Scenes from a Guitar Clinic

Here is a picture I share with you. 3 buses drive into Infinite Souls on a beautiful overcast Sunday morning. November 15th 2009, actually. The sun is soft on the rocks and the grass, still wet with dew. Nagamma is steaming idlis in the kitchen and Nagraj has made two chutneys – one with fresh coriander leaves and green chillies and one with roasted groundnuts and pepper. And then, out of the buses pour thirty odd….guitarists! Guitars strapped on, black jackets, metal T-shirts, denim, hair of varying lengths. I swear the land smiled.

A few minutes before Bruce and Narayan had arrived in a Scorpio and were now on the verandah. Not so long after, Joshua and Jimmy from Yamaha Guitars called from the top of the mud road and asked to be picked up as they were carrying lots of Yamaha guitars, acoustic and electric. Bharavi off to the rescue. Soon Zui’s verandah was covered with guitar stands and about 20 high end Yamaha guitars.

Kuki passes around a fragment from his Guitar Gita with notes on chord scale relationships, diatonic harmony, intervals, Blues, improvization techniques. What I like best are his gig stories though; so bang-on-the-button whack.Wonder if the guitarists knew of how closely related live music and caberet actually were and of the camraderie among live artists. Fringe folk, all. That’s the rub, innit?

We had organized 3 studio areas: Sandor Szabo www.sandorszabo.com/ in Zui’s cottage, Don Ross www.gobyfish.com/ in the big rehearsal space and Masa Sumide www.masasumide.com/ in the Round. The participant-guitarists too, divided themselves into three groups – one advanced and two intermediary groups - and headed off to the various studios. A round-robin of sorts, so each group got an hour or so with each teacher.

Sandor’s session focussed on classical guitar theory and maqam melodies. He stressed the importance of what Konarak speaks about in Guitar Gita and in general to all Indian musicians – namely, the importance of studying western harmony. Sandor said to the group - Understand the complexity of western music and bring this aspect into your playing, as Indian musicians. It will only enhance the work of an Indian musician who may already be skilled with melody and rhythm, but may lack deep knowledge of harmonies. It often shows when Indian musicians try so-called fusion - their knowledge of harmonies is still nascent, immature. But with harmony, melody and rhythm under one's belt - wow! the sky would be no limit.

Masa's a total rock star on stage. He blew everyone away that first evening. He has a sort of crazy generosity as a player - wanting to give the audience a good time...He brought his unique style and joy of playing to his session. With his very keen ear, he arranges and harmonizes popular standards and picks out the sort of voicing that works beautifully for guitar. He encouraged the group to experiment with alternate tunings such as DADGCD for the Beatles’ Penny Lane & DADGAD for many tunes. He was a very open teacher – freely sharing his finger-style methods. His version of Hotel California was apparently a big hit. I, unfortunately, was cooking or something, so missed it.

Don has to be the  funniest guitarist and best raconteur  I have ever
met. One time, while travelling with Kuki on one of his concert tours in Germany, Teja Gerken (a guitarist from San Fransisco who writes for Acoustic Music magazine) was on the same gig bus and just cracked everyone up. Don too was that sort of fantastic company. Keen to his surroundings, funny, sensitive – and he brought all of that to the clinic. Tapping, alternate tunings, a great sense of rhythm. Participants just wanted to keep jamming with him and he encouraged them to really groove; using slapping and funk techniques to drive the melody along. People knew him in Bangalore, knew his music and were thrilled to have him here.

Lunch was ragi mudde, togri saaru with fresh togri from our fields etc etc The weather got even better…

I had no idea how a guitar rosette was made. And found Arul Dominic’s afternoon session really charming. To think that a rosette is made of thousands of intricately inlaid wooden sticks of variously coloured wood that are finer than toothpicks…! What a labour of love and what a fine craft. Lower-end factory made guitars these days just have a sticker slapped on – I can’t think of a decent analogy, but it seems somewhat flawed and tawdry. It’s quite remarkable that we have a skilled luthier in Dominic right here in Bangalore and really hope more and more serious guitarists will turn to him for their instruments.

Late evening… the participants performed under the thatch and received feedback from Sandor, Masa, Don and Konarak. The idea was to try techniques received over the course of the day and not to bother with sounding good alone, but rather to take risks and try things. It was haunting to listen to them as the sun set. Seasoned guitarists, hobby players as well as some really young players all joined together. There was a camaraderie and sharing that made for a magic day’s end. Here’s to Bangalore’s guitarists! And here’s to them changing the face of music all over!

PS - Ruth Padel is in Bangalore today. I offer you a poem by her. It seems synchronous! Oudh, guitar...both string instruments requiring the skills of a luthier.

by Ruth Padel

published in The New Yorker, October 2008

The first day he cut rosewood for the back,
bent sycamore into ribs and made a belly
of mahogany. Let us go early to the vineyards
and see if the vines have budded.
The sky was blue over the Jezreel valley
and the gilt dove shone
above the Church of the Annunciation.
The second day, he carved a camelbone base
for the fingerboard.
I sat down under his shadow with delight.

The third day, he made a nut of sandalwood,
and a pickguard of black cherry.
He damascened a rose of horn
with arabesques
as lustrous as under-leaves of olive beside the sea.
I have found him whom my soul loves.
He inlaid the soundhole with ivory swans,
each pair a Valentine of entangled necks,
and fitted tuning pegs of apricot
to give a good smell when rubbed.

The fourth was a day for cutting
the high strings, from camel-gut. His left hand
shall be under my head.
For the lower course, he twisted copper strings
pale as tarmac under frost.
He shall lie all night between my breasts.
The fifth day he laid down varnish.
Our couch is green and the beams of our house
are cedar and pine. Behind the neck
he put a sign to keep off the Evil Eye.

My beloved is a cluster of camphire
in the vineyards of Engedi
and I watched him whittle an eagle-feather, a plectrum
to celebrate the angel of improvisation
who dwells in clefts on the Nazareth ridge
where love waits. And grows, if you give it time.
Set me as a seal upon your heart.
On the sixth day the soldiers came
for his genetic code.
We have no record of what happened.

I was queueing at the checkpoint to Galilee.
I sought him and found him not.
He’d have been in his open-air workshop -
I called but he gave me no answer -
the selfsame spot
where Jesus stood when He came from Capernaum
to teach in synagogue, and townsfolk tried
to throw Him from the rocks. Until the day break
and shadows flee away
I will get me to the mountain of myrrh.

The seventh day we set his wounded hands
around the splinters. Come with me from Lebanon
my spouse, look from the top
of Shenir and Hermon, from the lions' dens.
On the eighth there were no more days.
I took a class in carpentry and put away the bridal rug.
We started over
with a child’s ‘oud bought on eBay.
He was a virtuoso of the ‘oud
and his banner over me was love.

1 comment:

  1. Nice picture painted with words. Thanks to you Kirtana and Konarak for inviting me to be part of the clinic. A memorable day really.