The Drummers In Exile Experience
The Drum is the oldest known musical instrument. Prior to its development the human ability to create sound would have been limited to the voice and various actions such as clapping and slapping. When the first hollow log or tree trunk was struck by a human hand or even with a stick, you had the first drum. We can only imagine that the first human music may have been rhythmic chants without much discernible melody, accompanied by dancing and the earliest fabrications of drums and other percussive devices.
The fact that dancing is such an integral part of the music experience speaks volumes. Music is not merely a sonic experience but a physical one as well. There is probably no other instrument that provides such immediate sonic feedback from a simple physical action like the drum. But the act of playing the drum cannot be considered only at the point where the hand is in contact with the drum. The complete collection of body movements between every drum sound also goes into the complete experience of the rhythm.
What makes the ensemble experience so fantastic is the connection that takes place and is essential, between all the players and dancers. The Drummers In Exile ensemble experience is even more special because it is completely improvised. This improvisation becomes more easily fruitful when playing drums than it does with melodic instruments. We don't even have to tune up! A jam usually begins when a single drummer spontaneously starts a beat. Other drummers join in by playing the same beat or maybe a variation of it. The magic happens when all the drummers can lock into a solid groove and tempo. To make this happen the players must listen not only to themselves but closely to each other.
I myself began participating in the group's open jams around 2014. Having pursued music as a career during most of the 80's and into the early 90's, the Drummer's In Exile jams were a chance for me to strip my personal relationship with music down to the wood. Back in the early 90's I began to develop severe arthritis which eventually forced me to give up the melodic instrument I was performing on at the time which was the bass. Between my arthritis and dealing with internal band politics, I gave up live performing and the idea of being involved in a rock or pop “band” and just focussed on composition and voice. I started developing an interest in hand drums which was inspired a great deal by the work of Peter Gabriel and most notably by his soundtrack for the film "The Last Temptation Of Christ" by Martin Scorsese. Although my dexterity was too limited to play the melodic instruments I normally played, I found an outlet with hand drums.
One of the interesting things about Drummers In Exile and drum circles in general, is that it blurs the line between audience and performer. Everyone present is encouraged to participate to whatever degree they feel comfortable with. You can sit back, watch, listen and enjoy; drum nonstop the entire night or drop in and out of a rhythm whenever you like. It is certainly an alternative to the conventional; performers on stage, audience in overpriced reserved seating, performer audience arrangement. There is a tradeoff of course in that the music can sometimes be on the verge of complete collapse but often times can produce music that has a fantastic groove and amazing energy.
Usually, the final stage of a Drummers In Exile evening is an om circle. This is voice only with the exception on rare occasions where we are joined by a didgeridoo. Our version of the om consists of voices producing long sustained tones in various ranges and harmonic combinations. These, like the drum rhythms are completely improvised. In contrast to the drumming the om circle is soft in volume, getting quieter towards the end until it fades into silence. It is the perfect way to end the experience after some of the high intensity levels reached during the course of drumming.
Drummers In Exile jams currently take place once a week when possible, at The Remix Lounge in Toronto, Ontario. It is extremely good fortune to have available such a perfect venue for acoustic drum music and dance. The fact that such a large pool amazing performers exists in Toronto and the surrounding areas is a testament to the vibrancy of our music community. There is always a constant flow of different drummers and dancers who come out and participate at each event and newcomers are encouraged and always welcome.