Tabla Concerto and Dhrupad Week

On November 24, longtime friend and collaborator, percussionist, dhrupad singer, and composer, Payton MacDonald visited Montreal for a very productive and stimulating week of music making.

First, on November 24, we had a recording session of Payton's tabla concerto, Samsara, for tabla with wind ensemble. The McGill Wind Symphony, directed by Alain Cazes, did a wonderful job with the piece. The ensemble sounded great! The recording will probably be ready sometime in the spring; I'll post more details once I know. The following evening, we performed the concerto in a concert of works by McGill composers. It was a very varied and challenging programme. Bravo to Alain and the MGWS for a very successful performance!

Performing Samsara with the McGill Wind Symphony, dir. Alain Cazes

Because I knew that Payton and I would perform some dhrupad concerts together, I ordered some special tabla, called jori. I have always been fascinated by this instrument and am really happy to have had this occasion to dive in and start playing. Normally, dhrupad is accompanied by pakhawaj, but I don't play pakhawaj. The jori are played like pakhawaj, but vertically, in tabla style. The jori would have been the first type of tabla to exist, right after the pakhawaj. The dahina is the usual tabla dahina, in this case, a low C, sounding more like pakhawaj. It's really the baya that makes the jori what it is. Firstly, it is made of wood, as opposed to the usual brass or copper (though nowadays, copper and brass jori do exist). Secondly, and this is the main difference, is that there is no syahi on the baya; rather, one must make a paste of atta (finely ground whole wheat flour) and water. This temporary application must be made before each time playing the instrument, and scraped off afterwards. It is definitely something new that I am not used to, but wow, does the jori sound amazing. And it truly does sound just like pakhawaj. Thanks to a few YouTube videos, I was able to figure out how to make the atta and apply is properly. It's essentially the same process as making the dough for chapati! 

The wooden baya is huge, and sounds huge as well!

We performed three concerts in three different venues: Friday night at Shri Yoga in Westmount, Saturday night at the Centre de Vie in Ripon, and finally, Sunday night at Black Squirrel Books in Ottawa, as part of the Improvising Musicians of Ottawa / Outaouais (IMOO) series. Each night, Payton sang a couple of ragas, with alap, jor, and jhala, with gat in Chautaal (12 beats). We always concluded the dhrupad portion with a composition in Sooltaal (10 beats). Then after a short break, Payton switched to harmonium, and I switched to regular tabla, one octave higher, and played tabla solo. It was quite challenging switching from jori to tabla, and from dhrupad to tabla solo, but it definitely made for a very varied concert experience, both for us, and the audience. It was also great fun to accompany the jor, as that usually does not happen in khyal or instrumental accompaniment. I also found dhrupad accompaniment to be very liberating in a way, as I didn't need to keep theka all the time. This additional freedom was a fun change of pace, and the beautiful tone of the jori was very inspiring. Payton is also singing very well, recently back in North America after having spent last year in intense study with the Gundecha brothers.

Accompanying Payton at Shri Yoga, with Ina on tanpura.

Tabla solo at Shri Yoga, with Payton on harmonium, and Ina on tanpura.

Dhrupad at the Centre de Vie in Ripon, QC.

Bringing ancient traditions to new places - dhrupad at Black Squirrel Books in Ottawa.

An intensely inspiring week of music making. Looking forward to more jori, dhrupad, and further collaborations with Payton!

Thank you to Caroline Tabah for the photos!

1 comment

  • Martin Gauthier
    Martin Gauthier
    Great concert, great blog, very informative! Thank you :D

    Great concert, great blog, very informative! Thank you biggrin

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