Tag Archives: Mozart

Confluence feat. Bela Fleck, Edgar Meyer and Ustad Zakir Hussain at Bishop Cotton Boys’ School, Bangalore


One doesn’t often relate a banjo with a tabla or an upright bass in the same setting. They originated from different corners of the world (the banjo originated from Africa, despite its popular country-ish sound associated with American Folk music) and are associated with styles that seem, on first impression, like chalk and cheese. Ordinarily, one does not see Bluegrass or American Folk music blending in with the groove of an upright bass, set to Hindustani beats from a tabla. But then again, banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck, double bass maestro Edgar Meyer and Tabla legend Ustad Zakir Hussain are not your regular, ordinary musicians.

The 147-year old Bishop Cotton Boys’ School was the venue, on the 10th of February, for the event titled ‘Confluence’ featuring these three pioneers of their respective instruments. An enormous crowd gathered in front of the auditorium at around 6:30 PM, most of them in great expectation of watching the Ustad play.

The event finally started almost 45 minutes late, understandably due to the difficulty in handling a frenzied crowd. Edgar Meyer started out with a short bass phrase and Zakir punctuated it with a Middle-eastern drum sound and Bela followed suit with a progression that segued into their popular tune ‘Bubbles‘ from their CD Melody of Rhythm, which had followed their debut show with a symphony orchestra in Nashville, around 7 years ago. Any doubts of the instruments and styles not blending together were wiped out, as the trio moved as a unit, seamlessly from the familiar opening phrase of the song to Bela’s solo and back, and to Edgar’s solo and back. My only gripe was that considering that this was one of the few groovier songs, this could have been delayed in the set especially since the organizers allowed a few noisy latecomers to pour into the auditorium, staining the experience.

Edgar then began the second song ‘Cadence‘, also from The Melody of Rhythm CD, with a tune in minor scale and Bela countered it with a poignant and minimal phrase that would go on to define a very Indian and solemn setting for the song. But when the tabla kicked in, the song proceeded through a few pleasant and happy-sounding sections before resolving back to the hook of the song, almost like a slow ballet where you can imagine the stage lights darkening, reminding the protagonist of an impending struggle. The musically interesting aspect was that Bela’s style in this song was hardly American Folk or Bluegrass which came to be associated with him. He adopted a drastically different style and he made it his own. Edgar’s slow chromatic arpeggios and Zakir’s differently-tuned dahinas ‘agreeing’ to the opening melody were the other crucial aspects to ‘Cadence‘ being one of the best compositions of the set.

Zakir followed it up with a light-humoured introduction of Bela and Edgar before introducing the guest artist, Rakesh Chaurasia, nephew and disciple of Bansuri legend Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia, on stage for the third track ‘Happy Drum Drum Monkey Girl‘. Rakesh himself opened the song with a few impressive tunes on the bansuri, accentuating and sustaining wherever necessary. Edgar joined in with a groovy bass line in 5-4 after which Bela added the distinguishing bluesy tune and Zakir filled in the gaps with those little nifty fills that made knees buckle everywhere. Zakir’s solo which made use of some interesting rhythmic variations had music aficionados in awe, keeping up with the 5-4 count. Following this was a solo by Edgar Meyer, which despite visible scale changes, chromatic walks and pentatonic phrases, seemed to lack in its ‘listenability factor’. But regardless of the bassist’s reputation, there was a lot of annoying chitchat in the audience. Seriously, what is it with people and bass solos?

The next was an upbeat song in 12-4 but despite the rhythmic jumps and the seemingly tricky time signature, it was effortlessly performed even without the artistes tapping their foot to keep time! Being one of the more up-tempo songs, the solos employed crescendos that the audience duly applauded. After Edgar made some friends in the audience with a knock-knock joke [I’m-a-pilap], the trio performed a Canon in a cycle of 15 beats, again to the surprise of many, without any visible time keeping. The Canon was played with a phase shift the length of the cycle itself, with Edgar leading the way and Bela following accurately in tow. Zakir matched the duo’s chemistry with dextrous improvisations in the gaps. Edgar’s sublime musicianship came to the fore as each time he had to think of melodies in two adjacent cycles and how they match up to each other, producing magical counterpoints! Pt. Rakesh Chaurasia reappeared on the stage and had a slow jam with Edgar before they broke into a pleasant Abhang-like world music piece. The resting place in the song was Zakir’s oriental-style playing, using melodies from the differently tuned dahinas. And then came, arguably one of the high points of the show – Bela Fleck’s solo piece which started on the lines of Hamsadhwani and then proceeded to a few diminished and country style variations. This was one of the solos that had it all – exploration, technique, soul, dynamism and showmanship. Following this was, ‘E’hem in the key of E‘, a slow jazz standard composed by Edgar and ‘The B Tune‘, a standard in four chords; in the latter however, Rakesh’s solo at times did not sit well with the complex syncopation employed.

