A friend of mine invited me out to drum at the Lake Claire Community Land Trust last night. Neither of us had been there in quite some time, so it was high time we attended! It’s usually just thunder drumming, though there were certainly times of coalescence in the rhythms. The weather was perfect for outdoor drumming around a bonfire and the energy was strong! Personally, I haven’t had an opportunity to play with that much gusto in some time. It was really good to just cut loose and play as hard as I could. I think I may have bruised my hands some, which I didn’t think possible at this stage in my playing. We’ll have to hit the Land Trust drum circle sooner next time rather than waiting a year first!
It has been a year since I went to Bonnaroo and I’ve just realized that I never wrote anything about the experience. At least nothing of any real length. Since it has been so long, I’m just going to hit on two things that really stand out in my memory.
For those of you that don’t know, I was asked to attend Bonnaroo to help out at a drum building workshop, Build-a-Drum by Stan Secrest. I attended one of his workshops in the previous fall and we stayed in touch afterward. It didn’t take long for him to come knocking on my door to lend a hand at the up and coming multi-day music festival.
The job began the moment I arrived and found our plot of land on which I would be spending the greatest portion of my time on. I immediately was put to work on painting a sign for the site. I also took stock of our situation, got some groundwork for what was to come, and freshened up my knowledge of the knots and sequence to build the drums. There were the pleasantries as well – getting to know the rest of the staff. That first day was the easiest I would know. We setup the site, readied the displays, organized materials, and then got back to our campsite and were fed by one of the helpers.
That night, it was a remarkable site to behold; the patrons arrived by the thousand. Car after car well into the night, continuing through the next day. Tent city had exploded over night – as far as the eye could see, there were tents. We had our marching orders and filed into the site seemingly a mile away from the vendor camping area (a very nice benefit, actually). The first day, everyone got involved in sales. We had to get people started in building their drums to give them the most time during the week to complete them. We also started taking on some drums to prepare as examples for others to see. It didn’t take long for people to start rolling in. It was as though some were there with the specific intention to find this booth! And why not, Stan has been doing Bonnaroo for nearly a decade. Once we had a good number of people working on drums, it was clear to see how much work was about to come down on us. Preparing a shell is largely on the customer, but preparing and tightening a head took all of our efforts to teach and assist with the process.
What started on that first day did not end until I packed up early and left the crew for my return trip home on Sunday. I hated to leave them as they were, but I really had to go and get back to my family! We spent up to 18 hours a day cranking out shells to everyone that came in. I forget the numbers, but I want to say that Stan sold 1,000 drums that week. There was an epic amount of work to be performed for all those customers. Most of them spent 6-8 hours with us throughout the event, so there were even friendships made in that time. I’ll break down the procedure, though it cannot do it justice:
- Wrap the rings in cloth
- Knot the rings for the pulls
- stretch the skin
- lace the pulls
- tighten the pulls
- tighten the pulls
- tighten the pulls
Between tying the knots and tightening the pulls, the hands get quite a workout. I remember that it took a week for my hands to begin to feel like normal again.
The labor was intense, but it felt so good to just put everything you had into this process. To help so many people and really feel their appreciation of your effort. You bust your ass all day in the heat, then drag yourself out of the festival to crash back at the campsite by 3:00am every morning. The best was that part of our crew was dedicated to meals, and there were showers available in the vendor camping area. When I got back to the campground at the end of every day, I’d go take a good shower in the wee-hours to prepare for the next day. That was a treat!
Well into these hard-working days, I got my first real break. Stan had told us all that we’d get a chance to go see some of the festival while we were here, and my turn had come around. I was off to see Amadou and Mariam perform at a nearby stage. I had enjoyed their music having learned about it about a year prior, and this seemed like the only opportunity I would have to see the musical duo out of Mali, Africa. What I saw took my breath away. I found a modest crowd milling around the stage as the band started up. I knew what to expect from the music, so headed right for the front knowing I would have no wish to leave early. As I stood there and head-bopped, I began to notice a shift in the audience. I don’t think they knew anything about this band, but as they listened, and realized too that this was a blind duo, their attitude changed and there was a spreading joy throughout. People started receding to the edges of the venue where they shouted at passerby’s to come in and listen. This meager crowd was calling for everyone within earshot to come and hear Amadou and Mariam perform. The venue filled, and the energy was butane in the air to be ignited by a truly rockin’ performance! There were African dancers on the stage, a phenomenal djembe player, the expected assortment of rock musicians, and Amadou on the electric – singing along with Mariam on vocals. The performance was so intense, it brought tears to my eyes in the moment.
I have some certainty that my overwhelming emotional response was, in part, due to the stress of the trip. However, the performance was one of my personal favorites despite this. I’d see them again in a heartbeat.
So there are my two key memories of this experience in Bonnaroo. I’d love to do it again should the opportunity arise. Though next time, I’ll want my wife to join me and be a part of it. Perhaps on a second tour we could have more time for the concerts – the Bonnaroo experience – while still getting enjoyment out of the raw effort delivered in building drums for the hundreds!
