovations, such as his new tuning hammer and plexiglass screen for playing tabla in high-volume situations.
Chatting with David Yovino.
Photo credit: Caroline Tabah
A great week, full of wonderful interactions and enriching musical experiences. Until the next one!

Photo credit: Caroline Tabah
If you'd like to see more photos, please check out my Facebook album.

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