Tabla for Two: Marching to the beat of a different drummer

tabla

Abigail Adams Greenway’s whimsical art has always reflected what she describes as her “colorful far-out nature.” But for the past two years, Greenway has truly been marching to the beat of a different drummer.

Since her first lesson with the tabla in February 2012, her life has been totally consumed by the highly complex percussion instruments that carry the beat of classical Indian music. She’ll share her love for the unusual instrument with an Erie audience on Feb. 10 when Tabla for Two performs at Mercyhurst University as part of the Roche Visiting Artists Series.

Tabla for Two – Greenway and her teacher, Masood Omari – performs Omari’s own compositions, which blend classical Eastern beats with Western style, a fusion of East and West that’s mirrored in their own partnership.

“We don’t know of any other Western women playing tabla,” Greenway explains. It’s also rare for a male and female to play tabla together, or for a master to collaborate with his student, she adds.

A lifelong lover of all kinds of music, Greenway has always been drawn to classical, world beats, avant garde and jazz. Coming to tabla has been a natural evolution of these interests, she says.

Greenway, her husband Lauder and daughter Lily split their time between Erie and Bethesda, Md. She met Omari by chance in an Afghan showroom/shop in Georgetown where he was working with Oriental carpets and teaching tabla. Omari says he recognized Greenway’s aptitude for his instrument as soon as he began teaching her.

Greenway, her husband Lauder and daughter Lily split their time between Erie and Bethesda, Md.. She met Omari by chance in an Afghan showroom/shop in Georgetown where he was working with Oriental carpets and teaching tabla. Omari says he recognized Greenway’s aptitude for the instrument as soon as he began teaching her.

A native of Ghazny, Afghanistan, he has been playing tabla for 22 years, earning his gurmani (mastership) in 2002 in the renowned Punjab lineage. He is also a loom builder and weaver, though today he devotes most of his time to his music. Omari has accompanied some of the greatest classical Afghani and Pakistani singers on stages in Europe and America; he is also proficient at playing the dholak and harmonium and is a talented singer.

Greenway now devotes six to eight hours a day to practice. “I’ve probably crammed 15 years worth of training and practice into the past two years,” she says. Greenway plays a trio of small tabla known as ziels and has become skilled on the harmonium.

Her love of tabla has spilled over into other facets of her life as well. She’s designed and decorated a tabla room in her Bethesda home where Tabla for Two rehearses and performs for very small groups. She’s also assembled a signature wardrobe for her performances, and created visual art inspired by the unique look of the tabla. “This is my new art expression,” she says. “This has become my total calling.”

Tabla for Two has performed in many venues, including Boston, Brooklyn and Georgetown, and in many private homes.

The tabla consists of two upright drums covered with leather membranes, each with a distinctive black circle in the center created by applying layers of tuning paste. They are played with the fingers and palms. Each drumstroke can be expressed as a syllable, creating an extensive vocabulary of sounds known as “tabla talk.”

Dr. Albert Glinsky, professor of music at Mercyhurst, says he’s known Abigail Adams Greenway for years as a prominent visual artist in the region and always admired her vast creative imagination. After hearing Tabla for Two last year during a private home performance, he says, “I was astounded by Abigail's mastery of this complex musical discipline, and mesmerized by the musical synergy she and Masood brought to their art. Tom and Mary Gamble were also present, and afterwards we instantly concurred that Tabla for Two needed to be heard at Mercyhurst.”

You can hear the mesmerizing music of Tabla for Two on Monday, Feb. 10, at 8 p.m. in Mercyhurst’s Walker Recital Hall. It’s the third event of this year’s Visiting Artists Series, which is now in its 25th anniversary season. Thanks to an endowment by Terry & Margaret M. Roche, the performance is free and open to the public. Tabla for Two will also present a master class for Mercyhurst music students on Tuesday, Feb. 11, at 2 p.m. in Walker Hall. The public is welcome to observe.

“Together, these events offer a rare chance for the community to experience a dynamic and enchanting art form that reaches across time and cultures as an example of the 'universal language' of music,” Glinsky says. 

To learn more about Tabla for Two, and view video clips of their performances, visit tablafortwo.com. For information about their Erie concert, call 814-824-2394.

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