I’m imagining some possible scenarios where I could lead a drum circle into a sort of performance. Most facilitated drum circles enter into spontaneous or random rhythms and are then led to compose the music. I would really like to lead people (sometimes naively) into known songs. There’s an extra sense of excitement when you realize you’re playing an actual song. Even if you don’t know the song, being led through a composed set of rhythms is very rewarding! I spent about 10 minutes this morning and worked out the basic rhythms within M.I.A.’s “Galang.” It’s a fun piece of music if you haven’t heard it (YouTube link provided below). My intention in recreating it for a drum circle is not to play the song succinctly, but rather to have all the parts present and accounted for. When and for how long each part plays is up to the facilitator. If the groove is held well, someone could play the voice part through a solo drum!
Drum Circle Arrangement, Galang:
M.I.A., Galang (emebedding not allowed)
Last night marks the first time I’ve been able to use the fancy new field recorder to do some real recording. Although there were only two of us to play, and I was certainly a bit out of sorts, we were able to pull off some interesting bits that rendered pretty well on the H2. The recording took place in a large area – similar to a mall.
- Tomorrow is Christmas – the 5-year-old is starting to vibrate. #
- Balthazar just called the clock a “time machine.” Fitting, really. #
- I hate cats at Christmas – they break your ornaments! #
- Merry Christmas! #
- I got the Zoom H2 field recorder! You can expect to hear some live drumming in the future. #
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The big deal for me at Christmas this year was the receipt of my first stereo, personal field recorder. I got a Zoom H2, which has its list of unhappy customers, but is also one of the more popular devices to own for the money. This is the big time for yours truly because it means I’ll be able to record my drum circles and the occasional Gypsy band jam session (in which I am a contributing percussionist). I am so looking forward to this!
I have also recently attended a drum building workshop (mental note: blog about the workshop), and built my very first drum. I should say, finished my very first drum shell – that is where the workshop begins. It has been several weeks since the workshop, but I have only just been able to dedicate proper time and attention this evening to the tuning of said drum. Since I was trying somewhat to be good to my neighbors, I kept the energy attenuated.
To kick off my eager anticipation of the H2 and Thunderhead, I’ve recorded my first moments using both. It’s completely raw and unedited. There are also some distinctions in the three recordings that are really only meaningful to me. Suffice it to say, I’m still working with the tuning of my drum and the use of a new electronic gadget.
- Tomorrow I attend a “Build-a-Drum” workshop. Very exciting! #
- My son’s kindergarten teacher called me in to pickup a “sharp object.” It was a 3/4″ Forstner drill bit that he had forgotten in his pocket. #
- First day of drum building was eventful! Tomorrow, I finish up and get to hear how it sounds. #
- A mere 20 hours later and I have a drum from the drum-building workshop! #
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Frequency is probably a term more commonly associated with 80’s synth-pop artists and electrical sound engineers. However, it’s not to be underestimated or underutilized as a viable word in other situations.
I worked with one of the more difficult teaching challenges in my experience yesterday at my drum circle. A gentleman joined us with a peculiar short-coming – he had no current musical interest and an unclear memory of the interests from 30+ years ago when he called it (music) quits. I see many people that claim to have “no rhythm.” At face value, it’s true. However, everyone has rhythm whether they recognize it or not. Your heart beat has kept a rhythm for your entire life; surely one can learn to keep one externally for a few minutes. As it turns out, there are some people that this may seem even less possible for. This guy that I worked with seemed to have a real mental block to rhythm, or to something even more fundamental – frequency. In his words, he had trouble with numbers in that they held no relevance. I believe the problem was actually that he assigned no frequency to numbers. In order for counting to assist you in musical timing, one must use a consistent spacing between the numbers. Without it, counting does us no good. I attempted to teach this concept in many styles; visual, tactile, and aural. Each of them seemed to provide a glimpse of what he was missing, but none of them resonated completely. Having thought about it more sense the drum circle, I have some additional ideas of how to get this message across.
For one, utilizing the old method of counting seconds may be helpful (e.g. one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, etc.). Forcing yourself to say one thousand between every second counted manages to keep many of us attuned to a consistent frequency. There is also the issue of matching patterns, which I think people can more easily grasp than timing. My five-year-old is learning about patterns in kindergarten as an introduction to math. Following this course, I may be able to explain frequency in terms that a potential drummer can understand. In the end, I want this guy to grasp the concept of the wave. Hear the noise of each crest. Feel the silence at each trough. Of course, the goal is anticipation. Without that – and this is something that he struggles with – one can never ride the wave!
- @brianb I was set to buy three of those, but determined I couldn’t actually use them yet. HD prices always go down, so it’s okay to wait. #
- Just ordered Xara Xtreme Pro (upgrade). This is one of the few pieces of software I *actually* own and maintain! #
- Drum circle tonight in hometown. #
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