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Handy Tip for January 2012

January's handy tip is one way of keeping the moisture at bay in your tambourine heads when you have to take them on a gig in the cold and damp.
What you need to do is go to a shop that specialises in selling skiing gear and equipment, or kit for outdoor activities, such as hiking and camping and so forth. You need to ask for a solid fuel hand-warmer. This is a metal box, about the size of a spectacle case which is usually covered in a sort of velvet cloth.

The inside of this box is lined with fibreglass and one can buy, with this item, a packet of fuel sticks which are pieces of charcoal which you then light with a cigarette lighter or match and then lay this inside the metal box on the fibreglass insulation and close the box tightly. It is obvious that you will make sure it is securely closed, but worth mentioning again. 

This will then warm up over a period of hours and can be placed either inside or on top of the tambourine head and keep it warm and therefore keep the damp at bay until you get home again.

Ben's Challenge to do a Drum Roll

ben learningI recently challenged Ben Hargreaves of Splashlight Magazine www.splashlight.net
to Learn how to drum roll and sustain the roll for the duration of the National Anthem in under two hours.

The challenge was accepted! As you can imagine it turned out to be quite a noisy one!!

Ben was recovering from a previous challenge and this one appealed as there was very little chance of injury!

We could probably have completed the challenge in under an hour if it hadn't been for all the questions Ben asked, which I had to answer of course... but knowing the history behind the instruments we were using and why certain rhythms were used made it all the more interesting for Ben.

Initially I explained to Ben what a drum roll is. For those of you not yet in the know, the drum roll is similar in theory to a tennis ball being bounced on the floor... the closer to the floor the ball gets the more bounces there are (pitch) ... NOT moving your wrists extremely fast ... the drum does the work ... not you. Lesson 1 over!

Next Ben had to learn to bounce the sticks evenly on the skin of the drum with each hand, 4 - 5 bounces, control and limit these bounces with the grip in the fingers, then bring it all together with both hands and bouncing them one after the other with a 1 - 2 beat overlap. This way you get a constant 'roll' of noise. Once mastered, you can then vary the pitch and tempo.

After nearly an hour into the challenge, Ben decided to go for it in the hope it would all click into place ... I said "Ben, I think we might do this you know" – Ben lost the tempo and stopped – "Nigel, you put me off! But yes I think so too".

We took a short break and discussed how we thought Ben was doing and where Ben was going wrong - the main problem was tensing up and the key is to relax and let the drum do the work; don't think too hard, just get on with it. I suggested to Ben that he needed to get a picture in his head of what it was he was trying to achieve, similar to an actor or a professional musician feeling the music – so he did ... "I am imagining myself wearing a gorilla suit, with a big cheesy smile, hammering away to Phil Collins' 'In the air tonight'". Not quite what I had in mind, but we gave it a go anyway.

Then, 10 minutes with Ben imagining he was the World's best drummer paid off. Gradually, each attempt got better and better, not consistent, but the basis was there for a drum roll – "Ben, you're about 95% there, brilliant" – "Nigel, lets go for the extra 5% and get this in the bag". On the next attempt, it clicked, Ben relaxed and did a very commendable drum roll.

I then joined in and the two of us, playing on the snare drum I designed, firing out a drum roll for the length of the National Anthem (it felt like 10 minutes to Ben but was actually just under one!). ben drumroll4sIt wasn't perfect but Ben did it. "Nigel, that was brilliant fun - Challenge complete!".

Playing the drums requires a lot of practice and if you have close neighbours the noise can be very irritating for them. If you don't already know how, you can have a go at learning to do this – quietly to start with, by using a 'Practice Pad' which will be on sale in our online shop www.Percussionzone.co.uk keeping your neighbours happy!

Nigel on QM2

nigel boing
Here I am on the Queen Mary 2 trying to get a decent sound out of the Commodore's Cufflinks (spare propeller blades stored in Area 7), with other members of the Orchestra looking on.
I was recently on board with The National Symphony Orchestra for our third annual Proms Cruise - a resounding success. I am already looking forward to the Orchestra's next trip in May 2012, this time from Southampton to New York. If you think that cruising isn't for you, I used to think that too - until we started playing on the QM2! Now it would be my holiday of choice!

Ronnie McCrea's Biography

Something from the Book Review Section: 'From Laurel and Hardy to Pavarotti' by Ronnie McCrea.

Ronnie was, for many years, both a very close friend and a long time member of the percussion section of the Royal Opera House.

I read this book in a single sitting because it’s such an enjoyable read.

Ronnie started as a percussionist playing in variety theatres in the late 1940’s and during that time he worked with an incredible number of people. Quite literally, people of the stature of Bob Hope and Laurel and Hardy, but later on, as I say, he started playing in Variety Theatres in Northern Ireland and found his way subsequently into the London West End scene for many years and then onwards to the Royal Opera House in the late 1970s and as a testament to a player’s career it’s well worth a read.

