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Akron Beacon Journal Review

Drummer on a roll

Master of tabla from India enthralls Ellet students with his music and more

By Elaine Guregian
Beacon Journal music writer

Ken Love / Akron Beacon Journal

Sandip Burman is intent in his playng and an Ellet student is intent in his watching.

You could have heard a feather drop Wednesday morning in the auditorium at Ellet High School. That's the way tabla player Sandip Burman wanted it, and that's what he got from a group of students from music and world history classes sitting on stage near him.

Barefoot, cross-legged and surrounded by a circle of 10 small drums shaped like short bongos, Burman held his wrists near the drumheads and let his fingers flutter. Fast, resonant pattering was punctuated with deep, earthy slaps as Burman spun out intricate rhythms at top speed.

Burman began studying the oral tradition of tabla playing at age 6 while growing up in India. Now 40, the musician maintains a home in Calcutta and frequently tours the United States to perform and give workshops for students, in the hope, he said, of exposing them to Indian music. On Saturday, he'll give a concert at Oberlin College Conservatory. On Oct. 22, he'll perform at Walsh University in North Canton.

Burman plays Indian classical music, but he is sought after for his versatility in other forms of music, too. He has performed with stars such as Ravi Shankar, Bela Fleck and Al DiMeola.

Adam Grom, the director of instrumental music at Ellet, arranged for Burman's visit.

He especially wanted the students in his jazz ensemble to hear this masterful player.

You can't cover an entire system of music in a morning, but in a couple of hours, with some students coming and going, Burman covered a remarkable amount of ground.

He set out to explain some of the basics, beginning with an elaborate tuning process. As the students watched, Burman took a small hammer to tap at the rim of each drum, adjusting the tension on the camel straps around its side to change the pitch, then tapping the goatskin head to see if it was in tune. There is no shortcut through this time-consuming process, nor is there a quick way to become a musician.

``Eat it, sleep it, drink it, dream it and 20 years later you will get it,'' Burman told the students more than once.

He went on to explain the mechanics of an Indian raga (melody) and rhythm (tala). Getting the students involved, Burman had Grom conduct a steady beat, then had the students clap on beats one, three and eight. Not as easy as it sounds, if you want to do it cleanly. And precision was everything to this fastidious musician.

Western musicians know about solfege, the do-re-mi way to sing notes. Burman walked the class through the syllables Indian music uses for rhythmic solfege, to sing rhythmic patterns.

Some students, like Cody Aldstadt, had heard a tabla player before. Comfortable in the subject, Cody asked a lot of questions. A group of students who stayed after the session ended called it ``amazing.'' From the way they hurried to help answer a reporter's questions, it was clear that when Burman talked, they had listened.

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