It Takes All Types!
I met with a very old friend today, one of the first people I ever drummed with back in the early 70’s and some one who has inspired and encouraged me in the past as well. We were on the beach talking to some kids from Sweeden and he was telling them about what he does. He is a street poet, he busks and starts impromptu percussions jams with people picking up his many small percussion instruments he hands out that they probably have never seen or heard before. He was explaining how they looked at him, at the instruments curious if he was trying to sell them or ? And he went on to explain how much fun they had, how excited they are.
I had seen it before and actually been a part of it, it was awful musically of course and we both laughed again when I mentioned how it was nightmarish for me. I wanted to acknowledge how I understand that this experience is valid for him and them, even inspirational. With out him, or people to introduce us or encourage us we might not be playing. And we laughed later as I told him it is amazing we are best of friends yet every thing he does percussion wise is a polar opposite of what I am about.
We are like brothers, so this is a theme that hits very close to home. He still only plays one beat, the same one from the 70’s, the same one he showed me back then. That’s it! Most people, even other musicians do not or can not tell the difference between someone who can play or not. One of his friends he performs with had taken me aside last year and said, “Michael, can you please teach this guy how to play”?
I did not know what to say or do. I have offered him free lessons, invited him to all my classes. But in reality, his only interest in to hop around on stage and basically look the part. To be a showman. He just does not care. At the same time he has excellent natural rhythm. He could be great! He gets gigs, and works all winter with bands in another country that do not know the difference. Since he jumps around, dances and “explodes” on stage, he is often the most colorful person on the stage and people want him in their groups. He is fun to be around.
Meanwhile, all around the globe percussionists who are actually musicians, who study and are trained are often not getting gigs because they do not have a “routine” or may not look the part. And often djembe players are piled unfairly and automatically into the “djembe=drum circle=chaos” category in people’s brain. I mentioned to him how I am trying to get the message across to people that being untrained is their choice. I understand.
However, to also realize that since that’s all that people see and know, people are going to think this is what percussion is all about. If they see people acting foolish that is what they are going to equate drumming with. If they drummers playing in am organized, harmonious way then that can also be what people equate drumming with. I feel it is very important for the masses, the audiences be it large or small to start seeing organized, musically oriented and trained percussion as well.
It is a slow and gradual education process that needs to happen for all of us. Not just for posing percussionists but for everyone who listens to music . And that is going to mean all of is continuing to share and push our outreach out there despite the odds against us in terms of sheer numbers of people who could care less.
I think it starts with us respecting our instruments and their heritage. If people, other musicians audiences see , hear and experience people who respect our drums and the culture and context it comes from then an education will begin and things will begin to change for the better. But it does indeed start with us, with us being an example of the change we want to see.