The unsuspected power of the drummer
When I worked with the Cirque Plume, in Besancon, France, I was substituting for the regular drummer. I had to learn to juggle with 3 balls, to play the different instruments of a Samba Batucada (I’ll develop that on another blog, I promise) and to do some clowning. No, not that kind of clowning, but still. Fiiizzzz!
During the show, there was this bid I was part of. We arrived on stage with the make up and clothes of clowns, only we were jazz musician, super snob, ultra-cool and blasé. We all had different roles. The trumpet player blew inside a bucket full of soapy water, he would get applause when he would raise his instrument and a bubble would pop at the end of the trumpet. The clarinet would try to swallow her instrument while rolling panicky eyes. As for the sax, he would contort like he was getting zapped. Me? I would play furiously the most broken pattern I could think of.
During the training, the regular drummer of the circus, Jean-Marie, told me: “Be careful when you give your full energy, because I noticed that all the other musicians wait for the drummer to make a move, then they go crazy.”
No way! Was that true? Did it mean I had that much power? I was excited like a thirsty frog who sees water on the horizon. Oh, I couldn’t wait to try that!
So, we do the rehearsal, and frankly, whether I started to blow my top at the beginning, in the middle, or in the end of the routine, it didn’t matter. I could have balanced a thousand mice on my head while crying “Sanctuary! Sanctuary!”, they seemed to always do the same thing at the same moment: trumpet with bubble, sax with frenetic moves, clarinet with fishy eyes: all of them like clockworks.
Then we did our first show, but hold your horses, I didn’t try anything. I was so nervous, I completely forgot Jean-Marie’s advice. So, the bid went the way it went, and I was just glad I made it alive to the end of the show.
Now, the second show, I remembered the trick.
So, here we are, we arrive on stage. We don’t look at nobody. The trumpet player puts the bucket down, the sax player cringes his teeth and the clarinet stretches her mouth very wide. Very well! I sit down behind the kit and I start with a little tit bit on the cymbal, something light. The trumpet player blows a short note that gives birth to a small bubble that bursts quickly. Crowd is surprised, they laugh. Sax moves his hip like he swallowed a super ball that keeps bouncing erratically inside his bowels. Clarinet proceeds to put some salt on her mouth piece. That goes on for very long, at least 30 to 40 seconds (an eternity on stage), we all doodle around while trying to look the coolest in the world. Then I decide to follow Jean-Marie’s trick.
Kablaf! Boom-kabloey! I turn it up a notch. Not a lot, but a sensible gradation towards the apocalypse nonetheless.
All of the sudden, the whole group gets into high gear! The trumpet player arches his body while blowing an impossibly long notes that creates a humongous bubble (Big applause!), the sax player throws himself on the ground and moves like an electric rap dancer, and the clarinet player has swallowed half of her clarinet!
It keep going at the same intensity until I descend upon the toms with a furious solo and I grow two other arms to hit more things at once.
Now we’re talking! The whole group explodes into madness! I’ve never seen people contorting with their instruments the way we do. We are in trance! I sound like an elephant running on sheet metal and the rest of the band howls the cry of Armageddon.
Should I tell you the ending?
All right. Since you asked.
At the paroxysm of our cacophony I get up from the stool, yank one of my cymbal from its stand, throw it on the ground, then I take a gun from my pocket and shoot the poor cymbal. Fade to black.
The moral of the story is this: as a drummer, you can wait until everyone else rises the intensity before you throw your energy in the mix. Calculate that a bit. But, once you go, hang on to your sticks, because that sauce you’re making is about to get really spicy.