Author Archives: Calum Rees

Q&A | Clicks and Loops

Q? I’ve started using a few click tracks and loops in our services, due mainly to not that many musicians in our worship band. How often do you play with clicks and loops and do you program them yourself or get them from somewhere else?

Calum’s thoughts…

Loops/clicks:  I only tend to use those for a predefined set, usually more performance oriented but not always.  When i’m out with an artist such as Brian Doerksen for instance, we use loops and clicks on a few of the tunes that have backing tracks of choirs, orchestra’s etc…otherwise everything else will be click free.  I have a reference LED pulse on a metronome to kick off the tune, but usually the individual musician who is starting the tune will know it sufficiently to not even need that.  Else i’ll count them in using the metronome as my reference.

If I am playing with a loop or click that i’ve created myself, i’ll do it using a mixture of a drum machine, loop generator, V-drums and ‘live’ instruments through Garage Band, ProTools or some other DAW.

I’ve never had a great ‘team’ experience when using clicks in local church settings, I think primarily because most people are used to taking their timing and cues from other musicians, rather than a click.

The recording process enabled me to quickly trust the click and learn to imply the required feel against it.

Music has to breathe, especially in a church setting.  By keeping to a strict grid we can ending up powering our way through what could have been a more creative space – selah anyone??


Q&A | Drum screens

Q? Hi Calum, hope all is well with you. I was wondering if you could give me your views on drum shields/booths when using them in church. I noticed in one of your recent videos that you were using one and they seem to be creeping into a lot of churches these days. I’m thinking about getting one for the church I worship in but want to get people’s opinions first before I spend hundreds of pounds on one. The church I attend is around 100 years old and designed to amplify rather then deaden sounds (every drummer’s worse nightmare). I play with cool rods but feel that these don’t really suit the upper tempo songs and can also can limit dynamics slightly. Do you feel that the shield makes a difference to the overall volume of the drum kit? When you are using one, does it make you feel can play with more dynamics and feel?  It can be hard to be a sensitive drummer but play with authority, especially when the piano sounds like double forte! I would love to hear your views on the subject.

Cheers for now…

Calum’s thoughts…

…the ‘ol drum screen shenanigans eh?  Not my favourite situation to be in…I also don’t like them!  Actually, they’re great if you’re in a recording scenario with a need for isolation and you want to keep visual contact going, rubbish for any other forms of communication, which is far from your regular sunday church worship set-up.

The main reason for using them it seems (other than shutting the drummer up), is to keep the drums out of the vocal mics and the rest of the room when arranged on a ‘traditional’ stage plot, which puts the drummer right behind the lead vocal.  Instead of this approach perhaps we could look at more creative ways of setting up the musicians?  (Check out the Level Ground DVD release from Brian Doerksen)

This question does reveal a deeper thought around the forms of music utilized in our churches for worship and the perceived outcome of having a live band of musicians leading those songs.  If we are at the audiophile end of the spectrum then we will naturally want our worship experience to be as close to the controlled, high quality CD version of music as is possible.  Thus the need for ‘tools’ such as a drum screen or electronic drums and complete isolation of each instrument.  However, if we are trusting our musicians to lead us into a place of a safety that enables us to be vulnerable in our worship before God and each other, then I would expect the need for skill and strength of character to be paramount to our experience of worshiping together.  Whilst both are possible I think they are only brought together by a worshiping community that allows musicians to be who they are because those musicians have proved themselves to be trustworthy, skillful and play in such a way that draws people to the heart of God, rather than offends because of a perceived raucous racket.  Take a look at many of the top players across the world who are known for their feel and musicality – Peter Erskine, Steve Gadd etc… I was really surprised at how effortless they make playing seem and also that they don’t really pound on the drums.  Rather, they have such control and dexterity that they allow their instrument to speak and the mics and PA do the work they are designed to do – namely, amplification.

So, after all that, going back to the question of drum screen or not to drum screen, I would see if there is any way of investing the available budget into treating the acoustic area directly around the drums, bearing in mind that in your situation, any sound made in a traditional church building will have much in the way of bright, resounding sound reflections.  Perhaps look at using fabric, much in the same way as the heavy theatrical drapes found in a theatre are used to acoustically deaden the area.  (If the church community will go for a star cloth – Twinkling lights on a heavy black curtain -great!!!)  Banners are always a hit in such establishments and usually have good access to those that make them.  Placed around the church they would not only be aesthetically pleasing (?!) but would be doing a sterling job as sound baffles, reducing the amount of reflections bouncing around the place.  Next time you’re in a venue that has ‘good sound’, look to see what treatments have been done to the room.  The Albert Hall in London has huge mushrooms hanging from the ceiling and still has a reverb time of many many seconds.  Or make note of the difference in acoustics between a carpeted room and a bare floor.

All that to say, if the drum screen is all that is being offered to reduce the perceived level of the kit, then it’s probably not cost effective to introduce it.  It actually makes it louder for the drummer, harder to control the dynamics, with increased reflections, where you will also need a good monitoring system.  Even if your church were using a flown line array for the front of house system I doubt that the perceived difference in sound quality from a kit behind a screen would warrant the purchase of one.  Perhaps the church could invest in some lessons for the drummer?

So, (again!), I’ve taken to utilizing mainly percussion when i’m with my church community.  At one time the venue was a completely tiled room within a community centre, with the a/c fan blowing constantly.  A more percussion minded approach fitted the bill in terms of end user expectations, it was more fun for the musicians involved whist also being effective for the gathered community.

