“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!
: : :
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!