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…
…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!