Joyful Noise: Inside KoSA Drum Camp

World Music Workshops

Mazza is a self-described “big kid who learns all the time.” And his hybrid drum setup reflects this. At KoSA, this thirst for knowledge is evident as teachers attend each other’s classes. Mazza says, “With Glen [Velez] I learned a brush thing; with Chester [Thompson] he had an independence exercise that gave me another idea for my teaching and a new book.” In Vermont, Mazza has successfully created an environment of community for both sharpening skills as well as networking with a sense of a worldwide musical family who, he says, “tells it like it is.”

Mazza and Kovács – who created a comprehensive curriculum with college credits available at KoSA – chose the Vermont locale, away from the urban environment to offer a total percussion experience with classical, jazz, rock, funk, world, and electronic styles for everyone from novices to pros. “I wanted it to be in Vermont; it feels like Switzerland here, totally neutral,” says Mazza.

“The setting is conducive to study and in-depth exploration because there aren’t many distractions; it’s a focused way to experience the program,” says frame-drum master Glen Velez (Paul Winter, Pat Metheny, Zakir Hussain), who has been teaching at KoSA since its inception 18 years ago (as has drum-education guru and kit player Dom Famularo). At his workshop sessions he continually offers something new, such as his recently designed Glen Velez Artisanal brush in a quartet of colors, created collaboratively with a broom craftsman in Arkansas who also produces Harry Potter brooms. Using this frame drum brush made of broom straw replaces the more challenging left-hand technique that many novices struggle with, instantly creating a pleasing new timbre for beginners as well as pros.

Velez focuses on precise articulation, telling his workshop participants, “If you can get a good sound on the drum, it really draws the listener in.” He offers tips for stabilization and reducing motion when hitting the drum. Another time he says, “the motion of the brush is just a light flick; it’s like Groucho Marx flicking a cigar.”

Velez – a pioneer who brought the ancient frame drum to the modern world and the attention of so many over the last three decades—teaches at a number of drum clinics and camps including the summer percussion seminar at Tanglewood in the Berkshires of Massachusetts, the Juilliard Percussion Seminar in New York City, the Tamburi Mundi (a frame drum fest in Germany) and NAFDA (North American Frame Drum Association at varying locations). Whether he is teaching Southern Italian—style techniques, Arabic dance rhythms, or South Indian—inspired compositions, he has a fondness for KoSA, where he points out: “Although KoSA is predominantly drum set oriented, the participants are interested in expanding styles and there are many possibilities for cross-fertilization with different ways of approaching rhythm and different cultural perspectives.”

The infectious enthusiasm of charismatic, Boston-based Marcus Santos is contagious in the Brazilian workshop where I learn simple samba rhythms on the pandeiro and place my notebook aside. We introduce ourselves (with some participants from Montreal, Quebec City, Boston, North Dakota, and New York) while keeping the patterns going. “The tambourine is like a drum set; the jingle is a hi-hat,” says Marcus, a native of Bahia, Brazil. “The pandeiro is the heart of Brazilian samba,” he says.

He teaches the “Teleco Teco” pattern (an onomatopoeic term for the sound of the drumming motif), at times using the board to notate a rhythm, or guiding participants to relax the arm or keep the palm closer to the rim to get more of a jingle sound. His high energy doesn’t let up as he creates an impromptu song about KoSA. It makes sense that he leads his interactive Grooversity programs of Afro Brazilian percussion across the U.S., serving as a catalyst for social-diversity awareness with attention to enacting positive change by engaging communities through music.

Cultural perspectives are often on the mind of Michael Taylor (known simply as Taylor) who gives djembe workshops where he speaks of the misinformation that is disseminated about instruments such as the djembe, which he studied in a variety of West African nations, earning him the Tam Tam Mandingue Certification from Mamady Keïta of Guinea. Taylor tells us the names of the drums and their meanings vary considerably during an afternoon session that leaves my hands hurting but my heart singing.

Chicago-based Taylor (who doesn’t have corporate sponsorship and is the owner of Holy Goat Percussion) is a natural performer who plays Wula drums (meaning “forest” in Susu, a Mande language of Guinea) with resilient goatskin heads, one of the most traditional skins after antelope heads, often paired with a heavy wooden base. He refers to some woods by their traditional names and another which he calls, “swiss mocha almond wood, because it reminds me of ice cream.” Taylor explains there is no traditional drum language for djembe. “The words are not important. The oral tradition makes you listen.” At an evening concert, he incorporates a folktale from the ancient Malian Empire (with a sub-text that a good drum will not magically make you good drummer). His performance imparts interesting cultural lore, matching well with Aldo’s mission. “It’s important to go the roots and bring them back to understand the culture; then it makes sense,” says Mazza.

Ron Reid teaches at Berklee College Of Music (arranging, steel pan, and Afro pop) and gives concerts at places like the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. I meet him as he leads a small class in steel pans at KoSA, where a 14-year old student quickly picks us the pattern on the double pan as an older participant struggles a bit with the melody. Reid remains patient and good-natured. I wish he had a larger group to work with, teaching the lilting melodies of his native Trinidad, and I also would appreciate hearing more of his steel pans in the mix during the evening concert.

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11. Taylor's ensemble.

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12. Santos in class.

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13. Glen Velez in concert.

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14. Taylor on djembe.

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15. Frame drum workshop.

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