There are a lot of amusing incidents in the book, giving us an insight into the different things that happen during the course of earning a living. Ronnie, sadly, is no longer with us, but in his day he was quite a strongly opinionated person on various aspects and I think that makes it the more enjoyable to read, to be perfectly honest, because we are never confronted with the philosophy of “and then I did this”.

Everything works very well. It is a great pleasure to discover that somebody that you had known as long as I knew Ronnie was, in addition to his other attributes, such a talented writer and it really is a rattling good read from start to finish.

As a demonstration of the history of our industry, since the Second World War I think it should be something that every College encourages (but does not force) their students to read.

There is a great deal of common sense in there and some incidents from which we can all learn a good lesson.

Durham University Orchestra

Last week, at the invitation of the Orchestra of Durham University I travelled up to give a day’s coaching to the Percussion Section of the Orchestra prior to the Annual Cathedral Concert held on 18th June. 

We all had a great deal of fun and the students proved to be very good – as you would expect from a major university.

The Orchestra were performing, amongst other pieces, Copland’s Appalachian Spring and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade.

 I am sure the occasion was a huge success and am looking forward to future visits.


The Life of a Professional Percussionist

The day to day life of a working percussionist is one of constant variety. For players in full time jobs such as opera, ballet and contract orchestras, there is a constant turnover in repertoire with regular changes of performance venue. For the freelancer, quite literally each time you get into the car you could be heading in a different direction from the one previously taken and with a totally different set of equipment. The only repetitious situation of note amongst performing musicians is that of doing a long running theatrical production.

It may interest you to know that my book “The Percussionist’s Essential Survival Guide” (PESG) is a product of exactly that kind of situation. I started the notes for this then un-thought of book whilst working in the hit musical “Cats”, by Andrew Lloyd-Webber. The show ran for 21 years and during that time I decided to try and keep myself interested in things by writing down percussionists' folklore, including everything I knew about percussion instruments and playing them. By the time we finished the run I found, to my astonishment, that I had ammassed more than two hundred notebooks of ideas, nuggets of knowledge, bits of history, designs for instruments and hardware, plus a vast amount of other ephemera. The problem which then presented itself was what to do with it all!

After long discussions with friends I concluded that a book was the most sensible answer, but it was immediately obvious that such a book, incorporating all this source material, would be enormous and far too expensive for the people who had the most to gain from it.

There the matter rested until I discovered e-books! So, this carefully recorded information will now be available, chapter by chapter through our online shop, making it possible, for all those interested, to obtain as much or as little as they feel inclined in a time-scale to suit. The PESG is gradually coming together, with more chapters added to the shop on a regular basis. 

I have enough information to fill over a hundred chapters, some of which I hope you will find interesting




Practice practice practice

 - and then practice some more!

Here are some handy hints for more effective practice that I have found useful over the years. I hope you do too.

      •           Bring all the enthusiasm that you can muster to each and every practice session.
  •           Practice regularly. Make it fit into your schedule.
  •           If possible, practice where you can’t be disturbed.
  •           Always make your practice musical. Never be mechanical.
  •           Be relaxed, take your time. Never hurry or allow yourself to be so.


Horses Hooves Effect

We are today adding to our range a matched pair of artisan-made exotic hardwood turned bowls which create the sound effect of horses’ hooves.

It was traditionally thought that in the days of Commedia dell’arte and in the orchestra pit of the silent cinema, that this effect was produced by two halves of a hollowed out coconut. However, catalogues of sound effects of that period show conclusively that matched pairs of turned hardwood bowls such as those which we are offering you, were always the preferred medium for producing this effect.

Although things have changed since the introduction of samples, in my opinion you can't beat the clash of beautifully turned hardwood bowls to produce the most satisfactory sound.



Triangle Suspension Arm

triangle suspension armI now have available the first product in our range of lightweight accessories for the stand box.  You will find on the website shop a sturdy but light Triangle Suspension Arm, available at the extremely competitive price of £17.95. It is approx. 26.5 cm (20.5”) by approx. 1 cm (0.04”).

The triangle arm is, of course, designed to allow you to play the triangle in a multi-percussion set-up, freeing both hands for playing. This one has the advantage of being lightweight as well!

'Triangle' Nigel's Trio

Quote from The Times - '...triangle was played gleefully by a large man!!'

The above quote from ‘The Times’ is describing me when I was playing a prominent triangle part in an orchestral concert in London - which leads me rather neatly on to tell you about my Jazz Trio called ‘Triangle’!

Over the last few years I have spent many a happy evening playing (although it was work, it certainly didn't feel like it!) jazz with my trio at various venues around the UK, including wedding receptions (we were recently asked to play the Cantina theme from Star Wars - my version, naturally!)

Another quote from a personal source (totally unbiased, of course!):

'I am not a musician and have not always placed jazz in the ‘easy listening’ category. However, I know I was not alone in enjoying an evening at The Ruchetta immersed in fabulous music, fantastic food, with great friends.  A night I will remember for a long time to come.'  Nicola Page

So, if you would like to book 'Triangle', my Trio, for an event you are planning, small or large, you should waste no time in contacting me on 01491 629838 for a quote.



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