Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Overcoming Timidity

“Bhajaunus,” Buddhalal—my madal instructor—told me as he removed his shoes at the door. As he grabbed a cushion from the stack in the corner and a madal for himself off the top shelf, he listened to me play the “Tamang Selo” rhythm he had given me. “There are lots of these selos, this is just one,” he had told me. After listening for a bit, he asked me, “are you ready for me to play the flute with you?”

“I’ll try,” was all I could say. Buddhalal called out the open door into the courtyard to one of the staff sitting in the sun—he spoke in Newar, but I assumed he was asking for a flute. A flute was passed up to him soon after that. “Oh, look at this! Some student must have bitten it with their teeth!” he showed me the chew marks on the instrument. Earlier, he had complained that all the covers for the tabla drums were missing. Students—they were so naughty. “Ok, here’s the melody.” He played it once for me on the flute at my request. Then, I began to accompany him.

“Not enough, not enough,” he stopped playing and shook his head. “You got ahead of me. I wasn’t there yet.”

“That’s a little too much,” he stopped again. “You lost count of the repetitions. Here, let me play it for you again.”

“Here, just play the rhythm for me…Oh, yes, see, you know it, you just don’t know the melody. You need to put that in your memory. Here, let me play it again for you….with practice, you’ll sound great.” He smiled broadly. Then, he said, “You need to clean up your sound, and have more precise rhythm. And, play louder.”

Producing volume has been the bane of my musical existence. “You have wonderful finger work, and you shade things so well,” my piano instructor in college would tell me, “but—I’m at the back of the concert hall. I can’t hear all that detail because you don’t play LOUD enough!”

“If you play louder,” Buddhalal told me, “then people will feel joyful when they hear it. If you play small and timid, they can’t enjoy it. And, you’ll enjoy it more, if you play louder. Try again—GHE…kha, ga, GHE…kha ga, GHE…” he began repeating the syllables to go along with the strokes, emphasizing first beat of each measure with a loud resounding beat on the larger drum head.

He wisely decided to give me a few rhythm patters in triple meter that made use of these loud, emphatic strokes.

“This tal (rhythm) goes well with mangal dhun,” he told me. “This melody is one for good, auspicious beginnings. It’s played at weddings, when the new bride and groom hold hands for the first time, and have their parents’ hands around theirs. It’s played when the first brick of a new building is laid. Learn the rhythm and I’ll play that on the flute next time. You just need to play with confidence!”

If banging around on drum heads doesn’t make me confident, I don’t know what will.