Hello and welcome to Conductor’s Reports, the first in a series of blogs from Doug Peck, The Jungle Book's music supervisor, musical adaptor, arranger and orchestrator. During Candide, my first collaboration with Mary Zimmerman, I sent Mary conductor’s reports after performances to enhance the daily stage management reports and keep her connected to the show as we continued to develop the production in our travels from Chicago to Washington, DC and Boston. In keeping with this tradition, when I went on my second music research trip to India, I sent her reports of my experiences. The Goodman has asked me to share these notes and I am happy to do so. Enjoy!
Namaste from Mumbai. It is SO BEAUTIFUL here. Picture everything we loved about India on our first trip last year with an added coastal flair!
I wanted to send a little “Conductor's Report” about the amazing concert I saw last night. It was called “The Music Summit With World Masters.” As I predicted, the concert began with us rising and observing a moment of silence for Ravi Shankar who passed away yesterday.
I foolishly thought I could buy a ticket on the day, not really realizing how special this concert was going to be, AKA extremely sold out. I wound up making friends with an initially very surly guard lady, and when someone told her he had two tickets he couldn't use, she came and found me and told him to sell them to me—all in very limited English. He wouldn’t sell me one, so i wound up buying both from him—a total of 600 rupees (six dollars).
The first half of the concert was Dr. Trichy Sankaran, a mrindangam (the South Indian version of table—one drum played on the sides, but it sounds similar) virtuoso who lives in Canada. He and his band—violin, kanjira (the little Indian tambourine), ghattam (clay pot) and tanpura (the drone) were great. Their solos were complicated and wild. I was kind of inspired about possible fight/battle underscoring—the three percussion instruments playing in driving unison rhythms were so wild and exciting and I was singing little dissonant jazz stabs in my head over them. This combo was the best example I've heard so far (or maybe my ear is really starting to understand it) of the solos getting progressively/mathematically shorter—i.e. we all play 32 bars, then 16 bars, then 8 bars, then 4 bars, then 2 bars. It creates a real whirling dervish feeling and the applause keeps coming faster and faster.
At intermission, we were told via voice over to, “Buy our souvenir tabloid which will be treasured by the art lover for all the times to come.” Maybe the Goodman can do advertising like this too :)
After intermission, a clearly famous Bollywood actor that I didn’t know gave a speech that went back and forth from Hindi to English telling us what we were about to see. My favorite comment was, “this trio will mesmerize you with their musicality.” Again, possible Goodman marketing language.
The second half was the truly historic part—it was the first time tabla Maestro Zakir Hussain (who we saw at Orchestra Hall together), legendary vocalist Ajoy Chakravarty and “The Kathak Sage” Birju Maharaj have ever performed together. It was a fabulous performance. This year is Birju Maharaj's 75th birthday and his 70th year onstage (!!)—he is the most famous male dancer in India.
Maharaj is equal parts dancer, percussionist, vocalist, spoken word performer and comedian. He is incredibly elegant and still moves amazingly well and his every little gesture—flick of a wrist, raise of an eyebrow, etc.—tells a little story. Mary, I keep thinking of how much you love seasoned performers who so effortlessly and joyfully do what they do. He was amazing. You could tell Zakir Hussain was totally geeking out drumming for him. His more comic moments reminded me of a 75-year-old Indian Martin Short or Roberto Benigni with bells around his ankles doing a combination of the robot and “Single Ladies.” He just ate up the stage and the audience went wild.
The entire concert was really helpful to see—the call and response between drums, vocal, and dancing was especially exciting. Zakir and Birju would take turns initiating a rhythm and then the other would echo, amplify, challenge it. Birju would sometimes do the rhythms with his feet/bells (they had floor mics and he danced really close to them so you could hear every semiquaver) and sometimes with his voice which was really fun. He would then do a little monologue (never in English, but you could get the gist because his face and voice and hands are so expressive) over drum, sarangi (the bowed string with the beautiful moaning sound), and harmonium accompaniment—and then he would go into a really wild little dance.
I kept picturing some kind of combination of proper Western taps and the ankle—it could make a very cool fusion sound like we are doing in the music.
I’ll send a proper report about everything I’ve done in Mumbai when I have a little more time to write, but I didn't want to let another second pass without telling you about the concert.
Time for a quick breakfast, then headed to Victoria Terminus for the train to Pune (city two of three).