This past September, 2013, I had the thrill and privilege of putting on a drum circle/drum set demo for a group of kids and their parents while visiting England to present my books at an academic conference (see my blog about RPPW 14 for more details on the trip). What made this demo special is that it was for Tourettes Action UK (www.tourettes-action.org.uk), a support group for kids and parents dealing with Tourette Syndrome.
I’d conducted three previous such demos in the U.S., all with great help and equipment support from REMO. Their Recreational Music Center (www.remormc.com) in North Hollywood, California, is home to a very large inventory of hand drums for rent, and I am indebted to REMO for having always coming through with available drums so that I could show families at a Southern California Tourette Summer Camp and a smaller group at the RMC just how cool it is to learn basic rhythms and be able to explore expressing yourself.
You might call it “informal music therapy.”
So how did this very cool opportunity come to be? Well, about a year ago, I was searching Tourette Syndrome support groups in the U.K. and Europe, exploring the possibility of conducting drum circle/drum set demos overseas. I read an article about Tourettes Action UK, and how they were able to fund drum circles through donations. I contacted Julie Collier, their Events Manager, and expressed my interests in conducting my demo, and told her that if I could ever get funding of my own that maybe we could make something happen.
The problem was, where would I get that kind of money? And even if I did, would I buy my own hand drums and ship them over? Far too expensive. Would I buy them once I got there and travel with them by plane/train? Again, far too expensive.
The first part of the answer came from Jerry Zacarias, who formally worked at the Remo Recreational Music Center. He suggested that I contact local Drum Circle Facilitators who already had drum stock, and see if they would be interested in co-leading the demos.
Brilliant. And very doable.
Now I had a plan. I contacted Julie Collier again, and told her of my desire to conduct a drum set demo. She was all for it, and in very short order, Julie arranged for drum set rental and a place to play.
Now all I needed was a Drum Circle Facilitator and some hand drums.
I solicited Drum Circle Facilitators through Yahoo’s Drum Circles group. John Fitzgerald, REMO’s Manager of Recreational Music Activities, had suggested I join this group about three years ago to share my drum circle/drum set demo information, and it was the PERFECT place to seek out the person I needed to help make the event happen overseas. When Annie Scotney replied, we exchanged a few e-mails and set things up. Annie works as a counselor, psychotherapist, and is also a REMO HealthRhythm’s facilitator. I could not have asked for a more perfect combination in a single person.
Two days after the RPPW conference, Julie Collier picked me up from my Birmingham motel, and we headed to The Glee Club (www.glee.com.uk/gleeclubbirmingham), a local comedy venue. The irony of discovering a road with my surname along the way kind of let me know that the day was going to be serendipitous…
Through nothing short of amazing timing and effort, and believe me, it came very close to not happening, one of REMO’s local U.K. distributors delivered some beautiful sets of VersaDrums and several Sound Shape kits. Tom Robinson, from EMD Music (www.emdmusic.com), really went out of his way to get those hand drums delivered, and when you are 4,000 miles away from home, you definitely appreciate people going the extra distance to help pull off something like this.
That said, I really owe John Fitzgerald a tremendous amount of thanks for putting me in touch with Tom and for sharing in the exchange of e-mails to help work out the logistics. John put a lot of trust in me to not let this thing fall flat on its face, and I really appreciate the leap of faith, because the next thing I knew, I was looking at a stage filled with REMO hand drums, courtesy Tom Robinson and delivered by Adrian Harris, and a Yamaha Stage Custom drum set with a set of Zildjian cymbals, courtesy Rob Hoffman and Birmingham Sound Hire (www.birminghamsoudhire.com.uk)
When Annie Scotney arrived (pictured above), the number of hand drums tripled. Her inventory included several REMO hand drums, in addition to several of her own private collection. The final piece of the show puzzle came in the form of another guest, a hand drummer/percussionist who was also a neuroscience researcher. Daniel Cameron had been attending RPPW 14, visiting from The University of Western Ontario, Canada, and we spoke briefly about our mutual interest in drumming and neurology. I invited him attend the event, and his presence contributed greatly to the overall success of the afternoon.
It was show time.
Julie Collier introduced me to the group, and I spoke briefly about my background and experience in using music as my informal therapy in dealing with Tourette’s. Next, I introduced and demonstrated the different components of the drumset, and then I played a little to show how I used jazz coordination to explore individual limb control. I also demonstrated how I use brushes and mallets to create different types of sounds on the cymbals and drums.
Then, I sat down and played several different types of beats and grooves to show how the drum set parts all worked together. I explained how the drummer interacts with the other band members, and next, I invited kids up to play the drums and explore them freely. That’s when the real fun began.
The stage lights were incredibly bright, and I apologise for the amateur level of my iPhone photos, but clearly, there’s nothing like seeing the smiles on Tourette kids’ faces when they are allowed to let go and just be themselves. At first, they are often not quite sure what to do with the freedom, but that uncertainly only lasts about a minute. Next thing you know, the exploration of cymbals and drums is leading to sheer joy.
I let everyone who wanted to play come up and just go for it. Some were a little shy at first, but the cool thing was, the other kids were extremely supportive and encouraging. The parents were equally enthused, and they too encouraged their shyer kids to give it a go. The neat thing about these demos is that it always seems to help bond families a little closer, and when you see it happening first-hand, you never forget just how amazingly unifying a shared musical experience can be.
After the drum set segment, I introduced Annie Scotney, and she proceeded to work pure drumming magic. She immediately engaged the young drummers and led them in a series of performance exercises drawn from her experience as a REMO HealthRhythms program graduate. Annie’s demeanor and understanding of young people was simply an amazing series of moments to watch unfold, because every bit of this afternoon was improvised and unrehearsed. This woman’s musical magic was incredible to experience…
Things only got better when Daniel Cameron took the stage after my brief introduction of him. Daniel laid down a simple 4/4 beat that everyone could follow, and I kept time on the drum set as the best part of the rhythmic entrainment began to take over. Daniel walked through the crowd and made sure that each kid with a drum was playing, and he gave them all very personal attention. It was nothing short of extraordinary.
I like closing the show with this kind of drum-along sequence, because it really is the most magical portion of the demos. Something just clicks, something I can’t find words for. It’s the stuff of drumming, the truest groove, the deepest beat.
It’s the reason we play.
I can’t begin to tell you how impossible and unlikely the flawless execution of logistics was for this truly international event, combined with the perfect amount of serendipity. I had realized a dream of taking the Tourette drumming show on the road, and it went off without a hitch, but certainly not without a great deal of help.
Julie Collier, Annie Scotney, Daniel Cameron, John Fitzgerald, Tom Robinson and Rob Hoffman collectively showed me that dreaming big and aiming high can become doable, and once accomplished, provide fuel and inspiration for more such events.
And you can be sure, this show IS definitely going back on the road… along with a truly special surprise that I’ll be writing more about very shortly…