The type of drums being used will also make a difference to the sound quality.  A lot of churches have a kit that has drum sizes favoring 70’s rock, with old used drum heads and clanging cymbals – no wonder the drummer may find it hard to get a pleasing sound that is anything other than that!

I would recommend that any church community really give themselves to building a worshipping community, having grace for one another and really investing in those relationships that allow us to speak into one another’s lives.  If we are seeking that, then i’m sure we can get rather more creative that putting up a drum screen – it doesn’t really make us drummers feel that welcome!

Article | Here’s to you!

“Here’s to you, the total and complete…YOU!”

Imitation is a necessary tool in our development.  We learn through taking from “The Greats”…Buddy Rich, Neil Peart…ermm Animal etc…and combining it with what we discover in ourselves.  Some of these players are still blazing their trail, many more we find in the archives of history.

Closer to home, my inspiration would be my drumming dad, Chris Slade (Tom Jones, MMEB, AC/DC).  I haven’t seen anyone take a drum set and play it quite the way he does.  And when he’s at full bore – yowzer – it’s an amazing scene to behold!

At the time of writing, I’ve recently returned from a number of weeks away, playing music overseas with songwriter Brian Doerksen.  We joined worshiping communities in South Africa, The Netherlands, Serbia, Switzerland, London, N.Ireland, Hong Kong, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines.  Amazingly, not one bag was lost and my bright green RoboKey drum key is also still with me!  We visited many different cultures, with their own indigenous forms of language and music.

It’s quite the privilege to be involved in music that is being used to represent the yearnings of another person.  It is important to recognize that music is connecting and giving voice to the emotion and story of those singing it.  It’s another thing all together when you hear people singing their own songs of worship, in their own language, with their own instrumentation.  That…is off the chart.

One thing that struck me in my recent travels was the experience of connecting with music sung in a language I don’t speak.  My attention was held I think because of the music being an honest expression, not just a carbon copy of someone else’s creativity, and the need for a space to be filled.  The songs had a ring of truth about them, like a bell without a crack.  I heard the unique, heartfelt cry of the created to their Creator.

I’ve been involved in Brian Doerksen’s music in various guises since our first meeting in London in 1996.  Our first recording was the UK Vineyard album, “Come, Now is the Time”, followed a while later with, “Hungry”.  Both of these albums are noted as being a huge influence in releasing the voice of a generation yearning to express songs of worship in their own way.

Throughout my recent travels those I met who were old enough (!) became very animated to hear that I was the “Hungry” drummer.  I started to ask why?  Almost everyone said the album connected with them in a deep and personal way.  They felt it gave voice to their desire to connect their life experience to God, through song, in a way they hadn’t before.  Those that were drummers shared that the “Hungry groove” remains a huge inspiration for them.  Digging deeper I found that when people played along and tried to figure out the groove in question, they found it ‘unusual’.  Carl Albrecht (drummer with Paul Baloche) singles it out on his list of top 100 worship grooves by calling it ‘unique’.

A popular question asked is, “How did you come up with that groove?”.  My answer is still the same…”I just played”.  The reality is in that moment regardless of all the practice, all the listening and imitating the grooves from a myriad of artists and genres, playing along to songs heard on the radio and found in the record collections of friends, I found myself in a musical situation where creativity and being myself was positively encouraged.  And in that space a cool little 2 bar groove emerged that served the song well and allowed the other musicians room to maneuver their musicality around it.  The fact that Kathryn Scott had penned an amazing song that enabled me to put voice to my own feelings of hunger toward God didn’t hurt either!  It also helped that I grew up without a ‘christian/non-christian’ divide in my experience of music.  I was given the understanding that there is great music – music that connects, inspires and moves you – and then there is music that will let you down and not satisfy.  Thankfully, in my opinion at least, I seem to have chosen more of the first category, which has helped me to jettison much of the latter from my listening history.  God is wastefully extravagant, giving creativity to everyone.

As you develop your own playing, have courage and learn who you are behind your instrument.

Here’s some of what I would suggest to help cultivate your own “voice”:

No-one can play and interact with music quite the way you can.  Your ‘voice’ is unique and will be inhibited if you are always looking to see what is the current trend or perceived way to play.  It’s great to imitate, but don’t stop there.

With the right tools, commitment to creativity, and team work you may find a way to express music that connects with others and releases your own voice of worship to God.  You may even find yourself engaging in this way with music in a different language, time signature or instrumentation than you are used to.  But this happens only if you first allow yourself the freedom to find out who Jesus is leading you to be.

The truth is sometimes it’s really hard to be yourself.  They key, it seems, is first to have an understanding of who you are in God.  With that knowledge safely protected it will afford you the confidence to be yourself, to become the musician you desire to be.  The music you make might not be to everyone’s taste but would you rather be known as a good imitator or as someone with something to say?

If you’d like some biblical drummers for inspiration, check out Miriam – Aaron and Moses’ sister.  And then if you want to really get moving check out Asaph – the cymbal playing, Psalm penning, head honcho of the tribe of Levites. Who knows, perhaps the band will even flourish when the drummer announces, “Hey guys, here’s a song I’ve written”!

Be yourself.  You are uniquely created.  Don’t miss out through being someone else! 

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Calum Rees is a drummer who has appeared on many recordings within the contemporary worship realm and beyond.  Husband to Joyce and dad to Finley and Connor, he lives in Abbotsford, BC and enjoys music wherever he finds himself to be.  

And Here’s to You! by David Elliott (Author), Randy Cecil (Illustrator) …one of Finley and Connor’s favourite books!