Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Big Drum Bonanza memories

Big Drum Bonanza was waiting for me somewhere around the corner, but until the last I did not know if I could go. The circumstances in my profession are simple: the holiday season is a concert time. During those months musicians in Poland have much more gigs and we play a lot. I had to make a decision: give up my work for a month, buy a ticket and get on a plane to USA or stay and wonder how it would be if I went there? 

Thomas Lang invited me to his Big Drum Bonanza as a thank you gift for organizing two of his Drumming Boot Camps and two clinics in Poland.
Krystian, director of AR at DW Poland, was right saying that I can not miss this opportunity. I had only a month till the start of Bonanza, and getting a US visa was the biggest problem, because I had to wait two weeks for the appointment in the consulate  (yes, Poland still needs to get a visa to go to USA - sick). Krystian encouraged me that I can get things done in a month. I took the risk, and a week before departure I received a passport and my visa to the US.

The journey from Warsaw to Los Angeles lasted 15 hours, and I had this feeling that it was going to be a journey of my life.

This was my second time in LA and I cannot describe the amazing feelings that I get about this city. The fact, that such a great music has been created here, that so many of the greatest musicians and artists live here, makes me feel that I'm in the center of the universe.


The classes began on Monday. Thomas and his wife Elizabeth greeted us warmly.
They filled us in about what was coming up within the next week. The schedule was intense, from 9am until 1 pm we had practical classes, then a break for lunch. From 3pm we had Masterclasses with special guests at the Drum Channel and live shows starting 5pm.

DAY ONE - Thomas Lang and a special guest Matt Garstka


After the introduction Thomas started with a 4-hour warm-up. A work-out like this in the morning is a pretty good boost of endorphins. We did a lot of exercises available at this link: Thomas Lang Drumming Bootcamp lesson. We were using the method called - Tabata - that is all about intense exercises in short intervals.


After lunch, we had our first trip to the Drum Channel and we visited the DW DRUMS factory. The founders John Good and Don Lombardi were already waiting for us. They guided us through their kingdom and told us about the history of this place.


The afternoon started with Matt Garstka Masterclass. I must admit that I was waiting for those classes. Matt told us how important is repetition in improvisation. When he creates drum parts he tries to repeat what he invented for the next 3 bars. Repetitions makes him able to play what he wants. If you can't repeat what you created, it means that you don't have control over it.

Matt compared his drumming to a bumpy road.

"I do not want this road be smooth and easy. I get bored playing what is predictable. In my game, I try to push myself into the unknown.  Sometimes this road becomes ruff and bumpy, but that's how life is, not always perfect and easy. "

Matt stressed that now is trying to work only on what is useful to him.

He showed us his method of "Universal Function", which is 5 steps that release you limits and allow you to express your musical ideas. First you have to learn the pattern, than add dynamics, orchestrate,  phrase and then throw it chaotically. 

DAY TWO - Thomas Lang and Matt Garstka (training), special guest Gergo BORLAI

To begin Thomas talked about his 5 principles of exercise. Then we started our work out with Matt Garstka, who showed us how to build our speed on the set. His main topic of the day was Metric Modulation. Many things he showed us were referring to his band Animals as Leaders.

Gergo Borlai run the afternoon MasterClass at the Drum Channel. Amused everyone with his parodies of famous drummers. He is a genius. He talked about his fascinations Zappa, Vinnie, but above all he played drums beautifully.

DAY THREE - Gergo Borlai (training), special guest CHRIS COLEMAN

Training with Gergo was the best workout of all the special guests. There was no talk, only drumming. When someone asked him how to play it, Gergo's
answer was simple: USE YOUR BRAIN. He did it beacause he wanted to encourage us to think and discover things ourselves. 
He didn't want to hurt anyone, but to show us that we can figure it out alone. All you need to do is open your eyes, intense your hearing and force your brain to act and catch up with what is going on. You had to be present and sharp: listen, watch, play, remember. There was no time for notes.

This was a Gergo way to show us how to push yourself to be more active, force yourself to bigger effort and working at top speed. This is his way of playing, practicing. He doesn't take notes, only encodes everything in his head.

In the afternoon, at the Drum Channel, there was
Chris Coleman waiting for us. He was smiling and infecting us all with loads of his positive energy.

He told us about his road to the top, his cooperation with Prince and Chaka Khan. For him, the fundamental thing in drums is counting: 

"So you know where you are. If you are practicing and you count, it is like you are saving it on your hard drive, it becomes a part of you. You are aware of every note, every beat."

DAY FOUR - Chris Coleman (training), special guest Aquiles Priester

Every day should begin with practicing with Chris Coleman. This man is a bomb of positive energy. Strangely, he told us that he was not always like this. Drums gave him confidence, he became a happy person and opened to people.
Practical classes with Chris started with mastering different counting systems: whole note to 16th notes (1 e + a 2 e + a 3 e + a 4 e + a).

Chris gave us 6 basic components to build GOSPEL CHOPS:
We practiced it playing 3 bars of groove, in the 4th one we did a fill using the Gospel Chops pattern.
We were counting out loud the whole time. After these classes my throat hurt, but we have learned that:
- Counting improves independence
- You always know where it is 1 :)

DAY FIVE - Aquiles Priester (training), special guest Derek Roddy

The last day started with a warm-up with Aquiles. It's a very precise/methodic/in order drummer, he had everything planned. There was a lot of double bass drumming,
rudiments orchestration on set.

I had the opportunity to get to know
Derek Roddy the day before. All of the Bonanza masters, guests and students stayed at the same hotel, what allowed us to spend evenings together at long conversations, by the pool, or - as in my case - at a billiards table. Derek and I were in one team and we played against Chris Coleman. We got beaten up, but was a great laugh! - all thanks to the previously mentioned Chris, who causes stomach pain if you stay in one room with him :)

During his classes, Derek occurred to be very open to different styles of music. Although it is a master of blasts, his awareness of sound, proportion and dynamics was impressive. He has experience in sound engineering since many years, as he has his own recording studio.

His main message was very simple and best summarizes the entire workshop:

"Be creator, not a reactor. Be yourself, and certainly there will be a place for you in the music world."

That's how were the drum instructors at the Thomas Lang's Big Drum Bonanza - everyone was different, each having different priorities. What put them together was humble, joy of drumming, mutual respect and desire to learn and grow. They are where they are, because they have created something unique and true. They express themselves through drums and even though each of them does it in his own way, they all are masters in what they do.

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