After I wrote my last blog post I went to the nightly drum circle here in Arambol Beach, Goa, India. It is quite large.
The drum circle usually starts off quite nicely before sunset but has been getting out of hand as the evening progresses. The drums entertain and also bring out the wild side of people, especially those who have been drinking all day prior to coming to watch,dance or drum!
A few nights ago there was an Indian man at the drum circle here in Goa who sat down to drum. He had a nice style but all he would do was solo the whole time he played.
No accompaniment playing only his “rolls with a wave of the hand at the end”. And when he would solo, he would play the same phrase, a long very loud roll whenever anyone else would solo. It became very annoying very quickly to everyone there.
My very dedicated drum student explained to him that when some one else solo’s you hold a part , and when he solo’s we hold the rhythm down for him. Give and take, sharing, back and fourth and so on. This is called “etiquette”.
He nodded acknowledgment but went right back to doing the same thing. After the drum circle my student went up to the guy and explained it to him quite excitedly (I would say with a charge) saying “there is a rule”. I entered the conversation calmly and said, “it is not a rule, but it is etiquette or courtesy”.. The guy said he understood.
I took my student aside and cautioned him to be very careful when communicating as an authority figure with people you do not know at large unorganized “freestyle” drum circles. It is difficult to say there are “rules” because it is an unorganized, unsanctioned drum circle.
Drum circles are generally friendly places but sometimes there are crazy people or people discharging negative energy or anger and it is very important not to come off aggressively (as my student did) because it could cause a reaction that might not be pleasant. It is just the way it goes and the way it is. There is no getting around this fact.
Later that night we had an informal gig playing for fire dancers on the beach. Guess who showed up? The same guy.
And guess what he did? He played through whenever we would solo. Constant like a jack hammer hitting cement. Since we had talked to him already a combination of 3 times there was no more talking. We had to come up with a plan.
What we did was play our set and we called breaks which had stops. He of course was oblivious and played though or past them. When we all completely stopped in unison and he was till playing (completely out of rhythm) and lost in his own world he looked up and finally realized he was the only one playing! Maybe there was some actual organization and orchestration to the drum music? None the less he still played on for a minute but then he finally stopped and got up. What else could he do? No one else was going to support his egotistical behavior.
Why do people act out like this? I call it over expression, the ego wanting to be acknowledged. “look at me”! But I ask, why not play along and be a team player, though? Take turns and share the limelight with others? Skilled players and veterans know they have to hold their part and play support. It is not about soloing all the time.
It is holiday season where i am living and playing here in Goa, India now and many drunk people on the beach when we play. They are having a blast.
They love the music but are constantly getting in my and other peoples faces so to speak. This means not maintaining respectful personal boundaries. They are also dancing wildly and kicking sand on us or trying to hit our drums. I stop playing, give the fellows the prayer hands and ask politely if they can move backwards and give us some space. They always understand or at least say they do.
Then it happens again. Every time. So the next time I explain, if they would like to continue having fun and dancing with us playing for them then they have to give us space or we will stop. We stop playing until everyone agrees.. I even had one of the men draw a line not to cross for him and his friends! I try to be as kind, friendly and understanding as humanly possible but sometimes we have to stop until they leave. This is all you can do sometimes. Stop.
Yesterday we were rehearsing in a cafe. Some local drunk tourists wanted to play our drums. We explained several times that we were rehearsing. At the end of our rehearsal one of them men told my student he was the owner of the cafe. He was of course lying but my student did not realize this.
So he let them play for a minute while I asked the workers who the guy was. He of course was not the owner. So we stopped them and moved to the other side of the cafe. Which worked out fine.
We were in a cafe the other night for a going away party for one of my drum students. We had a table with about 15 people at it. At least 10 of the people were beginning to intermediate hand drummers. Something triggered someone starting a rhythm.
Now this is classic. Every person at the table started playing, but …not together! Each person was trying to express their own unique rhythm at the same time and not one person thought about trying to harmonize with each other, or to try to find a common beat. After taking lessons all winter one wanted to play a beat!
Not to be a party popper, but in absolute wonder I asked everyone, “why is everyone playing out of sync”? Of course my belief is that they were tired of playing parts and holding rhythms from being in class! But no one could answer my question.
Everyone wanted to “be the man” or to “over express”! I acknowledge the need to express creatively, and I support this, but I think that most of the time people miss the community aspect, the bonding, the group shared experience of playing together in their personal needs to be creatively self expressive.
In traditional cultures this almost never happens. Everyone plays together for the common goal or good. Why in our culture is everyone constantly so obscessed with “doing their own thing”?
I wonder how much of this is ego? I wonder why we do not strive for community, for common denominators while playing?
I think in drumming the need to be creatively self expressive is often misunderstood, because there is a time and place to do this, but it has to be done in an organized way. One person at a time taking turns. There is no other way around this fact. If everyone plays whatever they want whenever they want it is chaos.
I wonder how much of this is ego? I wonder why we do not strive for community, for common
I asked one of my students how his experience was at the drum circle the other night. He said it was pretty good but it was hard because the people on one side of him were playing something completely different then the people on the other side of him!
If you want play whatever you want, whenever you want play at home, or do it by yourself.
When we come together to drum we form a community. it is now a group of people. Community means sharing and support of each other. Working (or in this case playing) together. It is a big sandbox, share your toys harmoniously with others. Let go of your ego, leave your baggage at home, your personal issues at the door. Please be open minded and if it is an open freestyle jam, look for the common denominator. Where can we blend and unify? Let’s play drums together!