Churchville, thirty-five, calls the tabla "the most technically demanding instrument I have ever tried to learn." At the prestigious California Institute of the Arts, he learned to play on a set borrowed from world percussionist John Bergamo; their practice sessions sometimes went far into the evening. Churchville's most influential teacher, though, was the great tabla player Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri, now director of CalArts' world music program.
Chaudhuri's lessons went beyond playing the instrument to the rhythmic theory behind the tabla, Indian music, and Indian culture in general. Even so, it took three years of intense study before Churchville felt confident enough to perform in student recitals, and another two years before he performed in front of general audiences.
Churchville and his wife, Jody, also a Michigan native, moved to Ann Arbor six years ago; they have two young children. In addition to working as music director of Go Like the Wind! Montessori school, Churchville leads the classical Indian music group Sumkali. Named for two tabla drumbeats, it plays at festivals, cultural gatherings, and other venues.
At Sumkali's monthly Indian music night at the Crazy Wisdom Tea Room, Churchville, a slim six feet three inches, with dark hair and a beard, sits on the floor with five other musicians. For two hours, they make an ancient and mystical sounding music that feels to a listener like a slow boat ride down the Ganges River--which is, in fact, the subject of one of their songs.