On August 6th, an overjoyed audience was captivated witnessing the latest chapter in the ancient and ongoing story of the Guru-Shishya Parampara. This tale began 11 years ago with the meeting of the Sishya Arun Sabapathy and the Guru Pt. Shantilal Shah. That first meeting saw loving parents urge a young boy to meet his Guru with folded hands in Pranaam. It was evident just how much Arun has learned since that first day, presenting the result of his 11 years to a packed auditorium at the University of St. Thomas. The concert concluded with Arun, now a young adult, on the path to becoming a Tabla player and once again offering his sincere Guru Pranaam.
Tabla – A Solo and Accompaniment Instrument
Tabla has a deep tradition as a solo instrument, but is primarily a rhythm instrument whose main role is to accompany other styles of music. For this event, Guru Pt. Shantilal Shah carefully crafted three unique Tabla solos pieces, each in a different rhythmic cycle. He also included a vocal performance to exhibit the accompaniment aspect of Tabla. Performing at a high standard with this sheer volume of material is a testament to the sincere Taalim of the Guru and the hard work of the student.
Guru Pranaam Begins
Emcee Srini Srivatsan introduced the program by talking about the importance of the Guru Shishya tradition in Indian culture. After his heartfelt opening, he invited the artists to the stage. Arun began with a traditional Tabla solo in Jhaptaal. Harmonium player Shri Mandar Phadke opened the piece by beautifully sculpting a melody, or Nagma, into a canvas for the Tabla. Starting slowly with only a few notes, Arun gradually developed it into an extremely complex pattern with a multitude of notes. Playing 5 pieces in this way, he concluded the first item with several powerful compositions that had an auditorium full of musicians, including senior Tabla player Pt. Omkar Gulvady, applauding loudly in appreciation.
A Fine Vocal Performance
Following this opening item was a vocal performance by Samhitha Bhat, a disciple of Guru Smt. Shruti Sample. Samhitha took the stage with no small task ahead of her and delivered an excellent performance. Beginning her performance in Raag Bageshri, she sang two melodious pieces, starting in Vilambit Ektaal and moving to Drut Ektaal for the second. She handled both pieces with mature expression and sensitivity unfolding the Raag nicely as she progressed with her performance.
She concluded with a Marathi Abhang which was the climax of her singing. Harmonium player Shri Mandar Phadke provided strong support throughout, on occasion interluding the singing with his own interpretations. Arun played with the necessary confidence and ease, showing that he is quite capable as an accompanist as well as a solo performer.
Acharya Shri Gaurang Nanavaty of Chinmaya Mission, felicitated the three artists and spoke about the hard work put into this performance. He also talked about the importance of a Guru and the often unglamorous work of teaching, which many times is unappreciated. Emphasizing the role a Guru plays in shaping the student, he appreciated the passion that Pt. Shantilal Shah maintains for his teaching and his students.
The Second Half
After a short break, Arun took the stage again, this time presenting a solo in Taal Rupak. He quickly had the audience on the edge of their seats. One of the highlights of the concert was exhibited during this piece, when he performed a very demanding and impressive note on Tabla known as dhire dhire.
The conclusion of the performance was a fast tempo Teentaal, designed to highlight many spectacular Tabla compositions involving difficult sequences and subtle expressions. Arun introduced the solo with a powerful piece which had the entire audience clapping to the beat. Playing with precision and great expression, he often gained immediate applause from the delighted audience. The intensity of the pieces grew and the excitement of the audience along with them. The final piece came with a thundering end, causing the entire audience to rise to their feet, giving Arun and his Guru Pt. Shantilal Shah a standing ovation.
After the Program
After the program, Shri Govind Shetty, President of the Indian Music Society of Houston, praised Arun’s solo and accompaniment skills. He credited the great teaching of Guru Pt. Shantilal Shah and commended his tremendous impact on Tabla playing in Houston. Finally, Pt. Shantilal Shah addressed Arun and the audience and noted the enormous effort it takes to master technique, matter, and presentation, especially when students are able to spend only a day or two a week with the teacher.
Pt. Shantilal Shah has developed a strong reputation for maintaining the authenticity of his teaching and has shaped Arun into a fine Tabla player. Guru Pranaam is a testament to talented gurus who can bless and take the new generation of artists to their full potential. On August 6th, Arun set a new bar for Tabla in Houston. This is great news for the future of Indian Classical Music in our city.
This story was published in The India Herald and the Indo American Newspaper. Click here to view the digital version online.