Bringing a Little Drama to Roxanne

Friday was Sam’s practical music test for the Junior Certificate exam cycle.

It was held at the school. The set-up is fairly straightforward. A visiting music examiner comes in and hears all the music students play four pieces. Then she (it was a she) goes away again and grades them. The practical is allocated a good-sized percentage of the final grade, I can’t remember exactly how much.

On Friday morning, as all the other students were arriving in with their instrument cases and such, Sam arrived with his two-cars-full of equipment. Yup, as you may already know, Sam is the Drummer of the family.

I’m not a musical/techie type person but, over the last few years, I’ve had to be ‘acting roadie’ from time to time, carting the kit around, getting it set up, all that jazz. This time had an extra layer of complexity though. Sam was playing with a keyboard-toting mate of his for one his pieces (Take Five) but the other three pieces involved playing along with drumless tracks. To the uninitiated, these are music tracks by artists, often covers of the originals, where the drums have been taken out. These tracks had to be played loud enough to be heard over the live drum kit, which, let me tell you, is rather loud. Sam also had to be able to hear the track. All this had to be done without deafening the examiner, which never reflects well in the grades.

The solution was very much a 'gaffer tape' one, involving a guitar amp plugged in to a laptop as well as a pair of headphones for the drummer. The examiner would get to hear the track via the amp and Sam would get it from the headphones. 

I’m making all this sound far too easy. Between getting the kit loaded up, unloaded, disassembled and reassembled and then getting all the sound stuff working passably well, there was over two hours of amateur roadie sweat used up.

When we had it all set up, we asked the music teacher to come and assess what we had done and whether it would pass muster. She seemed to like it, in fairness. 

Then she did a nice thing, as she often does. Sam and I had been a little isolated in the Library, getting everything set, while the other students had been communing in the music room, playing for each other and hanging out. What she did was gather all the students in the library to hear Sam do his thing. She also rounded up a bunch of the final year music students to come and listen too. So, all of a sudden, there was quite a gathering of music students amassed in the room and sat waiting to be impressed.

Rewind to the evening before.

Sam and me were busy trying to work everything out. Sam’s last track was to be a drumless version of ‘Roxanne by’ The Police. When he played it, it sounded a bit wrong to me. We talked it through. It turned out that Sam was doing some pretty nifty drumming right from the first minute of the track, quite a bit more than Copeland was doing on the original. The thing was, it didn’t sound quite right. 

We thought about it for a while and concluded that people are so familiar with the track that the busy work Sam was doing from the get-go just didn’t seem to fit. I suggested that he take it easy for the first 60 seconds at least, until we get out the back of the first chorus.

We tried it. It sounded better but that simplified first minute didn’t sound like much in the way of drumming. It was fairly straightforward. Maybe that would be a problem.

That’s where my theatrical head kicked in . Let’s use that. Let’s work it. We bumped Roxanne from the end of the set list right to the front. The idea being that the listener (examiner) would be lulled into a sense of slightly bored security in that first minute (not too much to see here) and then get hit pretty hard when the heavy drumming kicked off. It seemed a bit risky but it also seemed like a plan.

So here we were then, next day, in the library, with all of the examination-class music students gathered. 

Roxanne kicked off, sounding a little muddy through the guitar amp but passable. Sam started drumming, tight and good but not too showy. I watched the audience, as I always do. Attentive, relaxing a bit, glad to be missing a class... 

And then the first chorus ended.

And the real drumming started.

And it worked. Oh man, it worked.

The audience sat up, leaned forward, looked at each other, smiled, whispered. Sam had lulled them and then had amazed them. If he had amazed them from the first moment, if wouldn’t have been so good. 

Perhaps the point of this is that I’ve picked up a few theatrical moves down through the years, an instinct for what works well and what works less well.


It’s not about that. If you think that’s what this post is about then you’re a bigger fool than I am.

Sam rocked the show. He’s a great drummer.

This, here? This is simply a Proud Dad post.

No more, no less.


Jim Murdoch said...

I have a photo in my hall. It’s of my daughter and me after she graduated from university. It’s your bog-standard photo. Nothing special about it other than the photographer managed to catch us both smiling. But I love it. I bought a new suit just for that photo. I’ll probably never wear it again but it really doesn’t matter. I wanted a photo so that my daughter, who doesn’t have a copy on her wall (she has a certificate to display), can look at it and know her dad was proud of her. And I was and I am. She’ll be thirty-six in July. (I have a thirty-six-year-old daughter! Hell, I’ve got a fifty-one-year-old little sister.)

I’ve always been wary of trying to live my dreams through my kid but I never went to uni and that’s always embarrassed me a little. When my best friend joined Mensa I refused to sit the test so you’ve really just got my word that I’m a clever bugger. (I am, I am a clever bugger.) My daughter has a bit of paper in a world where paper’s going out of fashion but there’s always been something a bit old-fashioned about her. She knows I love her but she also knows I’m hard-wired to love her; I think she learned that during her course. Being proud of her is something else, something she couldn’t take for granted, something she had to deserve.

Pleased for you, Ken.

Ken Armstrong said...

Agreed, Jim, the love is a given.

The pride is earned.

Anonymous said...

Ah that's a lovely post.