A Good Bad Example
One of the traditions of Renaissance Faires, SCA Wars, Rendezvous, and so on is the night time parties in between days. During the day you are performing for the paying customers, or fighting in the battles, or taking classes, or engaging in contests of skill, and like that, but you are not letting your hair down and just having a good time.
That’s what the Friday and Saturday Night parties are for. All the normal people have gone home, and everyone is a bit tired from the day, and ready for a nice stiff drink and some serious hanging out.
One of the great things about being a drummer is that you provided the power for your own entertainment. No cords, no keyboards, no glowing monitors. You and a drum, that’s all you need. And when there are four or five of you and you all know how to play together, and there are dancers that follow you around, well… let’s just say that it makes you quite popular.
So, at a Gig that will remain nameless, on a Saturday night when the parties were getting going, the Troupe went wandering from camp to camp, looking for a bit of fun and dancers.
We come across a beautiful camp, filled with netting and rugs and pillows and candles and looking like something out of a movie. It was very well done. There was plenty of soft seating, lots of people, a great deal of good alcohol, and pretty girls everywhere you looked. Some of them were dancing, and there were already a couple of drummers there, so we were very happy to be invited in, and settle to play with them. It was Paradise, or near enough to it for drummer work.
The two drummers playing were both quite good. One was playing a brass darbuka, held lap style, and laying down a really nice, steady beat. The other drummer was holding a good quality doumbek, and playing fills and pops over the top. We all gave a polite nod to the pair, took out our drums, and joined in. And for a good five minutes we all played well together and were rewarded by women getting up and dancing. Perfect.
And then: Disaster. The darbuka player left.
The Troupe all sat around, had a drink, chatted with pretty women, that sort of thing… And then the doumbek player started a beat to get things going again. We all picked back up, and joined in. A steady Ayoub, easy to follow.
Until we all joined in, and he changed rhythms. Went to a Maqsum.
So we followed into that.
He instantly changed again. To a Sombati kind of thing.
At this point I glanced over at N, who was already frowning like I was.
But, the rest of us gamely followed this guy into the Sombati thing.
He instantly changed again. To something that had no discernable beat. I know dozens of main rhythms, and from there when you add in variants it gets into the hundreds of beats. And, I can follow along to anything that has a pattern up to a 34 count beat. This guy was simply making it up as he went, and then glaring at us if we dared to follow and changing his tempo, or volume, again.
He was deliberately making it impossible to play with him.
So, we all looked at each other, shrugged, and put our drums down. It was his camp, we were guests, and while the four of us could have simply played over him with volume and power, it really wasn’t our place to have a drumming contest in the middle of a nice camp with a nice party going on.
And, it isn’t like sitting and drinking and chatting with pretty girls is a bad thing.
But, and I couldn’t help myself, I had to point out to the Troupe that this guy had no one dancing.
His tone was great. Good doums, solid teks, nice pops and rolls. But he was playing so technical, and doing so many different, random things to keep any other drummers from joining him that the dancers had nothing to work with. The ones who tried quickly became confused, and then frustrated, and then self conscious, and then wandered away and sat down.
He was playing for himself. Just himself.
He was too good a bad example not to point out. And to my great happiness and pride all of the drummers got it. They all understood that what he was doing was selfish, not inclusive. It was based on ego, not sharing. It was ultimately pointless.
I could see the guys, my great guys, smile with pride, knowing that when we played we got people involved. When tribal drumming, especially for dancers and other musicians, there is a great virtue in simplicity. We know how to drum with others, how to play nice, and how to create a framework for others to use, and space for them to create too. The Troupe took a bad experience with a jerk drummer, and learned from it.
The lesson is simple: Play nice with others.
After all, no one wants to see you play with yourself in public, right?