by John Apodaca
On May 9th, in downtown Denison we held our first community drumming event here that was centered around Brazilian drumming and its techniques. It has long been a goal of mine to offer instruction to the general public in this style of drumming, because this type of drumming is by its nature so community oriented. Brazilians love to drum and they get together constantly in their neighborhoods to enjoy drumming and building connections based on this drumming. It seemed to me pretty early upon moving to the old railroad town of Denison up from Plano that this particular town was well suited to such an initiative.
I wanted to get some great local drumming going and get more community connections established between residents. Denison has an outstanding old school downtown area with beautiful 19th century buildings lining it’s Main Street, and a fair number of artistic folks both from within and without the town. It also seemed likely to me that there would be folks hungry to be a part of something new. Recently, the time seemed to be just right for me to give this project a shot, and hence the May 9th event was scheduled!
In downtown Denison there is an interesting little space that is known as “The Pocket Park”. It is new to downtown in that it is an oasis between buildings of nice grass and interesting shaped boulders placed by the city in a spot recently occupied by a once grand structure. The old building surrendered to time as all must inevitably do, and the city took it down in the usual manner giving way to the green strip of serenity that is now the Pocket Park. I am impressed with it and the solution that the City of Denison arrived at for this potentially mediocre space. Anyone can use the park now to run in the grass, sit on a rock to read a book or even start a community drumming group. There is no charge to reserve the park as opposed to a couple of other better known parks downtown such as Heritage Park. It is one hundred dollars to reserve Heritage and it struck me as unwise to spend money on this given that I was structuring my activities in this project to be a civic work… pro bono if you will….as opposed to one for profit. “Just for fun” as Jack Black put it in his performance of the loveable Nacho Libre. Love that movie. It was important that this be simple, organic, and of course…just for fun.
The big day for this social experiment/community building/just for fun Brazilian drumming thing had finally arrived after a wait of several weeks! It could not have been a more gloriously mild and sunny Friday afternoon here in the far reaches of North Texas. The good feeling all of us have when work lets out on a simply beautiful Friday afternoon is truly unparalleled in my opinion. Many debates have taken place between myself and my children on the merits of Friday afternoon versus Saturday morning, but for my money I have to take the blissful optimism of that Friday afternoon moment! At any rate, here we were and I had to get home to make some improvised shakers for anyone that showed up without their own instrument.
This is something I had thought about and empty coke cans with pinto beans ended up being my contingency. One of the great things about being a percussionist is being able to make music with anything at hand. Coke cans would work just fine I thought! In no time I was off and headed out the door with my folksy improvisations, and I had a sense that this event was going to work. I was not sure if one person or a handful would arrive to participate, but nevertheless this was going to take place!
As I pulled up to the park in my car I immediately noticed that another car with a ton of smiling pre-school age kids had pulled up as well. The driver of the car was a pleasant looking lady in her later years accompanied by a man that by my estimate seemed to be her son. They looked about and did not see any drumming going on and looked a bit deflated. Upon seeing that I was unloading an arsenal of cool looking drums from my car they all smiled and barreled into the park ready for whatever was going to take place!
Clearly, I was this unknown “drum dude” they were looking for, and had heard about! As I set up the area for the event I was able to make introductions with the folks that had shown up first, and established among this frenetic gang of little drummers in waiting that I was also a “cool drummer dude”. There were lots of tugs at this drum and that shaker and the accompanying warnings from grandma to “be respectful of that nice man’s drums”. Pretty sweet. Long ago, as a father myself, it became clear to me that there is a time to just let kids have at it, and in my mind there was really no way these kids were going to be able to hurt my drums or mess up my improvised shakers. Given this I was pretty relaxed about the whole thing. Drums are for playing and it was all a demonstration of their sincere curiosity. Their energy was very basic and welcome as far as I was concerned. Before long I had each little kid equipped with a genuine Pinto Bean Coke Can Shaker, and learning how to keep time with it. As I suspected they really wanted to learn, and they really did nicely! Again…very sweet! After a while a few more folks arrived, and it was really time to see how this community building event would turn out.
First to arrive among the adults that participated was a very nice lady from across the border in Oklahoma that had just that week become a friend on Facebook through my postings about this coming event. She was so excited to be able to participate in this type of an activity, and it was so clear that this meeting was a representation of what I was trying to do on this beautiful evening. We got started talking about the structure of Samba and the names of the various instruments. Next we began to put a few simple concepts of low and high sounds on a cowbell together to make a standard Agogo pattern come to life. To my pleasant surprise this very nice lady from Oklahoma that described herself as a lifelong music lover and “an old farm woman” was handily mastering a fairly complex rhythmic concept! My suspicions confirmed, I thought to myself! It was really fun to watch as a music educator. It really challenged me as well! I had to quickly draw on all of my experience working with different age groups and experience levels to help her understand what and how to perform this part. Without too much delay we were having a really good time together along with my bevy of miniature shaker players putting out a remarkably good Samba groove! More folks continued to arrive and add to the sounds and textures that we were able to produce as a group. One of my students that has been with me for five years now arrived with her family, and she and I were able to expertly demonstrate our own little two person Batteria for the group! I could hardly have been more proud of the mastery she was putting on display of the concepts I had been teaching her for so long.
As our event continued towards conclusion it was clearly apparent to me that my original intent for the effort was right on target! There was indeed a place for this activity in the lives of people far removed from this music’s home country. A place smack in the middle of an old railroad town on the Red River border of Texas and Oklahoma no less! Success was measured in my mind by the smiles all around and relaxed sense of community that was present as the sun hung ever lower on that amazingly perfect Friday evening. It was agreed that we would all meet again, and that we would collectively build on the event’s good feelings. In addition, the nice lady from Oklahoma insisted that upon returning home she would promptly be confiscating her cowbell from the neck of one of her farm’s cows, and get right to practicing what I had taught her this evening! Bam…success!