Students Gave a Great Recital This Year according to Harshest Critic - Their Teacher

Wow!! The POD Squad gave a truly tremendous recital this year. All their hard work paid off in ways I couldn't have imagined!

This year I gave every class some big goals in their performance. There was a lot of back-and-forth playing in larger groups and some very challenging duets. We took inspiration from the performances given by students of my gurubhais in India, as well as the performances of great masters like Pandit Suresh Talwalker and his students. In every case, the students stepped up and did a fabulous job. When it came time to make a highlights reel of the concert, I had a terribly hard time keeping the length down because every performance was so beautifully done, with so many amazing moments. In the end, eight and a half minutes was the best I could do.

This year the advanced students performed only in odd taals: we chose 7, 10, and 14 beats for their performances. In most cases I gave them fresh material with only a few months to prepare, and they did it without a problem. I feel like they grew a great deal as a class and I was super pleased with their efforts. Afficionados will especially appreciate the groups who played Delhi peshkar in Rupaktal (7 beats).

Speaking of peshkar, this year I gave rudimentary peshkar developments to first year students to perform in groups. I hope this will give them a head start in learning more advanced peshkar developments next year. We used the peshkar format as a means of practicing all their basic bols and it even included a rela, or drum-roll style composition.

The level 2 students though: they really outdid themselves this year. Poetry on Drums is truly blessed to have a lot of ambitious, motivated students at this level who are working very hard. Some of them are only seven and eight but playing well above their age. I see tremendous potential for these classes as they move up the ranks! it gives me great confidence in the instructional format I have developed for my students over these past years because I can see it working so well.

Last but not least, I was very proud of my adult students who gave a superb rendition of the famous Delhi kaida "Dha tete." These guys worked so hard outside of class and it really showed. In the excitement of performance they blew way past the speed goal I had set for them, but they pulled off the performance without any problems whatsoever. I think it proves that it's never too late to learn, provided we keep at it!

I'm already looking forward to our next recital. It's going to be so fun to compare this year's videos to next year's and see all the amazing progress again!


Weekly and Academic Calendars Have Been Updated

As the fall class schedule begins to come together, I'm updating the calendars online to reflect changes. If you still haven't registered, check the links on either the adult or children's class pages for the most up-to-date calendars. The new beginner's class on Mercer Island is full, and the Bothell class is almost full, so register ASAP!


Lots of Recent Website Updates

I've been busy this week updating the website and preparing for this Fall's classes to start. Some things to look for:

  • I've reorganized the classes heading into separate pages for adult and child students. Prospective students can click on the appropriate tab to learn more about the classes pertinent to them.
  • I've added an "Other Services" tab, which links to pages for instrument repairs and pakhawaj lessons. I'm looking forward to adding information on my awesome instrument makers over the next few weeks to the repairs tab!
  • I've made a lot of other minor changes to the layout and content of the website which I hope makes the user experience better.
  • Don't forget to read the latest online lesson! I'm making a commitment to posting more lessons, at least one a month, so check back regularly for more updates.

I'll be adding more pages soon, including info on skype classes, week-long intensive sessions, and other services I'm planning to offer. I'll also be adding a video introduction to my school's curriculum so new students can learn how classes are structured. I hope it all proves helpful!

Okay, enough of all this. Time to practice.

Congratulations POD Students on a Great Recital!

Last weekend Poetry on Drums held its annual recital. I was so proud of all my students and how they played! Many students passed their level 3 this year, and I know it was a big challenge for a lot of them. It's so rewarding to see children, some not even ten years old yet, playing such challenging music so well.

The level 3 students demonstrated compositions from all six gharanas of Tabla this year. This was because as part of their level 3 training they completed a listening project where they studied performances from Tabla players of each gharana. I think they learned a lot from that experience!

