"People who make no noise are dangerous."
--Jean de La Fontaine

Monday, July 11, 2016

It Started as a Small Snare Solo...

 A friend asked me to play a simple snare drum solo for a production of Shakespeare scenes he was directing.  I thought it would be a lot of fun and agreed. As we talked, I mentioned the possibly of adding a couple of sound effects during another scene that involved witches.  I was already going to be there so adding a couple more instruments wouldn't be a big deal. After I received the entire script, I proposed the idea that I could play during the entire show. I would be a one man orchestra. The idea really intrigued me because I got to be both a composer and a Foley artist. As I began to imagine my part, I kept adding instruments. I had to play for roughly an hour and a half by myself so I wanted different colors to use throughout the show. It wasn't until I started loading the car that I realized I may have gone too far. Here are some pictures of my setup.

Here is a list of the instruments I used for this gig:

12" x 14"     Leedy Marching Snare Drum
14" x 30"     Leedy Concert Bass Drum
10" x 14"     Ludwig Vistalite Tom
8"   x 12"     Ludwig Accent Tom
14" x 20"     Pearl Championship Series Bass Drum with Pedal
                   Humes & Berg Pack and Roll
20"              Remo Alessandra Belloni Tambourine (Not Pictured)
28"              Paiste Tam Tam
12"              Royce Proline Hi Hats
6"                Burma Bell
15"              Wuhan Tam Tam
18"              Wuhan China
10"              Grover Copper Double Row Tambourine
                   Latin Percussion Cricket
                   Meinl Spin Spark Shaker
                   Strand of 8 Mali Bells
                   Brass Ship Bell
                   5 Graduated Temple Bowls
                   Vaughncraft Alto Log Drum
                   Vaughncraft Bass Log Drum
                   Small Rasp
                   Large Rasp
                   Carroll Sound Mark Tree
                   Owl Shaped Ocarina (Not Pictured)
                   Baritone Ukulele (Not Pictured)

                   Snare Drum Sticks, Bass Bow, Gong Mallet
                   Brushes, Rubber Mallets, Yarn Mallets, Dreadlocks, 
                   Triangle Beater, Timpani Mallets

It was a fun setup to create. I will admit that moving it in and out of the theater could have been easier but I'm pretty glad I had the opportunity to perform such a unique gig. Stay tuned and I promise the next post will return to talking about some new equipment I've gathered in the last few months.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Recent Set-Ups

I mentioned in a previous post that I would show how I use some of the instruments discussed in this blog. Last month was a particularly busy one for me and the set-ups below are from a few of the jobs I had to play.

This first picture shows a larger collection of instruments which I used to play a joint recital with a trombonist. As you can see in the picture, I have a set of three LP Giovanni congas and a Yamaha five octave marimba. Unfortunately, the marimba isn't mine. 

This is the business end of a set-up for a composition called Rebellion by Stephen Rush. It's not my entire set-up but this is most of it. For this set-up I used two Ludwig toms, two Lp Matador timbales, a Pearl Championship series bass drum, Musser Century vibe, a pair of LP Giovanni bongos, and five brake drums. You'll notice the bass drum has a cool set of legs holding it up. Look for more on that in an upcoming post.

Here is a front view of the set-up. I also used a marimba which is not pictured. Well, it's actually pictured to the right but not in the place I actually played it in the set-up. 

This set-up is for another gig I had last month. This is the type of gear you bring when no one is going to see you and you don't want to move much. This is my Gretsch 18" Catalina bass drum with matching snare, a LP Matador conga, Sabian Legacy hi hats, and a Grover tambourine. I also used a shaker which you can't see. This set-up was used to back a choir on a couple of gospel numbers. 

Monday, April 11, 2016

Meinl 18" Celtic Bodhran

My town has a small music shop that mostly sells used instruments on consignment and ephemera for weekend warriors. It's not a place that typically caters to my interests, but I try to stop in and buy a snare head or pair of brushes just to support my local economy. About a year ago, I dropped by and found this Bodhran laying on the counter. I couldn't imagine how it ended up in this shop but it peaked my interest. It turns out, it was ordered by a customer who never picked it up and was on sale. I had no plans of buying the instrument, but when I found the asking price was $50, I couldn't say no.

I know very little about Celtic/Irish drumming and I am by no means an expert on how to play this instrument. That being said, I think this is a fantastic instrument. I have used it on several occasions, some trying to fake my way through Irish music and others that were less traditional. I have found this instrument to work in every situation I needed it.

The Meinl 18" Celtic bodhran is made from Siam oak and the head is a high quality goat skin. The instrument is really well made and the internal tuning system is fantastic. The head tunes up quickly and has a wide range in which the drum sounds good. In the picture, you can see the tuning wrench, which is attached by Velcro to the shell. This is a nice idea, as that little wrench could easily go missing during a gig. The tipper (stick) that comes with the drum is well balanced and feels great in my hand. Again, I don't know any better, but I think this is a quality instrument for any person who casually plays Irish music or who needs a versatile frame drum.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Burma Bell - Kyeezee

I recently purchased a Burma bell and I have to tell you that it was somewhat of a dream come true. I saw a guy use one of these on tv when I was a kid, and I have coveted every one I've seen since. I could never justify spending the money to get one, as they often costs hundreds of dollars, but I found this little beauty at Steve Weiss Music for $60 and decided to finally grab one.  

The Kyeezze, also called a Burma bell or spinning gong, is a thick piece of bronze that is struck with a stick. It was a traditional instrument in Burmese temples and it often etched with ornate drawings. The instrument is unique in that once struck, the instrument spins creating a pulsing effect.

