Interview about Solo Drum Solo

I did an online interview about my Fringe Fest show with Sammi Cohen, who is working for the festival. She asked great questions, so here they are. Don’t forget to come to the shows, Sunday and Monday at 630pm at Bernunzios Uptown Music.
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How did you come up with this idea?
I was frustrated because the drum set is often not seen as a ‘serious’ instrument, especially by people in college for ‘percussion’. I think its because nobody has written much serious music for it. I wanted to fix that problem.

Have you done anything else like this (sans band) before?
Just once, and it was really just a practice show for Chris Teals “Institute for Creative Music” in August. But again, really, I don’t know anybody who has done this for a full concert like I am. We have all seen the classic Tommy Lee drum solos and stuff, but those are within a bigger concert.

Is it an intimidating prospect to have it just be you and your drumset, or is this kind of every drummer’s dream?
No no its definitely intimidating and terrifying even. The music people wrote for the project is extremely difficult, and asks the performer to approach the drum set in a ways that are very different from the norm. It has almost been like learning a new instrument. Of course, theres also nobody else to rely on, cover my mistakes, etc, and really another big fear is that people will be able to listen to and enjoy just drums for an hour at a time.

I know you got a crazy amount of submissions for this… how many did you get?
I think the count at this point is up to around 40, from everywhere—Brazil, Mexico, Japan, Australia, Italy, and of course the US.

Was it difficult to narrow it down to 15?
It was easy to get from 40 to 30…much harder to get from 30 to 15.

What kind of criteria did you keep in mind when choosing pieces?
Thats a really good question. First, they had to be realistic. I want people to play these in the future, and if the music was way too difficult, it would not be appealing to other performers. That eliminated a few. After that, I tried to choose pieces that had something unique about them. For example, one piece has an audio track that I work with. Another uses kitchen timers. One uses graphic notation, which means basically following a diagram or picture with directions, and another is completely text based, only offering instructions. Though this is billed as a concert of ‘just drum set’, its pretty amazing to me how varied the pieces are.

Were there any pieces that you really liked, but didn’t end up including? And there are different pieces on each performance, right?
Yes, the two nights will feature different works, and both nights will include improvisations as well, which is a lot of fun for me.

A couple of pieces did not fit on this program, but are really wonderful. One is called “Raijin” by New York based composer Whitney George. Raijin is the Japanese God of thunder (very appropriate) and the piece uses (in addition to drum set) a toy piano and 5 pieces of metal. Its pretty brilliantly crafted, but also very difficult, and logistically it didn’t work on this concert. Another good one is called “Counter-Esperanto” by Buffalo based composer Zane Merritt. Its really excellent, but was frankly too difficult to put together in time. I will premier both of those works in late October, when I hope to play a concert in each Rochester and Buffalo.

Anything else?
I guess I should say that this is just the first step in this project. My goals beyond this are to get these works published into a volume of drum set solos, and get them played by collegiate percussion programs and professionals. I am also going to record them and release an album of this music, once it is fine tuned and perfected. The coolest part has been the collaboration with composers. Since nobody has really written much music for this instrument, the composers were often unfamiliar with the limitations or possibilities that the drum set offers. Their creative thinking really opened up some new windows for the instrument, but it was also a lot of fun to say to them “hey, this is really impossible” or “you might try writing this, it would sound good” and having them respond so positively. It was part of the experience that people couldn’t have if they were playing music by like Bach or something—the pieces were fluid and malleable, and will probably continue to change even after they are premiered. Finally, if you are unsure whether or not to attend these concerts, please know that I am working hard to be sure the audience is included in whats happening—Ill talk, explain and present the music in a way in which anyone can gain some understanding and joy from listening.
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