As a teacher, I'm always learning more from these performances, just like my students are. One thing I learned from looking over the photos is that I need to teach my students to smile when they perform. :)

Equally as exciting as these advanced students was POD's really promising batch of young students from the 2016-17 school year. Many were unable to attend the recital due to travel, but those who did perform gave some very wonderful presentations. I'm so happy with the enthusiasm of this class!

After the children performed, I was able to convince one adult's group to also give a performance. They presented my guru Pandit Sudhir Mainkar's development for the famous Delhi kaida "Dha Tete Dha Tete DhaDha Tete DhageTinakena." The transcription for this kaida was three pages long! After some creative editing we got it down to only two pages. :) This was a real challenge for the whole group, especially because one student had to drop out at the last minute because his wife had a baby (congratulations Saurabh!), so everyone had to help cover his portion of the performance at the last minute. Even I helped a little bit!

Again, congratulations to all the students who worked so hard this year and earned the right to move to the next level in training! I'm looking forward to next year already!

A big thanks to Harshwinder Singh for taking all the great photos (and video) on this page.

The Best Around-Town Tabla Bag

A lot of students ask me about the duffle bag I use for my drums.  Unless you’re traveling by plane, the typical fiberglass Tabla case is a total pain for lugging drums to gigs, practices, classes, or whatever else you need them for.  They’re bulky, heavy, and may not be terribly convenient for carrying other accessories.  Most canvas Tabla bags are either poorly made or lack wheels, making them a pain if you have to walk anywhere.

Over the years I’ve used a lot of duffle bags to transport my drums so I know what I need.  I want a wheeled duffle so I don’t have to carry it, I need a nice big opening so it’s easy to get drums in and out, and it needs to be strong.  And this, ladies and gentlemen, may be the very best Tabla bag on the market: the Timberland 28-inch wheeled duffle.

This bag may be a little oversized for some tabla sets. One reason it works for me is because I also pack a cushion inside, and because I have very large and heavy rings. So the 24-inch version of the same bag may work for some people, or perhaps even most.  But I personally tried the 24-inch size once and found that it didn’t fit my drums, although I don’t remember if I tried packing it with smaller rings or not.  Maybe I’ll give it another try one of these days.

Here’s how I pack my bag up: I use one ring to protect the telescoping handle from getting crushed by the Dayan (which did happen to my first bag; this is the second); I use the second ring as a buffer between the Dayan and the Bayan; and I use my cushion as a buffer between the Bayan and the floor when the case is upright.  On top is a compartment where I keep my tuning hammer and a container of talc.  When it’s all closed up, the drums stay perfectly in place and are well protected against abrasions and the elements.  

I get a lot of questions about my cushion too, so I’ll use this opportunity to mention that it’s a J/fit 13” fit disc.  It’s inflated with air so it doesn’t get compressed over time like a regular cushion, and I’ve never had to reinflate mine after three years of use.

Lastly, this bag also works wonderfully well for pakhawaj. In fact, Pandit Akhilesh Gundecha told me that he uses this exact same bag for his drums!

If you know of another duffle bag solution for Tabla that you'd like to share, please leave a comment below with details because it’s good to know of other options that are out there.


Happy Birthday Pandit Sudhir Mainkar!

My guru Pandit Sudhir Mainkar turns 79 today.  In honor of the occasion I thought I would post a short article I wrote to him to commemorate his 75th birthday, which was included in a small booklet produced for the event.

