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Christmas Concert 2014 Evaluation

posted 20 Dec 2014, 11:19 by Chris Morris
Last night, we had our very first concert. We had eight fantastic young drummers, who performed fourteen songs in
front of a packed-out McGregor Hall at the Tayside Deaf Hub. Most of the students said they weren't nervous, and for the majority of them, this was their first ever public performance.

Hats off to them, I'd have been terrified.

When I first set up Dundee Drum Academy in 2011, one of the first things I thought about was doing an annual concert. And for some reason it just never happened. Lots of pupils have come and gone, and there have been very talented young musicians in the past who would have done extremely well given the chance to perform, who, for various reasons, aren't with Dundee Drum Academy any more. 

So I decided it was finally time – Dundee Drum Academy has always had talented musicians, and I think it's important to give them a stage. Learning an instrument can sometimes be a lonely process if you are shut up in your bedroom and never showing off what you can do. And some students – gifted as they undoubtedly are – are too shy to perform in front of anyone.

I remember my first concert very well. I was about thirteen years old, and I had just started learning drums at school. I'd joined the school's brass ensemble, conducted by the late and more than great John Tonner. However, the only
part left for me when I joined was a suspended cymbal part. In two different parts of the piece. I was ridiculously nervous. 

But after that, the nerves faded, and I've never been afraid to play since. I've gone on to do a lot of things with music, and I'd put a large part of that down to the performances I did when I was younger. Once you've had that buzz of playing in front of people – whether it was the thirty-odd people gathered in the Friary on my first performance, or more than two thousand people in the tent we performed in at Glastonbury – you gain a confidence in yourself that gives you the ability to achieve anything.

So, last night, eight Dundee Drum Academy pupils had the opportunity to grow confidence, and more importantly, show off their hard-earned skills as musicians. 

I'd like to firstly thank the army of volunteers I had to help me set up. Having stupidly forgotten to take the money box down, my wife Heather and I arrived fifteen minutes late with the equipment and raffle prizes to find two individuals from Drumdee and two others associated with Tayberry already busy setting up chairs and bringing out the African drums. 

William, who played last, also arrived early to help me set up, and did a brilliant job getting the drum kit itself set up. Oliver and Alexis also arrived early and got to work helping me with whatever I needed.

When everything was in place, I looked out into the audience and realised that a lot of people had come to see their sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, or their friends play. I was a little overwhelmed by the support that was shown to these drummers. In fact, we just about ran out of chairs to set out – here's hoping our next concert isn't too popular!

Anyway, 6:00pm arrived, and with it, the start of the concert.

First Performer – Dylan.

Dylan had the privilege of being the first ever person to perform at a Dundee Drum Academy concert. I did think long and hard about who would be a good opener before deciding on Dylan for his energy, enthusiasm and good humour. 

Oh, and he is a pretty good drummer too.

First Piece – The Nod

Dylan had a difficult task – not only going first but also playing a tricky piece with a difficult backing track, and also having to get used to the drums and the music sounding a little different than what he is used to. But he pulled it off tremendously, playing with a delicacy, giving balanced sounds from all around the drum kit.

The Nod is a Grade 4 drum kit piece, and Dylan is in third year at high school. Which means he is a full two years ahead of where the SQA need him to be in order to pass that part of his exam. If he shows the same enthusiasm and intelligent approach he took to The Nod and applies that to the other aspects of his music classes (indeed, any of his school classes), he can certainly expect good results come exam time.

Second Piece – Bon Jovi's Livin' on a Prayer

It's always important to learn the kind of music that you like. And while it's difficult to find someone who doesn't enjoy Bon Jovi, Dylan shows a particular interest in rock and metal music. Livin' on a Prayer was another difficult backing track to play along to because the singing is missing, leaving Dylan to imagine hearing it, rather than perhaps singing it aloud himself, which, while entertaining, would probably distract from the drumming.

Dylan looked liked he was enjoying playing this one, and aside from forgetting about a 3-4 bar which momentarily knocked him out of time, he played the song solidly in time with the backing track, and as I looked out into the audience, it was clear that this performance was a particular hit with the onlookers.

Second Performer – Connor

We moved on to our second performer of the night, who was also our youngest. At just seven years of age, Connor moved behind the drum kit with such nerves of steel that I doubt a performance in front of a sold-out Wembley Stadium would have fazed him. In fact, not only was he not scared, he actually had a huge grin on his face as he walked up.

