The Sum of ALL Things.

Conspirare Christmas 2011 Set-up

Like many, my gateway drug into percussion was the drum set. While not known as a drum set player (and rightly so…) I still play as much as I can. And, in one regular more “classical” gig, play drum set (modified for sure) a good deal. I’ve written about my past projects with Conspirare before but I’ve never discussed my favorite collaboration with them: Conspirare Christmas.

This program is impossible to describe. While it is a “Christmas Concert” it doesn’t just feature the season’s music. It features artistic director Craig Hella Johnson’s renowned “collage” programming that melds music of many centuries and styles into one intensely meaningful whole. In either three or four segments without intermission the music progresses in a liturgical like way. Beginning somber and eventually building and peaking in energy until a calming, peaceful end. Perhaps best understood by following along with the texts the program generally takes the better part of 90 minutes.

The “styles” part is where I come in. Generally, anything is game. Jazz ballads, Hip Hop grooves, Rock, and even African spirituals can be featured. I can remember one year, right after a Bach Cantata movement, having to begin an aggressive Alicia Keys groove at ppp. For the rest of the show generally I’ll bring things with me to add atmospherically according to the selected texts. You can check out two tunes from the 2009 show featuring Patrice Pike formerly of Sister Seven singing Sade’s Slave Song. The second track features James MacMillan’s Changed for choir and organ except I play it on marimba.

What really strikes me every year is how important previous, non-percussion musical experience is when it comes to playing unusual jobs like this one. Well before I started playing drums my parents had me signing. And, I just don’t mean in my school’s choir. At age 9 I was singing in the St. Paul’s Cathedral Men and Boys choir in downtown Buffalo. I can still remember how terrified I was at my audition. I also remember being teased incessantly by my friends at school because I was a boy ‘treble’. But now, thinking back, with as many times as I’ve worked with Conspirare I realize how important this early experience was in my overall development as a musician and percussionist. Conspirare requires of me these skills far ahead of my abilities as a drummer/percussionist. As I grow as a teacher and performer I realize more and more the importance of this.

I don’t read any music for this show. It’s all instinct and will often change from night to night in performance. Somehow, it is through the sum of ALL things that makes this job work. Thanks for hearing me out on some of these thoughts and I hope you enjoy the tracks from 2009. Most of all thank you Mom and Dad.. the ridicule back then was well worth the suffering!

What non percussion training/experiences have you found important in your teaching/performing? Leave your comments below.