Joyful Noise: Inside KoSA Drum Camp

Kosa Concerts

The concerts have excellent programming with some exquisite performances such as international globetrotting, virtuosic marimba player Eriko Daimo in a sensitive rendition of an appealing transcription of an Astor Piazzolla piece; effervescent vibes player Allan Molnar (cofounder of the ALIVE Project for video conferencing, awarded with the KoSA Lifetime Achievement Award); the dramatic stick acrobat and snare drummer Jeff Queen (with a superstar Drum Corps career); and the excitement of four-time Grammy Award—winner Glen Velez playing a dynamic solo on a single tambourine with no electronics or theatrics, allowing the pure beauty of the instrument to dance in his hands with both melodic as well as rhythmic phrases shining through.

While I am drawn to the range of world drumming offerings at KoSA, there is also a who’s who of drum set players on the faculty, representing a variety of styles. Each takes time out from their busy international touring and teaching schedules to spend a stretch in the Vermont woods, drumming with an intimate group of students, who range from newbies to educators and pros. “Even beginners get hands-on time with the masters,” says Kovács.

Drum Set Roster

Clinics this year at KoSA are led by Chester Thompson (Frank Zappa, Weather Report, Genesis/Phil Collins); Dom Famularo (B.B. King, Lionel Hampton), who speaks eloquently about the “brotherhood of drummers”; Daniel Glass (Brian Setzer Orchestra and a DRUM! columnist); Jason Bittner (Shadows Fall, Stigmata); Memo Acevedo (Tito Puente, Gregory Hines, Louie Belson); Gregg Bissonette (Ringo Starr, Santana, Brian Wilson); Ed Uribe (Paquito D’Rivera, Randy Brecker, Gary Burton); Sergio Belloti (founder of Do You Speak Drumming?); Jeff Salisbury (Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley); and Aldo Mazza (Celine Dion, Jon Bon Jovi, James Brown). Each of these illustrious musicians, as well as the world drummers, offers a profusion of CDs, videos, books, scores, products etc. for a ”take-away” experience.

“The most consistent thing KoSA creates is a very high level of tolerance,” says Peter Wilder, who juggles some of the administrative issues. “KoSA represents a vast section of existing and possible percussion tracts at its camps and events. For example, ’speed metal’ drumming isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. It sure isn’t mine, but this year Jason Bittner showed not only some of the expected aspects of speed metal, but also zigzagged into utilizing those techniques in a power funk arrangement with the talented KoSA Rhythm section [lead by Robert Quranta, a member of the Collective just outside NYC]. So, the tolerance comes in where everyone can find an important “take-away” nugget of relevant information from all the genres present. If one is open to the possibilities, one can decide much more easily what works and what doesn't. This tolerance, if not unbridled enthusiasm, for the possibility of a different approach, is so important. Take Ron Reid, this year’s steel pan drum instructor. A great jazz player, Ron adapts the pan to some wild jazz scales and impeccable timing and feel. A high level of tolerance, as I note that some of the participating speed-metal enthusiasts are intrigued by the steel drums.”

“The program keeps evolving by pushing the envelope with new instruments,“ adds Wilder. “We are one of the first enterprises to bring in steel pan drums, to incorporate African dance along with African drumming techniques, and the first to incorporate parade drumming into a drum set vocabulary.”

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16. Santos on congas.

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17. A drum class enjoys the fresh country air.

Special Sessions

Master classes and special sessions offer presentations on diverse topics including classical percussionist Frank Epstein (Boston Symphony Orchestra and New England Conservatory Of Music) focusing on well-functioning cymbal technique, and Mario DeCiutiis (principal percussionist of Radio City Music Hall, founder of Alternate Mode and the inventor of KAT MIDI electronic controllers), demonstrating a whole new world of a 24-pad unit triggering Indian rhythmic language along with hundreds of samples. DeCiutiis, a specialist in music technology, says, “All of your thoughts are now holographic; you can change the groove and fly.”

Not all of the special sessions are on the same par. I am curious to hear about the KoSA Cuba study-abroad program, but instead I disappointingly end up at a session with a drum tech rambling on about his memories with high-profile musicians. But the ego-driven presentation by the drum tech reminds me that the assorted teachers I encounter at KoSA are by contrast very down-to-earth, gentle souls without ego issues. It gives me pause to reflect on the personalities at this drum camp, where easy-going members of the KoSA family can be found all around the campus and are accessible to speak with both in and out of classes.

Themes: Family & Drumming Up Happiness

New York City—based, Colombian-born drummer/percussionist Guillermo “Memo” Acevedo (who has performed with a long list of luminaries and is the director of the NYU Latin/Brazilian Jazz Ensemble) is a fiery ball of energy, performing alongside his daughter Jacqueline in clinics and concerts, but also enjoys hanging out with her off-stage. Family is a sub-theme running through KoSA, where father and son may take classes together, mother and son enjoy concerts, or as is the case with co-director Jolán Kovács, she sometimes has an opportunity to perform with her daughter. She mentions family packages are available for this drum camp and reminds me that KoSA was born out of the idea of sharing, camaraderie, and opening eyes to a variety of styles in a place where family spirit is very important.

This year the tagline for the camp (as seen on the KoSA T-shirt) is “Drumming Up Happiness,” which is, in my experience, quite apt. And even if it sounds corny to speak of “beating the communal drum,” joy is certainly one of the key components for the participants as well as the teachers, who are often grinning ear to ear. Mazza points out: “Drumming has no politics; it just takes you to another place.” Wilder adds: “We create our own reality. Why not drum up happiness for yourself and others?”

I enjoy sampling the tasty rhythmic soup at KoSA, hoping to return next year for another satisfying feast, as do, it seems, many KoSA participants. And I agree with Wilder, who sees the future of KoSA as a “continued convergence of the human-centered instructional models” coupled with “being vigilant and aware of leading-edge developments across the entire percussion range.”

One long-time attendee, who enjoys learning, living, and studying in this inviting environment and looks forward to future camps, is Geoff Lang. “I’ve been coming to Kosa since day one,” he says. “And the wealth of information is so available in the classroom and out of the classroom – at the breakfast, lunch, and dinner table – as well as after the concerts and walking from one class to the next. KoSA is an intense experience that for drummers is like five days in a toy store.”

But the future of KoSA is not limited to the feel-good Vermont sessions. “I see KoSa expanding into new regions,” says Wilder, “particularly South America, where we have quite a bit of interest. China is another growing region, and we have been for over ten years staging the KoSA Cuba program, which is a solid week of instructional experience tied into the Havana Drum And Dance Festival.”

It is clear that Mazza’s intentions resonate beyond the immediate experience as he discusses being a positive force both musically and culturally. ”It’s important to learn traditions, study with the right people, and keep the planet on the right course.” I can’t help but smile as he adds: “Music is wellness, therapy, and a problem-solver. We want artists to play together and make the world a better place.”

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