Funky Beat

Connor performed a piece called Funky Beat, which he has only been looking at for the past three or four weeks. I was initially hesitant about asking such young drummers to play, but Connor showed me that I have nothing to fear, and will hopefully pave the way for other lower primary school students to perform. 

Funky Beat is difficult because it's slow. As a drummer, playing slowly can sometimes be more difficult that playing quickly. This is because most of the time, if a drummer has strayed off the beat, it is because they are playing too quickly. Connor didn't miss a beat – and his fills were superb. Sometimes his drum fills were a little ahead of the backing track, but he always managed to get right back in time again, and that is a talent that any drum tutor would be very glad of in such a young student. 

Third Performer – Alexis

Next up was another young primary school student, and someone else who hasn't really been playing drums for very long, but has quickly shown that she is very able and will in all likelihood be miles ahead of where she needs to be when she goes to high school.

When I asked Alexis if she'd like to perform at Dundee Drum Academy's first concert, I don't think anyone else was quite as excited as she was. But because she was still quite new, I struggled to think of a suitable piece for her. We tried out the one she eventually went with and during her last lesson before the concert, any nerves that I had for Alexis completely vanished, because she managed the piece extraordinarily comfortably, and in fact, she probably could have gone with a slightly more complicated one.

First Piece – Jump Back

Alexis had practised a number of different drum fills during her lessons, and for the first half of Jump Back, she put these into practice. During the second half however, came one of the highlights of the night for me. From out of nowhere, Alexis started playing fills I hadn't taught her, using a cymbal she'd never seen before. She showed that as well as being able to read music, and play things that she has learned in her lessons, she also has high improvisational skills. And for someone who is only in P5, and who hasn't been learning all that long, that is fascinating.

She played strictly in time to the backing track from start to finish, and gave a big fill and loud crash cymbal at the end to finish a well-received version of the Alfred's Kids' Drum Set Course book. There's no doubt that for the next concert, she'll surely be performing from graded books. 

Second Piece – Drum solo

A week before the concert, Alexis asked if she could do a drum solo after Jump Back. She only practised this two or three times in her lessons, and each time she had done something different. But what she did at the concert was unique to anything she'd tried previously in her lessons. She added in the drum beat from Jump Back, and explored the drums with various lengths of drums fills. She will definitely enjoy going up the graded books when all of a sudden the music says nothing but “drum solo” for four bars.

Fourth Performer – Ciaran

Ciaran goes to the same school, in the same year as three other Dundee Drum Academy students, but was the only one of them to perform because one had something else on and the other two were too nervous to play. Which is fine; nerves can be difficult to conquer, and nobody will ever be pressured into performing if they really don't want to. But Ciaran can certainly lead the way for his fellow classmates, and indeed for others who may be anxious about performing, because Ciaran too, was admittedly reserved about playing.

He was also looking forward to playing though, and he has a massive determination; he recently went on holiday and bought two graded drum books – a grade 3 book which is just one level higher than the grade 2 one that we'd been working on, and a grade 8 one. I have no doubts we will be looking at that grade 8 one one day.

First Piece – For You

For You is a piece that many current Dundee Drum Academy pupils have looked at, so it was difficult to choose just one of them to perform it. I chose Ciaran because he enjoys the piece, and he plays it very well. There are a couple of tricky drum fills that he managed with ease, sticking to the beat the entire time. 

It was great to hear Ciaran perform on a drum kit without any pads on them because he showed a realy control of the sound that he brings out of the drums. He balanced loud drums with medium volume cymbals very well for this type of music.

Second Piece – Rasta Monkey

Ciaran had the pleasure of giving us our first reggae song of the evening, and also the first song which has a drum introduction. In fact, in a trio of firsts, it was also the first song which was really fast. Ciaran nailed the intro easily, and then took the audience on a Jamaican journey through two and a half pages of great reggae playing. 

Ciaran had been worried about the difficult ending, which he'd only managed a few times in lessons without problem. As he approached it I began to feel a little nervous for him, but when he managed it absolutely perfectly, I don't think anyone was applauding him louder than I was. You could see his face light up with delight that he had managed it, and then I found myself thinking:

Of course he managed it.

Fifth Performer – Oliver

Only a handful of Dundee Drum Academy students have ever sat exams with Trinity Guildhall or Rockschool. Oliver leads the way, having achieved a distinction in a grade 1 Trinity exam, and a merit in grades 3 and 4. These are proper music qualifications, which he as achieved all before his first Christmas as a high school student. 

