Rehearsal: July 29, 2009
Drumming for dancers is a lot of fun, even during rehearsals, but as a troupe we still have a lot to work ahead of us. The work is fun though, because even the worst hour drumming is still an hour well spent.
We had a bit of an uneven start. Everyone was on time, but then the two troupes stood or sat around and talked about what we were doing, rather than just getting to work. This led to wasted time, and without getting too long into it, I wasn’t smart enough to start off the conversation with what the drummers would be doing once we started. I opted instead to talk about the dohola and simbati that I had tracked down, and asking if any of the drummers were interested in coming with me when I went to test them out.
Faster that you can say, “Oh, you mean now?” the dancers called for a 4/4 to start, so we launched into our 4/4 performance medley. Sadly, we had just introduced Nawari into it last week, and we hadn’t talked about where the Nawari would fit in, what fills we would be doing, and what our line rotation would be. That is totally my fault. So we were what could charitably be described as disjointed. Our first three bars of rhythm were solid, but we weren’t on the same page for the fourth bar. Ugh. We got to learn first hand what it sounds like when five drummers do four different things and then all look at each other with rising panic.
Then I made my second mistake.
I let us go too long without a bailout from me, the leader. I decided to give them another four bars to get together. I suppose I thought it would be a good test. It didn’t get better. What I finally did (and should have done immediately) was to begin calling out the fourth bar rhythm by name. Just like that, we were in the groove, and there was no problem.
Once you got past the communication mistake and the rookie leader error we sounded very good. Nice full sound, playing well with each other, on time and even some good call and response work.
The dance lead called for a rhythm change and we settled into a good slow groove on the Shifitelli. Our transition was fluid, and everyone was on top of the one beat, which is very important on a slow 8/4. Well, on everything, but it is especially hideous on a slow 8/4 if the one beat is ragged. D and K were solid on the doums, adding a great tone and full sound. They were both sitting right behind me, but were not swamped by my sound. A few weeks ago they would have been. It is always nice to see improvement, but especially on tone and volume.
The dance lead called for another rhythm change and we launched into a 2/4 Ayoub that had a great pace. Fast enough to be exciting, but controlled enough for the dancers to work within. I firmly believe that the Ayoub/Zaar groove we got into last Friday played a big part in our confidence and sound with the Ayoub last night. We had some excellent fast riffs going on the fills, and no one missed a beat. C and I did some hand and eye communicating on the fly and he dropped into a 2/4 Malfuf counter-beat. It sounded great, and gave N, K and I even more options for rolls and fills. We certainly need to work more on our fills, and more on the back and forth nature of those exchanges, but last night it really came together for those few minutes and it was wonderfully fun.
There was a short break while the dancers talked about their spacing and so on, and then we went back into the 4/4. This time I made a mistake. I simply missed a Nawari in the line and tossed everyone right off the tracks. As the leader, I need to be really clean or baby duck syndrome can cause real problems. What I mean by baby duck syndrome is the tendency for new drummers to follow the leader, no matter where he goes. So, the leader turns left instead of right, and all the new drummers follow him automatically. The problem is that most new drummers think, “Hey! That wasn’t right! Or wait, was I wrong? I must be off! Where am I?”
By now I think everyone who reads this blog knows: Thinking is the opposite of drumming.
Now, in fairness to new drummers everywhere, perhaps the hardest thing to master is the art of hearing your fellow drummers, but not really listening to them. To be able to play, and respond as needed, but not follow or get upset if they make a mistake, or play a variant, or drop into a strange syncopation. It takes a long time.
After the rehearsal the dance lead and I talked a bit, and she asked that the drummers be the ones to decide when the rhythms change. To this point we have been following their cues. At the next drum/dance rehearsal we will begin to lead, and the dancers will follow what we do. Let’s call it the Great Experiment.
This means that in the next week I need to create hand cues for conducting the drummers during performances. All the gestures I know are kind of rude, so that should be challenging.