Hello and welcome to Conductor’s Reports, the fourth 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!
Merry Christmas! I'm Home! Here is a two-part report of my time in Chennai!
Day one was a wonderful, full day of music. I began with Bonala Sankara Prakash on veena at The Music Academy, one of the nicest venues in Chennai. He was fantastic—it was actually the first solo veena recital I’d gone to. Since we now have veena for the show, it was a great opportunity to reflect on how to use veena and sitar. Sitar is the Hidustani lead guitar-type instrument and veena is the lead Carnatic guitar-type instrument. The cursory opinion would be that they shouldn’t play together, but I am super excited about how they can play together. The veena has a deeper sound that would be so perfect for the solo opposite Juli’s alto sax in "My Own Home" and so good for underscoring. It can also play a bass line in tandem or instead of the bass, and can do some comping (two notes at a time is okay) in addition to the piano. Really beautiful, useful instrument.
I then shuttled over to the Mylapore Fine Arts Club, an outdoor venue, for the Carnatica Brothers. They were really fun to hear—one has a really high voice and one has a really low voice. Cs below low C, lower than most written opera bass roles, the note you supposedly only hear in Bulgarian choirs and Tuvan throat singers. People loved it, because you don’t often hear that deep tonality in Indian vocal music.
Day two started with a fabulous fusion concert in the morning: Tiruvarur Vaidyanathan, the mrdangam player and his “international ensemble.” It was a blast. They had the usual Indian set-up of mrdangam, tabla, ghattam (clay pot), kanjira (little jingly tambourine—another must for the show), and violin. Plus guitar, keyboard, western drum set and djembe, which I initially felt guilty about adding to our orchestra, but now I do not! It was a fusion of Indian (both Hindustani and Carnatic styles) with rock and some funk. There was one song that got a bit jazzier, but not quite as much as what we are up to with The Jungle Book. It was kind of huge for me to hear a classical festival in India presenting a fusion concert like this—and people in the audience had a great time. The concert started 90 minutes late because the show before it ran so long—I wound up seeing most of that show, too, a dance narrative program that was adorable. I think it was a school performance because some of the little girl dancers were so young and clearly amateur in the best sense of the word. It *almost* looked like they were doing The Jungle Book—a little girl with a papier-mache Ganesh mask and another girl in a Halloween costume tiger coat—I got such a kick out of it.
That evening, I heard one of my two favorite concerts of the whole trip: Kadri Gopalnath on saxophone. He was incredible. His playing is absolutely incredible and his technique would be the envy of any Western saxophone player. He is now one of my three or four musicians I listen to when I want to get inspired. Thanks to Nick Moran, one of our woodwind players for the show, for tipping me off about him before I left so I knew this was a concert not to miss!
Look forward to part two soon!