Memories of my Honored Guru, Pandit Sudhir Mainkar

It is with great pleasure that I offer this brief recollection of my time spent with Pandit Sudhir Mainkar in honor of his seventy-fifth birthday.  I have submitted my account to the party committee rather late because I had initially planned to submit a complete academic work on Kaka’s music; but as that paper approaches 20 pages I realized that it was not only taking too long, but growing much, much too long!  [I will see about posting this article under online lessons; stay tuned.] Such can only be expected when trying to synthesize this great thinker’s contribution to Tabla.  My subject for the essay is Pandit Sudhir Mainkar’s unique approach to farshbandi in kaida and his philosophy pertaining to bhari-khali.  While I feel personally unqualified for such a task, it is up to each of us whom Sudhir kaka has touched with his music to do their small part in advancing his ideas and compositions.  But for now, all I want is to talk a little about my experience in 2011 studying with Kaka at his home. 
    I first wrote to Sudhir Mainkar at the prompting of Dr. James Kippen of the University of Toronto.  I had written to Dr. Kippen seeking his advice: I knew I was in need of further training, but I had no idea where to go or whom to learn from.  I explained that I was already immersed in the Delhi and Ajrara gharanas, and subsequently preoccupied with the development of kaidas in all their forms.  I was also interested in archaic tabla.  I had heard of old kaidas that did not at all resemble what we take for granted as kaida today, and I wanted to learn more.  To whom should I go?  Dr Kippen’s answer was succinct: “that would be Mr. Mainkar.” 
    What first struck me about Sudhir kaka was his perceptive qualities, even over such an impersonal medium as email.  He was also very direct and honest in his communications with me.  He recognised in me a keen desire to learn, and perhaps even potential; but he also detected a volatility to my personality that has always been my biggest obstacle in learning.  Still, he encouraged me to come.  For my part I had a strong feeling that I had finally found the teacher that I needed at that time.  I remember the first email he wrote to me introducing himself and his music.  He gave me the link to his book’s website, which featured two recordings of his kaida developments.  “The first kaida represents the development of Inam Ali,” he wrote.  “The second kaida is by me.”  That second kaida was all I needed to hear.  The design was so unlike anything I had heard before; it opened my eyes to new possibilities for the language of kaida.  This is the music I had been looking for.
    I arrived in October of 2011 to study with Sudhir kaka for two months.  Kaka spared no effort in seeing to my well-being and comfort, and was able to procure accommodations very close to his home.  Without even the concern of taking a rikshaw to my lessons I was able to devote all of my time and energy to learning music.  But more than that, Kaka and his family brought me into their home every day as a family member, and not just a guest.  I was humbled every day by the hospitality I received.  It gave my family at home so much peace of mind to know that I was looked after so lovingly.  It comes as no surprise to anyone who knows this family well to hear that Revathi kaku, the legendary hostess, served me wonderfully delicious and healthy food, not just occasionally, but every day of my visit!  I came to understand very quickly why the hospitality of the Mainkar household is legendary throughout Mumbai.
    I was further surprised in the first days of my visit when I came to understand just how much time and energy Sudhir kaka was willing to commit to me and my development.  It was far beyond anything I could have anticipated before arriving.  I understood by the way Kaka treated my education why musical training in India produces such a deep and personal bond between the guru and the student.  Kaka made it clear through his actions that his job was to impart knowledge, and my job was to absorb the knowledge as completely as I was able; and he was holding nothing back.  He met me every day without fail, and by doing so he showed me what commitment looks like.  If he had not shown such dedication, perhaps I would have been justified in holding back in my own efforts.  Instead I had to work twice as hard to keep up!  There were times when I felt as though I was unable or unqualified to learn what he taught, but Kaka would not let me quit.  He believes in me more than myself. 
    The hours I spent in riyaz in his music room made it clear to me what the standard is for tabla, be it for power, clarity, or aesthetic; I also learned just where I was in relation to that standard.  Kaka is not one to ever say, “good enough.”  I remember spending hours in practice, to the repitition of the word “no!” while waiting for the occasional “yes!” that marked the subtle improvement he was listening for.  “ Yes!...No...”  At the same time, Kaka also radically shifted my preconceptions about how tabla can be played and how even the simplest kaida could be developed.  When I left Mumbai, I left with the feeling that I was in possession of a particular musical knowledge unique in the entire United States.  It was (and still is) an exciting feeling.
    I feel that Sudhir kaka is a person so rich in personality, so full of knowledge, and so blessed with wit, that to know him is to be like one of the blind men in the famous story with the elephant: each blind man feels a different part of the elephant, thus reaching contadictory conclusions as to what it is they have felt.  I know with a certainty that having only spent two months with kaka, I am still like one of those blind men.  I wish that I could have heard his name years and years ago, and that I had come to learn from him then.  I remember what Shrimati Aditi Upadhya said when I told her that I was going to learn from Sudhir kaka: she told me that I had made a wonderful choice, that so many students were chasing those tabla players with big names, but that I had chosen one of the finest gurus of tabla anywhere in the world.  Later, when I expressed my regrets to her that I had not met Sudhir kaka sooner, she quoted a famous saying:  “whenever you wake up, that is your morning.”  So I am happy that last year I finally awoke.   
    I am eternally indebted to Pandit Sudhir Mainkar for my music and my way of thinking on Tabla.  For the rest of my life I will be studying, performing, and teaching the music that he taught to me.  And in the coming years, I will cautiously be doing my best to build on his efforts and keep exploring the ideas and music he showed me.  I will always do my best to honor Sudhir kaka through my music.