This one is small but sounds great. I'm not exactly sure where or how I am going to use it, but I'm happy to add it to my collection. 


Sorry for the poor camera work. This was recorded with a digital camera, not a video camera. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Vickkick Bass Drum Beaters

If you've read this blog, you'll know that I typically find something I like and stick with it until it falls apart. I recently had to replace a bass drum beater in my office because it had fallen apart. That's not accurate. The bass drum beater had turned from white to black, had separated in about 15 different places, and would stick to the bass drum head after each stroke. It was pretty gross. I figured it was time to get something new, especially because I teach on this particular kit and didn't want my students to think such a beater was appropriate. The last beater I purchased was in 1994 and it was a basic, no-name, felt beater that I still use today. I took a trip to my local drum shop and was surprised by the many different options available. Most seemed ridiculous so I asked the guys in the shop what they were using. Several mentioned that they had upgraded to Vickick beaters by Vic Firth. Despite some prejudices and wariness, I bought a couple.

I have never been a fan of Vic Firth sticks and mallets. I have never found a pair of their sticks that work for me, I really dislike their timpani mallets*, and have found a lot of their products are easily replaced by other options. I know I just offended half of you who swear by Vic Firth 5As but Vic Firth's stuff never felt right to me. I think part of it also may be the huge label that runs the entire length of the stick. Who knows. I'm not a huge fan and was wary of buying something from Vic Firth. Also, I hate the term, "kick drum." To quote Jeff Hamilton, "I don't kick that drum." I agree. It was difficult for me to purchase a product with the word kick in the title. On to the point...

There are three available beater options, wood, felt, and fleece. I purchased a wood and felt beater. Each beater has two playing options. The "radial" option, where the rounded part hits the bass drum, is supposed to add more articulation and the "flat" option, where the flat part with the logo hits the bass drum, is supposed to add a "fat" sound to the bass drum. I tried the beaters on a Gretsch 18" bass drum which was tuned in the mid-range. I picked this bass drum because it was the one that needed a beater. So, not very scientific but practical.

Both beaters took some getting used to, as they are both heavier than the beaters I am used to using. They weren't uncomfortable, but the weight was noticeable. The wood beater sounded as expected, with a lot of articulation, but did not have the same "fat" sound that I can get from some of my other wood beaters. Still, it was a quality beater and I'm sure I'll find a use for it soon.

The real winner of the group was the felt beater. In the flat position, the weight added some extra punch to the 18" bass drum, but the radial position really made this bass drum come alive. The radial position gave the bass drum a Motown sound with plenty of tone and articulation. It really sounds nice.

I'm not saying that you should run out and replace all of your bass drum beaters with Vickick beaters (ugh, that name) but if you're looking for a new beater, they might be an option for you. The best part about the beater was that unlike other Vic Firth products, they weren't overpriced. I payed $15 for each beater which felt more than reasonable. Check them out and see what you think.

*They are the worst timpani mallets you can buy. They are over priced and once you've played with real timpani mallets, you'll never, ever use them again.  Except for maybe on the drum set, but that's a completely different thing.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Ride Cymbal Comparison

I thought it might be fun to compare all of my ride cymbals. I made a short video using a Zoom Q4 camera so you can hear each cymbal.  The video and audio are not great but it's good enough.  The playing is not great but I was trying to sound the same for each chorus.  The problem is that each cymbal makes me play differently and thus there is a lot of variations.  It was also late and it's hard to play well without other people involved. I hope you find the video useful or at least fun.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

You Know How to Whistle Don't You...

There are few things I dislike more than whistles/whistling. I'm sure part of this comes from the fact that I cannot whistle. Historically, it has been the job of the percussionist to cover any whistle parts found in a score. I don't know why. I realize that a bulk of the time other people have something like a horn shoved into their mouth, but it seems that horn players would make better whistlers. Anyway, it comes up and I have to be prepared.  The following is a collection of whistles which I sometimes have to take on a gig. At the end of each description, I provided the number of times, in parenthesis, I used each whistle on a gig in the last 2 years.

Starting on the left, the first whistle we see is a Acme siren whistle. This is the famous sound of so many cartoons and Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited. This stupid little whistle was very expensive and takes so much air to play. Half the time I feel like I am going to pass out when I play it. (1)

Next to the siren whistle is an instrument that is not actually a whistle but it seemed to fit in this post.  It is a tube which, when turned over, moos like a cow. I must admit that I do enjoy using this one. (1)

Next to it is a crow call. I have used this several times in classical settings of all places. It's kind of disgusting, but if you can actually find a lot of bird calls at yard sales. Just make sure they look fairly clean. You don't want to get some kind of bird flu. (2)

Speaking of birds, next to the crow call is a whistle that sounds like a duck. Again, this one is fun to play but hard to do without looking stupid, especially since it's shaped like a duck bill. (2)

The tall whistle in the back is a train whistle. You can find these every where and they are pretty cheap. Grab one because you can always find a use for this whistle. (1)

The little black whistle is an Acme snipe call. (They exist!) It is a weird little whistle which I have used to make ethereal sounds in some recordings. It's not very useful, but when hunting snipe, it really comes in handy. (1)

The slide whistle sitting in the front is pretty cool. I needed it for a gig and it performed well. I found out later that a lot of people seem to trust the plastic whistles over the metal ones. It's a slide whistle so I honestly am not going to worry too much about it. It works and I'm sure it'll work again. (4)

Start collecting some whistles. It's embarrassing but you'll never know when having a few might get you a gig.