With his grade 4 qualification, Oliver is now tied for the highest achievement of all Dundee Drum Academy students, and will now begin working towards his grade 5, which will make him the highest achieving student, in terms of passing exams. 

First Piece – Quincy Jones' Soul Bossa Nova

If there's one song which was played during the concert that is likely to get stuck in my head over Christmas, it's this one. Not least because Oliver put in months of hard work in his lessons before playing it for his grade 4 exam. There's a lot to this piece, and Oliver managed the quick bossa nova rhythm with precision. One of the problems he'd perviously had was with some of the drum fills, which he also managed very rhythmically.

Looking out into the audience, I could see once again that this was a hit with some of the Austin Powers fans, but more generally with music fans. Oliver used the new splash cymbal to great effect along with the cowbell, making him possibly the only person that used the entire drum kit in one song, which has its own challenges. But the round of applause he received at the end was well deserved.

Second Piece – Jahmake Ska

This is a grade 4 piece which Oliver had only started looking at two weeks before the concert. That alone shows that Oliver is capable of learning challenging pieces very quickly. Remember, grade 4 is the standard by which students currently pass their Higher exams in fifth year at high school. Oliver is in his first year. Learning a grade 4 piece in just two weeks is not an easy feat, even for someone who is of grade 5 or 6 standard. 

Oliver played with great rhythm and dynamics, and actually, I think he played Jahmake Ska better than he had ever played it in his lessons. There were a couple of difficult bits that he played very well, and his ending was practically spot on. During his improvised parts he kept the feel of the song very tight, and although he didn't play anything overly fancy, his style and timekeeping were both brilliant.

Sixth Performer – Lucas

Usually, I'll notice a student getting better and better over quite a long period of time. It's not often that someone just grows rapidly as a musician in a matter of a few days. But just this week, Lucas has been very impressive both in his lesson, and of course at the concert. This is partly to do with the excellent service he received from Rainbow Music, where the guys personally delivered the book he's been working on to his mum's house. Now with the power of having the music and backing tracks at hand, Lucas has come leaps and bound in less than a week.

Lucas is another of our very young drummers – P5 – and another one who will be far ahead of where the SQA need him to be by the time he arrives at high school. When I called him up last night he walked to the drum kit with a confidence that belongs there.

First Piece – Bend & Snap

Bend & Snap is quite an exhilarating piece of music to play. It's fast, and the drum beat changes often. There are also some hidden drum fills that creep up on you and surprise you when you least suspect it. You have to be very precise, and Lucas was, nailing every drum fill (most of which were solos) and keeping time with the backing track comfortably. 

There was a little bit of a muddle-up with the tricky ending but Lucas turned this into a strength – he was able to come up with a different, improvised ending that fit right in with the backing track, and wasn't put off by his mistake in the slightest. The ending sounded very deliberate and musical.

Second Piece – Kaiser Roll

On first glance, Kaiser Roll appears to be a slightly easier piece than Bend & Snap, but it's even faster, and the drum beat continually changes in every bar, making it quite easy to make a slip-up. However, not one slip-up occurred in this performance. Lucas was also one of the students to embrace the new splash cymbal, which sounded great when he ended with it in the last bar. 

Another thing which sounded great was Lucas' accidental use of the rim shot, something we haven't used in drum lessons yet. Although it was at first a mistake, he seemed to enjoy the sound of the rim shot (who doesn't?) and applied this effectively throughout the song. 

Seventh Performer – Joe

If you were at the concert last night, you might have noticed that we didn't get started until 6:05. This was because we were still waiting for Joe. I went outside to look for him, in case he and his family were finding the venue hard to locate, and I spotted him in the distance with his parents and little bother, all sauntering towards me casually, which was brilliant. 

If it had been me, I'd be sprinting towards the Deaf Hub shouting my apologies for being late and starting to panic. But Joe was another pupil with nerves of steel, which was reflected in his playing. Joe has shown an interest in taking an exam, and I think early next year would be a good time to decide on which exam, and when. 

First Piece – Y'all

Like Dylan's first piece, The Nod, Y'all is a difficult backing track to play drums to because there's not much rhythm going on. The sound is quite ambient and it's hard to keep in time to. Joe managed not to miss a beat for the entire song, and also played the drum fills very well. Most of those fills involved quite a bit of syncopation too, which is easy to throw you off.

I was holding my breath when it came to a part in the song that Joe had had particular difficulty with, but I was soon breathing again with ease as Joe breezed through it easily. 