Chaz Hastings, 2012

"Rhythm and harmony enter most powerfully into the innermost part of the soul and lay forcible hands upon it, bearing grace with them, so making graceful him who is rightly trained."

Happy Birthday Zakir Hussain!

Today is March 9th, and it's Ustad Zakir Hussain’s birthday.  I thought that this might be a good time for me to share a little about what Zakir ji has meant to me over the years for the benefit of my students.

No tabla player my age growing up outside India could ever claim not to be heavily influenced by Zakir Hussain.  His immense popularity, owing to his comsummate artistry and musicality, meant that I listened to a lot of his music during my formative years.  The first exposure I can remember with certainty was from a compilation CD, “Ravi Shankar Presents the Master Drummers of India.”  Featured on that CD was an explosive ten-minute Jhaptal solo by a very young and fearless Zakir Hussain.  That solo represented to me everything that made Tabla special, and I listened to it over and over.  Later I bought a CD called “Selects,” which I still think is one of the finest collection of tabla recordings ever made (his peshkar on that CD is perhaps one of the finest works of art a Tabla player has ever produced).  Remember that this was before Youtube!  Thanks to Youtube, nowadays you can listen to and watch countless hours of live performances by Zakir ji and many other Tabla players, but at this time it was harder to find recordings of Tabla.  Speaking of which, Zakir ji was also the first Tabla player I ever saw live when he performed with his Masters of Percussion in 2003.  I remember being both spellbound and utterly mystified by what was taking place onstage!  It would be years before I learned enough to put what I heard into context.

Ustad Zakir Hussain with his father, Ustad Alla Rakha

Ustad Zakir Hussain with his father, Ustad Alla Rakha

Zakir ji’s father, the great Ustad Alla Rakha, shaped the sound of Tabla more than any other Tabla player apart from Ustad Ahmedjaan Thirakwa in my opinion.  Like Thirakwa’s, his trademark compositions became almost mandatory for young tabla players to learn.  We are compelled to learn those compositions, not just because we want to emulate that sound, but because for us they have come to represent what Tabla is.  In his early days, it is easy to tell that Zakir Hussain emulated his father in the same way many young tabla players did.  Eventually he took those core compositions to another level entirely, and he continues to refine them even today.  Together Zakir ji and Abba ji (as we know Ustad Alla Rakha) shaped the sound of tabla for generations to come, and no Tabla student in the world can deny this influence.  Certainly I cannot.

As fortunate as we are to have a person as talented as Zakir ji in the world of tabla to serve as our ambassador, we are doubly fortunate that he is also a sweet, humble, and approachable human being.  The first thing one might learn about him is that he has no time or concern for honorifics.  Upon addressing him as “Zakir ji” (as I’m doing repeatedly here) he’ll quickly remind you that he is “Zakir bhai” only.  He’s quick with jokes and can make everyone in an audience laugh and immediately adore him.   It’s a remarkable trait, and anyone who has spent time with him comes to admire him for it.  Even more importantly, Zakir ji has a tremendous respect for his peers and elders in the world of Indian Classical music and countless anecdotes speak to his remarkable depth of character in this regard.  My guru, Pandit Sudhir Mainkar, can tell such stories endlessly, and I often tell these same stories to instruct my students in proper protocol.  Maybe I'll share some in another blog post someday.

