My Outlook: Justin Walke, Traditional Tabla Drummer

Written by Bethany Scott in the August 2013 Issue

Justin P WalkeTell us about traditional tabla drumming.

The North Indian tabla, which I use to play a very specific solo repertoire, is referred to as Lucknow gharana. “Lucknow” is a city in northern India with a rich and storied musical heritage. The word gharana means “household.” Essentially, these terms refer to a player’s stylistic heritage.

What makes this drumming style unique? 

The solo tabla style of Lucknow is at least 200 years old. Even though it’s a repertoire that is both static and ever-evolving, the emphasis remains on tonal quality, melodic phrasing and dynamic balance between drums.  

How did you get into tabla drumming?

Studying the tabla began as a hobby to build up my rhythmic knowledge but it has turned into a musical adventure, more than I ever imagined it would.

Is it a “family heritage” thing?

That’s an interesting question. My teacher in India spent ten years living with his teacher. That traditional way of learning convinced me to learn from him. Indian musicians love to ponder genealogy and stylistic lineage; who you learn from becomes a huge part of how and what you play.

Tell us about your drum collection. Are they handcrafted? 

The tabla consists of two drums. The right-hand drum, made from shisham or rosewood, is tuned to a pitch, and the left-hand drum, made from copper or brass, is not. I have five right-hand drums, the best of which I bought directly with my teacher in Delhi and are entirely handmade.

Do you give Lucknow tabla performances? Are you in a band or group?

Although I continue to practice the tabla regularly, my public performances on these traditional drums remains limited. I do, however, perform multiple times per month on the drumset. I play regularly at the UCO Jazz Lab in various groups and in a band called Defining Times.  

Tell us about your teaching. 

I’ve taught a variety of classes at [email protected] since it debuted in 2009 and I have been consistently impressed with the students there. We’ve grown tremendously as a school and we’re all set to begin what will be our best academic year yet. I also maintain a private percussion studio at Edmond Music.

Do you enjoy other musical instruments?

My musical associates know that if I weren’t a drummer, I would definitely be an acoustic bassist!

Anything else to share?

I would like to say thanks to some of my teachers: Lee Rucker, Dr. Kent Kidwell, John Riley, Dan Weiss, Ajit Sen, Pandit Probir Mittra, Dr. James Kippen, and Leon and Lavonna Whitesell—my first piano teacher. There are many others, and I’m forever indebted to them all.

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