Monday, May 20, 2013

Some typically biased thoughts on drummers

Did you know that the seat a drummer sits on is called a 'throne?'  Nope?  Join the club.  I only discovered this today when I got the somewhat enigmatic message: buy drum throne. I'd always assumed the thing the drummer puts his bum on was a seat, as you'd expect.  But no, it's called a throne, and perhaps this is why many drummers have such a high opinion of themselves.

I've met - and worked with - some great drummers in my time; I've also met some whose ambition seemed to be to obliterate the rest of humanity.  When I went to church at the Assembly of God, from the mid-70s to the late 80s, there was one brilliant drummer there who was so attuned to what other people were playing that they could vary the tempo to a hair's breadth and he would be with them.  He never dominated the proceedings, forcing the other musicians to follow his beat. 

But there are drummers who, having spent their entire musical training period in a basement with soundproof walls, have never learned that music doesn't revolve around what the drummer does.  They can be enjoyable to play with, when the music requires absolute momentum and strictness of tempo, but when it requires quiet, warmth, rubato, they're just dynamite.  It seems some drummers don't know the meaning of subtlety, or of variation in tempo.  This just becomes frustrating for other musicians, who begin to feel hemmed in.  Even though music seems to be a thing that's regulated to a cut and dried strict rhythm, every musician (expect maybe some of the aforesaid drummers) knows there are shifts and gains in music. This is particularly evident when you accompany a singer: to hold a singer to a strict rhythm throughout would be to destroy the essence of what they're singing.

Some drummers can't be told these things, unfortunately.  Giving a solid beat is what they have come to believe drumming is all about. Ask them to do anything else, and they sit on their throne and sulk, acting as if their integrity had been somehow demeaned.  Or else they just ignore you, and continue to do what they did for so many hours in the basement: hammer it out and forget that the rest of the world exists.

Here's a video of four drummers playing rhythmically but subtly - these guys know how to intermingle with each other.  They're playing a piece called 4by4, by NZ composer, John Psathas. Watch out for the moment, quite a long way through, when one of the drummers casually scratches his ear, tosses his drumstick in the air, and then carries on as if this complex piece was all in a day's work.
Post a Comment