Compared with some of my friends I’ve not spent much time with Zakir ji at all; I am grateful merely to know that he knows who I am and that I am on his radar.  As I recall I first met him in 2007 when he came to Portland for a Planet Drum concert with Mickey Hart and Giovanni Hidalgo: I was lucky enough to go backstage and meet all these outstanding musicians but was much too starstruck to say much of anything.  I wish I had had the courage to ask him a question about his father, or about the way he played a certain bol, but I mostly kept quiet.  I suppose that was for the best.  Much more recently I was able to spend a week studying with Zakir ji in California in his annual workshop.  Getting to spend time with such a living legend as he created compositions of such remarkable beauty and sophistication spontaneously was an unforgettable experience and it has certainly influenced my music and my teaching.  I’m eagerly anticipating my next opportunity to go and learn with this inimitable master.

All of us students should be blessed to have a role model like Zakir Hussain in our lives to inspire and motivate us.  Happy Birthday Zakir Bhai, and thank you for the gift of your music.


A visit to the POD Summer camps

POD’s students have been having a great time so far at this year’s summer camps!  

In the most recent camp, students got to learn some unique and advanced compositions.  Some of the bols or phrases we focused on included “DhiraDhira,” which is a bol used often in relas and gats; “Dhatigena,” a common kaida phrase; and a kaida based on the phrase “DhatirakitaDhetete.”  Using these phrases as starting points we learned several compositions and even composed some new ones.  Students also practiced a composition style known as peshkar, which serves as the starting point for tabla solos.  Our practice sessions were heavily influenced by my experience studying with Ustad Zakir Hussain in California earlier this month, and whenever possible I employed the teaching methods I witnessed him using.

When we weren’t playing tabla, we spent a lot of time listening to the great tabla masters of the 20th century.  Students listened to solos played by Ustad Ahmedjaan Thirakwa, Ustad Nizamuddin Khan, Pandit Anokhelal Mishra, Pandit Shamta Prasad, Ustad Latif Ahmed Khan, and many others.  I hope that the kids were inspired by listening to these maestros.  When possible we stopped to learn some of the compositions featured in their solos.

On Wednesday my friend Charu Anand came to teach the students about Kathak, and we learned how kathak compositions can be interpreted and played in numerous ways by different musicians.  Every student could use the bols they played best to play the composition along with Charu didi.  After this session we spent the rest of the afternoon learning some of the parans that kathak dancers use in their performances.  

And on Friday we even learned how to re-head a tabla…After one student had a “tuning hammer malfunction” the previous day.  In this picture a video of Ustad Nizamuddin Khan plays in the background while the students look on at the drum being repaired.

The summer camps have proved to be a wonderful experience for all of us, and I’m glad the kids are getting the opportunity to learn tabla the whole day.  I’m already looking forward to the next camp which will have even more guest artists presenting on dance, vocal music, and instrumental music.  I hope that each student is inspired by these camps to work twice as hard to learn this remarkable and instrument; I know I am!

A big thanks to all the parents who have given their support to make these camps successful!

Student of the month: Jeevan Southwick

Jeevan Southwick was announced as POD's student of the month for July after his excellent and sincere effort at the June summer camp.  Jeevan's positive attitude and determination to improve his tabla playing during the week-long camp made him a wonderful addition to the group.

Jeevan is 12 years old and has been learning tabla since 2012. When Jeevan is not practicing tabla he enjoys riding his bike, drawing and experimenting with a variety of musical instruments; (didjeridoo, bass guitar and flute). When he grows up he wants to be an artist/animator at Pixar.

Congratulations on your accomplishment Jeevan, and I hope you continue to flourish at this wonderful instrument!