Rohan Malhotra ’11 Embraces His Heritage

Whether or not most PA students have heard of the tabla, they probably have heard of Rohan Malhotra. Malhotra has displayed his skill as a percussionist and expressed dedication to his heritage by playing the tabla, an Indian hand-drum, in numerous Indo-pak events, Drumline and the Academy Jazz band. Furthermore, Malhotra embraces the challenge of adapting an ancient musical style to modern situations, as demonstrated by his unique role in last term’s production of “Oedipus Rex.” Q: When did you start playing tabla? Why? What has given you the motivation to stay so dedicated to this instrument? A: Wanting to retain some of my Indian culture, I started learning tabla when I was eight years old. Ironically, my teacher is not Indian…I have been studying under Jerry Leake, a Boston-based musician who plays all types of percussion, ranging from the West African talking drum to the western vibraphone. Because the tabla means so much in terms of my heritage, I am determined to continue practicing this instrument. Its uniqueness compared to other western percussion also makes me motivated to stay dedicated. Q: Many people may never have heard about or seen a tabla. Can you tell us a little about this ancient instrument? A: The tabla is a North Indian percussion instrument consisting of two hand drums. The instrument is played with the fingers and palms while the player sits on the floor cross-legged. The smaller drum, called the “tabla,” is played with the dominant hand and is made out of teak and rosewood. The larger drum, called the “bayan,” is made out of brass and provides the deep bass sound. Together, the two drums collaborate to create vibrant and graceful rhythms. Q: Do you play any other percussion instruments? A: I began learning snare drum in fifth grade and drum set a few years later. Though the technique is completely different from Indian drums, I was able to learn rhythms more easily because of my study of tabla. Currently, I also take part in the Academy Jazz Band and Drumline. Q: How did coming to PA affect your tabla playing? Do you think it was harder to find time to practice and/or easier to find opportunities to share your talent? How is your tabla playing received? A: PA has allowed me to showcase this unique instrument to a new audience. Before I was only performing in front of other Indians, but now I am able to introduce tabla to people who have never listened to any Indian music before. However, PA has definitely made it harder to find time to practice with the workload and other extracurricular activities. I think most people are interested in my performances because I present such a unique style of music. I am not saying they always enjoy it, but they do find it very different. My friends show a lot of support and they also enjoy it because it is out of the ordinary. Q: How did you come about getting your unique role in “Oedipus Rex?” Did you feel in your element or was this a completely new experience for you? A: Initially, I was going to perform tabla to accompany the production. However, it did not provide the proper affect to the play. To make use of the unique set and add to the spooky feel of “Oedipus Rex,” we experimented with the sound of the pipes on the platforms. This role was a completely new experience, though I was familiar with the improvisation, as it is essential to all types of percussion. Q: How do you see tabla playing as a part of your future? A: I see tabla as a way to stay in touch with my Indian culture. Being in a different country, my parents have tried to teach the culture that they grew up in, so I am definitely not going to give up playing tabla. I think I will continue to play casually for years to come, performing at smaller venues whenever possible. Q: Do you encourage fellow PA students to learn how to play the tabla/other percussion instruments? Why? A: Initially, percussion is definitely one of the easier instruments to begin to learn because you only need to be able to read rhythms. That is why I think people should give percussion a try. For example, Drumline always has one or two members who have never used a drumstick before their audition. But drumming can definitely get complicated very quickly. Nevertheless, I encourage everyone to give percussion a try. To this point, Rohan is pleased to announce that his tabla teacher Jerry Leake, drumset teacher Bertram Lehmann and their world jazz ensemble Natraj will be performing on April 9th in Cochran Chapel. The concert will also feature Indian classical musicians, Tara Anand, Durga Krishnan and Pravin Sitaram, who will perform their own classical Indian segment as well as accompany Natraj in an Indo-Jazz collaboration. Please come experience this unique concert that will take place on our own campus.