"Beat" Back the Blues

It has been a great couple of days with news that Dad was steadily improving and the situations I found myself in.

I enjoyed rehearsals again on Thursday night. I probably did marginally better than the last time, in that I got a sense of how singing in unison on back up vocals (BVs in the rock band lingo) and singing a different key, while harmonizing, works. I was able to do that well enough. But I still didn’t do as well as the music director expected on keeping the beat. He kept showing me different ways of doing it, tapping my foot four times, or taking a deep breath at the pause or listening for the snare drum on the backbeat (terms I didn’t even know until last night!) but no matter what he tried I either came in a fraction of a second sooner or later. At one point I felt I was being punished as the music director set a new exercise for me. He said keep counting one…two…three…four and clapping each time you count, keep going until I ask you to stop. Well!! That is not an easy thing to do! You try doing it some time! It is like being told to write 50 times on the blackboard – “I will not miss a beat…I will not miss a beat…” I thought he would never ask me to stop. But when he saw beads of sweat trickling down my forehead he must have taken pity.

Another member of the band was nicer. He coached me on the basics of rock. Most rock music is a four beat affair he said. He suggested the best way to get a sense of the rock beat was to sit on your speakers at home or to go to any disco joint. If neither was an option and if the only place where you could listen to the music was your car then the best thing to do was to crank up the volume, and turn the bass all the way up. The thump, thump, thump, thump of the speakers would then tell you exactly where the beats were. He asked that between now and December 15th, the day of our show, I should make thumps a part of my inner constitution…like listening to my own magnified heart beat. For the next three weeks I am required to eat, drink and breathe rock.

That has never been too difficult for me. The first exposure to the Beatles, twenty something years ago and I was hooked. There was no turning back. It was the most addictive music I had ever heard. I never was able to describe the reasons for this affinity; I just knew I loved it, just as much as I loved the old Hindi film music I had grown up listening. Now I realize it is this beat, the four beats 1,2,3,4 that just get into your system and get everything thumping. I was just too much of an approximist and too distracted to pay any attention to what was going on in the BVs, the drums and the guitars. I have spent the last few hours learning about terms like downbeat (when beats 1 and 3 are stressed) and upbeat or backbeat (when 2 and 4 are stressed). Why, it works exactly like metered poetry is supposed to work! Perhaps this is why David Israel, whose creativity on this board inspires me, thinks in terms of “beats” when writing his poetry. Poetry is primarily about recitation so beats or stressed and unstressed syllables are equally important. I get it! And that snare drum, I didn’t even know which part of the six-part drum set was known as the snare drum, which is where the backbeat hangs. I am thrilled at this new learning; things that were always there for me to pick up but never before caught my attention. No wonder Bob Seger was inspired to sing – Just take those old records off the shelf/I’ll sit and listen to ‘em by myself/today’s music ain’t got the same soul/I like that old time rock ‘n’ roll – now I can hear each beat as I hum this song. This got me thinking about my other favorite type of music too – old Hindi film songs and lately Indian classical. The focus on beats in rock brought me back to my old frustration with talas. For many months now I have sought some guidance on this subject. Richa was kind enough to enlighten me a few months ago. She had also mentioned in passing, while going over Dhaa Dhin Dhin Dhaa… and teentala, that most rock music worked on this system. My only reaction then was a stunned, “Really??” Now I see it, another revelation. Ever since I started watching the effects of a pumped up bass on the shaking windows of my parked car I see her point, here are the four beats! Such are the fascinating connections that a musically illiterate person stretches to make, rock music another form of teentala??

Certainly lots of scope for idle thinking here, but it certainly lightened the mood quite a bit. And then came the best possible news – my Dad is now off the ventilator, breathing on his own, off the dialysis machine, awake, responsive and talking to us! So off to Canada we go, can’t wait to see him tomorrow. Will be listening to a thumping beat all the way as I look forward to saying – “this too has passed!”


  1. Beatiful! Loved every word – and was mostly swaying my head in concurrence, and of course, the feet were tapping to an imaginary beat 🙂 Good luck with the rehearsals, now that you're equipped to beat those blues and rock that stage! :)Ronj

  2. is dad all better now?prayersroop 🙂

  3. Hi Pragya,Glad to know dad is stable. Will pray.J

  4. finally got here after searching on the board (why'd you take it off?) That's "keharwa" btw – the most popular base for standard rock – dha dhin na ti nak dhin :)R

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