And then came the highly expected Zakir Hussain tabla solo with all its ebbs and flows, and there did not seem to be any particular sound of the tabla that Zakir had missed! He introduced a sound and then he made a story around it. Tabla players are not supposed to deal with melody lines, but apparently Zakir missed the memo. Using the tuning hammer and of course, his sleight of hand, Zakir even made the dagga sing the opening line of ‘Eine Kleine Nachtmusik‘ by Mozart! And when it ended, needless to say, jaws dropped to the floor amidst a raucous applause! Following two more standards, the artistes were felicitated and the performance came to a close.

There were a few sticking points, however. It was disheartening to see premature departures for a sizeable number of the audience, in the middle of such a great show. Zakir jokingly enquired if we were still around to listen to the last two numbers. The crowd didn’t refrain from chitchatting in the middle of the performances either and some even turned up for the event, an hour into the show. And if this wasn’t enough, following the show, a few disgruntled and self-proclaimed ‘music-lovers’ angrily demanded to be let into the room backstage where the artists had a few minutes to relax after the show. The well-behaved portion of the crowd will want to take back only the music with them on their way out, but sadly they will also remember these untoward incidents.

To end on a positive note, it is noteworthy to mention that as evidence of this performance, the artistes were definitely neither a slave to their technique nor particularly keen on speed to which they noticed the audience’s spontaneous appreciation. Bela’s triplets were simple yet contained the perfect harmonizing notes and one achieves such musicianship and speed of thought only after years of devoted practice. One would be quick to assign the handling of the groove to the rhythm section, but the trio had the musical acumen to share responsibilities and Bela ably provided the pulse to let Edgar and Zakir explore and venture into more improvisational territories. The difficulty of playing an upright bass is often overlooked, but Edgar Meyer proved that he is truly a virtuoso not just as a bassist but also as a musician. Then we come to Zakir, whose playing never ceases to amaze the audience. His beats are often conversational, he finds the right gaps to insert the odd interjection, yet he retains the groove and does not overplay. Even musicians who attended the concert and who do not play these instruments per se will take home a lot of lessons.

An ideal concert is probably one that gives people a lot to think about in addition to the music that they’ll remember for a while. This was probably one of those events.

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Ganesh Viswanathan

Ganesh Viswanathan is a musician, a designer and sometimes both at the same time. Caffeine is known to derive its energising properties from him. Nobody knows the exact moment when he dismantles an idle mobile phone or steals food from another plate.


The Maulbronn Musical Miracle





Saturday, the 5th of March 2011, the Nathaniel School of Music conducted a choir workshop at the All Saints’ Church, Bangalore. The workshop was conducted by the members of the Maulbronn Seminar Choir , Germany, led by world renowned conductor, Jürgen Budday.

Jürgen Budday conducts three different choirs and has been a music instructor for 32 years in the Maulbronn Seminar, Germany. Twenty five students of his sixty two members of the choir accompanied him here, where he spoke to the audience on the importance of vocal techniques and voice toning exercises.

German Music has always been an inspiration for pioneering music from the baroque period through the classical era with legends like Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert and Mozart. Classic operas, chorales and oratorios were heavily patronized and popularized by orchestras, choirs and conductors of bygone Germany. Therefore watching this choir as their four-part harmonies transported us into their world was the most delightful experience.

Even more wonderful was the fact that this choir comprised of prodigious high school-goers who not only held music scores but could read them too! Each of them was trained in either vocal or instrumental music apart from their regular syllabus at the Seminar. The finesse and brilliance of the music-making here is breathtaking. It is a high school just like any other except, here every 10th and 11th grade student is a part of this spectacular choir. Students are encouraged and trained in the genre of music that they choose to pursue. From traditional oratorios, that the children swear to uphold, to modern metal, one could find a patron of almost every kind of music in that bunch of enthusiasts. Yorick Fischer, one of the bass singers with the choir went on to say, “A very good thing about Maulbronn is that you can have all kinds of music at one place. For instance, I am a brutal death metal fan and a drummer and at Maulbronn, I can take professional growling lessons, professional screaming lessons. So one is not restricted to take up choral music alone.

The discipline and passion of every singer and the 14-year old Ruediger Garhoefer who accompanied them on the piano truly had us all smiling as they sang the lovely ‘Canon‘ and their own rendition of a song called ‘Sing Acapella’. Awestruck, we asked the conductor about their practice schedules to which he replied, “We meet regularly once a week. But if a performance is on the cards, then we have intensive practice sessions for 3 full days. At Maulbronn, the music never ceases. You will find students singing all around the school in their free time.

Our desire to be able to sing like that with them was fulfilled only moments later, when after engaging in a couple of odd looking exercises, the crowd discovered their voices and sang, “doo ba doo doo sing acapella” with the choir. The youngest of them all, the 14 year old pianist, took a little session on piano playing techniques following which a young violinist too educated us on his intriguing instrument. He went on to perform a classic violin piece that everyone was delighted to witness.

The youngsters exhibited their skills at not only singing but also in dancing later that evening, as they spiritedly attempted to learn a few techniques of Indian Classical dance from the troupe of classical dancers who performed for them. A casual evening of cultural mixing like no other, the joy, acceptance and appreciation were not lacking on either side, while my uplifted mind lay wrapped in wonder of the Miracle of Music that binds us all together even in this World.