“I had no idea whether I could play ‘em or not, but I wanted to and I was very determined. . . but the band director said “That’s not really normal.” Of course, all you have to tell me is that something’s not normal and I’ll go for it!!”
                                                                                      – KAREN CARPENTER

 

I am of the generation of drummers who knew Karen Carpenter’s name to be the one most likely associated with women drummers. Following her, Layne Richmond, master frame drummer and keeper of the historic lore. Today, Mindy Abovitz is the name I see shaping the world for women drummers through her and her team’s efforts with Tom Tom magazine. On a sunny day in April 2014, I observed firsthand this spirit of unity, cooperation, and exploration with a group of women drummers at Pitzer College, in Claremont, California.

 

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My friend Maria Morris invited me to attend, as she and eleven other drummers played with kits set up in various locations on the greens near the dorms.

 

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photo by Mike Morgan

 

It looked more like an art exhibit at first, with kits about 10-20 yards apart, adorning the area with percussive potential. The young ladies had gathered in a circle, listening to Mindy speak, so I sat at a distance, quietly observing and enjoying the peaceful breeze.

 

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photo by Kit Morris

 

When she finished, she left the women to discuss and organise a plan amongst themselves. Listening to their interaction was an enlightening lesson in respectful exchange of ideas. There was no alpha girl, but rather, an ebb and flow of validation, support, and encouragement. Men do this very differently; one guy leads, input is offered, assessed, accepted, dismissed, or stored for consideration later, and boots hit the ground.

 

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photo by Kit Morris

 

What I found most interesting about the women talking was that they were in no hurry to get anywhere, and this would be reflected later in their playing. Truth was, at that moment, they WERE playing, just with a different set of instruments… in no hurry to get anywhere, because they WERE there. They were THERE.

 

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photo by Mike Morgan

 

And that made me chuckle with respect for the process I’d not so clearly understood very well until this moment. THIS moment. Right here, because they were RIGHT HERE.

 

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 photo by Kit Morris

 

I don’t want to intrude on TomTom’s pending article about this event, so I invite you to read it when it comes out. I just want to make a few comments about what I further observed…

 

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photo by Mike Morgan 

 

The give and take among the players was ever-present through each of their short explorations. And I mean, there was no chops insanity followed by a shrug of, “Yeah, man, the spirit just took over…” If anything, with ALL of the women, the playing was beautifully understated. Space was their chops. That’s the only way I can describe it.

 

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 photo by Mike Morgan

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 photo by Kit Morris

 

They weren’t struggling to hold back; they were breathing as a group, and it was a lesson in listening. THAT was the performance, the essence of their magic hour, because they made it THEIRS. These women owned time, or at least made it a playmate, an addition to their group, a living entity with life being breathed into and out of it. If this sounds a bit esoteric, guess what? That whole hour was, as well as the discussion laying groundwork for it. Miss that and you miss the entire point.

 

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photo by Mike Morgan 

 

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photo by Mike Morgan

 

I hope Tom Tom puts on many more such events, paving the way for female drummers to find their paths and walk them with purpose. The exploration and sharing of energy is not limited by gender, but it is an unavoidable reality that men presently vastly populate the drumming world. This simply means there’s room for a new take on drumming, one approached from – based on what I observed that afternoon – a very different perspective. I left with a lot to think about, feeling a bit more patient and calm as the setting sun found its way to the Pacific, and twelve drummers savoured finding their way towards the beat and having been the thing they sought… lead sisters, every one…

 

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photo by Marlhy Murphy