Second Piece – West Coast Rollin'

This piece requires that t he drummer maintain a solid, even beat throughout, which Joe put into practice effectively. He managed to turn a slight stumble into a credible drum fill when he perhaps got lost or forgot that the fill was coming up. He also played this piece with a confidence which was needed to bring out the full sound of the drum kit.

The ability to move your hands accurately between the drums and cymbals is a very important part of this piece, and Joe also managed this very well, moving from crash to hi-hat with precision and ease. Overall, the audience – myself included – enjoyed both of Joe's pieces, and I would definitely like to see him back at the next one, where he will no doubt be even better.

Eighth Performer – William

Our last performer of the evening was also our oldest. William is sixteen years old, and has been coming for longer than any other pupil too. As well as impressing on the drum kit, William has also kept me entertained in the last three weeks with his superb collection of Christmas jumpers, complete with battery operated lights. He was wearing the latest in his collection last night, a green elf-like creation, and a red Santa hat. It was quite fitting that the last performer of the Christmas Concert was also the most festive looking one. 

William has been doing fantastically in his lessons. He passed his National 5 exams at the end of the last academic year and is now working towards his Highers. The pieces he performed are two of the ones he will play for his Higher exam next year.

First Piece – Metallica's Nothing Else Matters

There was a little blip at the beginning as William started his intro fill a little late, but I had every faith that he would find the beat again, and it didn't take him long to. There were a few tricky fills, and because the time signature was six-eight, it threw William off just a little, but he played with confidence and turned his mistakes into clever ways of linking in with the music.

William showed great control all throughout the piece, making the drum kit respond appropriately to the louds and softs of the backing track. As William enters Higher and grade 4-5, he will encounter more and more of this and will tackle it very well.

Second Piece – Bob Marley's No Woman No Cry

What a way to end the main section of the concert – the only backing track that had actual vocals in it. Everyone knows this song, and just like the Bon Jovi song earlier, it's hard to find some who doesn't enjoy the music of Bob Marley. William is relatively new to looking at reggae, but he impressed from the very beginning. He has a great feel for reggae music, and showed how diverse he is on the drum kit with being able to go straight from six-eight metal to a one-drop reggae. 

This was of course, another hit with the audience, many of whom were singing along to the classic song. It was a lengthy version compared to the other songs that were performed, but I can safely say that nobody looked bored by the performance – William's expert command of the song had many tapping their feet and nodding their heads along. 


As promised, we ended with Tayberry's flagship group, Drumdee. Well, actually only three of them (and myself) were available, but we performed a West African song called KuKu, which the audience and Dundee Drum Academy pupils seemed to enjoy. 

To their surprise, I also asked the students to join in for the second song, a semi self composed samba titled Afro-Samba. You would have thought that they had performed with Drumdee before, as they confidentially banged away on the djembes along with us.

The third rhythm was a calypso, which the entire audience joined in on using tambourines, shakers, triangles and all sorts. The perfect way to end Dundee Drum Academy's first ever performance – an entire room of drummers, parents, friends and relatives drumming together!


And that was our first concert. I'm extremely pleased with how it went. The focus of course was on the eight brilliant young musicians who I hope had gone home with excitement and plenty of stories to tell those who weren't there.

I also hope that each of them will join us again for a Summer Concert in June (date to be  confirmed). It's my vision that these concerts will become a part of what Dundee Drum Academy is. They are always totally optional – I mentioned earlier that there were a couple of students who were too nervous to play. I would never pressure any student into playing at a concert, but I will always encourage them to.

Dundee Drum Academy currently has more pupils than ever before. We had eight pupils from primary and secondary schools perform, and we could have had fifteen more. Twenty-three pupils performing might sound like a lot, but there are ways that we could do that, and that's what I'm going to use my time off from working with Tayberry over Christmas to plan. And who knows, we may even have more than twenty-three.

We also have four students who aren't at school. I wonder if there's a place for them at a concert...

For the eight drummers who did perform, each one of them done incredibly well. They are all now an important part of the history of Dundee Drum Academy because they were the first. The first in hopefully a long line of young drummers who will continue to perform and grow and give such amazing performances as they all did.

I'm very proud of all of my pupils. I'm proud of the eight who performed, and just as proud as the ones who haven't yet, but continue to be brilliant in lessons. I only have one thing left to say, and that's another huge thank you to everyone involved in making one of the best nights of my career.

Here's to many, many more.