In my time I have seen everything happen at playing sessions. From people breakdown crying, to fist fights. Drumming, as we all know being incredibly theraputic, can bring out both the best and worst in people, or at least some deep rooted “stuff”.
It is important to know when to communicate and also how to.
I have a history of problems with neighbors about “noise”. Let’s face it, some people can not handle us practicing or playing. The drums scare them. It touches some place deep inside them they have not been in touch with.
A great approach Boaz, the co founder of Barabajaba used was to go to the neighbors house very humbly and make friends with them. He listened to what they had to say with out arguing and offered them free tickets to our show. He asked them how we could compromise. “kill them with kindness” my father Oscar used to say.
Although the local Hawaiin people loved when Barabajaba rehearsed at my house, my next door neighbor did not. She came over to my house in complete flipped out rage. She kept repeating the same thing over and over again how it was making her crazy. Instead of fighting with her I, like Boaz asked her if we could compromise.
She was irrational and not willing to compromise. So I asked her when do you go to work? It turned out there were two days that she was not home at all that was perfect for us to rehearse at my house. Interestingly enough, she stil did not want us to practice at my house even when she was not there, but that was her problem. And it worked out.
Another neighbor came by yelling as well. She told us she was a drummer herself, but we were out of rythym. Our time was bad and it was driving her crazy. Jesse mentioned that she was probably on meds.
She argued that there were other neighbors that did not like the music coming out of my house as well. I mentioned to her that they need to contact me directly. I had to ask her to get off of my property. When I would see her riding her bike I would smile and say hello. She never came over to the house again.
I once built a soundproof room in Mill Valley, California when I bought my first house, to protect the neighbors from my “excessive” sound. They reported me to the building commission (I did not have a permit) and I had to deconstruct it at great expense. It was unfortunate for all of us because then they had no sound deadening! Probably some simple communication before hand would have been wise by me.
How do we deal with other drummers who are out of line? Sometimes in a dance class or at a drum circle someone without skills, tact or consciousness will ruin a great session. They are completely oblivious, stoned out, drunk or who knows what? It can even be someone from an audience during a performance who wants to hit your drum. Have you seen the George Bush video on Youtube with Assane Conte and Dame Guiye where the president starts hitting Dame’s drum?
Dame handled it well. In the breaks when our president didn’t play, he tried to show Goerge Jr. how to hit the drum. Free lesson.
When I am in a drum circle and take a solo, if someone starts to solo at the same time I walk up to them while I am playing (I always wear my djembe) and smile, and point and say, “you solo then I will solo, we take turns”.
I try to check everyone out who is around me before I pull my drum out of the bag and when I am playing I keep an eye out and on the crazier people. I am sorry to sound judgemental here but drum circles at the beach often attract some of the more out there folks. It is a reality that needs to be addressed. I basicaly do not drum by the people who are “acting out”.
Here are a few survival tips for those of us who play out in crowds, in bars and on the street at night as I often do. It may sound a bit paranoid but they really work for me and others I know anyway. As a good friend of mine always say’s, “Take what you can use and drop the rest”.
I suggest If you are playing djembe, always have your Sesse (aka “Cassanka Sank) metal flaps on the djembe for protection. Some people also believe this offers spisritual protection. It makes it harder for someone to get to your drum and personaly I love the sound.
Do not ever close your eyes when you are playing in public. I know some people feel more this way, but it disconnects you from others and in simple self defence terms is dangerous. I was once hit in the head by a crazy person while performing on the pier in Key West in 1976. My eyes were closed at the time.
In dance class there is inevitably someone who does not know their part, so instead of “bad vibing” them, I try to show them their part by playing it. This only works sometimes and if the other player respects you already. I have seen plenty of rage and outbursts from people who were begining drummers being told what to do by advanced drummers.
I often will position myself (seating wise) during a dance class so I am not by the people who are clueless as to what is going on. This is done by waiting to see who is there (on time) and slipping in my chair at the appropriate time!
I try to acknowledge them after class and even make friends with them. This opens the door to communication.
There was once a drummer at SF State who really thought he knew it all. It turns out he did not and in fact, was playing incorrectly for the style he was trying play. Many people tried to correct him, but it only ended up in bad vibes or words. People were trying to meet him head on. MIchio Kushi, the great macrobiotic teacher once told me, “you can not meet yang with yang”.
I went to this drummers dance class and first listened. Then I asked if I could play bell or a simple part. Even though I was much more advanced then him I opted for the simple support role. He smiled and was amused at first. I came back a few more times always asking for the support part. He invited me to play the second drum and was surprised when I knew all the movements.
Eventualy, he invited me to play the lead. After each class he would ask me questions and he started to take notes! He did not want anyone to know he was studying with me, he had an image to uphold. But gradualy his drumming completely changed and was corrected.