Percussion Treasure Chest + Gig Bag (Spice Bag)and a Little About Moving Your Drums (Insurance)
This is my “percussion treasure chest” and my “gig bag” of special items. One of the things I try to do at facilitated drum circles is encourage self discovery. Of course I want to get everyone on a body drum to get the healing energy inside their bodies. I like to play a drum the entire time I facilitate, so it’s more inclusive, and I’m just another part of the group. But there are always the bystanders – the curious and/or shy people on the perimeter just watching. I want to include them – but at their own pace, and in their own time - when they feel they are ready.
Back in the day, I used to haul plastic bins of percussion items, and set them up on card tables. It was time consuming, and often I had no time to do that, so I would just set them down with the lid off. I noticed people would casually go up to them, dig around, and find something interesting to try and figure it out, and play it. They would all have fun doing this, and eventually see that nobody really cares how good a musician they are – they are busy doing their own thing. They would see what a good time those others were having playing the drums, and eventually would gravitate to a drum themselves.
People seemed to really like doing it, so instead of 2 large plastic bins, I picked up this light polymer steamer trunk, and filled it up with percussion goodies to replace them. Nothing with sticks is in there, (unless it’s attached with a cord) because it always managed to find it’s way to a drum head. Inside are assorted maracas, various shakers, bells, frogs, guiros, tambourines, sound shapes, boomwhackers, earthy sounding shakers, kalimbas, frogs, eggs, and all sorts of curious stuff – even a kid’s xylophone is in there. Anything to get them included at their own pace, and get that self discovery process started without having to ask them.
Packing everything back in there at the end of the circle is a different story. I guess all those years of playing Tetris actually helped out a little. The handy thing about this drum circle treasure chest is it’s relatively easy to close up, lock if necessary, and carry with it’s handle. But mainly, with the colorful drum circle poster taped inside it, people are drawn to it. I usually try to make it a point during the circle to let everyone know it is there, welcome them to look through it, and explore. They usually find it if I do happen to forget.
Next to it is my black “gig bag”. I always keep it next to me or behind my chair. It has the 9 compartments so at a glance, I can easily organize and find things. It also has 2 zippered compartments on the front for lug pouches, first aid, and etc. I keep that gig bag next to me with the extra special percussion items in it. I pull them out one at a time after a rhythm periodically – I demonstrate how I play it, and ask, “Who would like to try this out? The first hand in the air gets to play it, and I ask them to pass it along after a bit so others get a try. Then we start out a new rhythm, and away we go.
That big red Latin Percussion Salsa Bell you see there, is my go to cowbell. It was expensive, but I love that thing. I’ve had it for over 20 years so it was worth the cost if I average it out. I painted it red with Rustoleum so I could identify it, or find it in the dark, but also to soften the sharpness of the tone a bit. It also has that flat bottom edge so there’s an extra note and playing surface. It makes it for a very versatile, and great sounding instrument. Sometimes with a long gig, you need to take a break from the djembe. I play it with the soft mallet you see next to it, and not a stick so it isn’t so sharp piercing and loud for people. There’s nothing worse that when someone gets next to you and starts whacking on a small cowbell with a stick. The pitch is usually too high, and for some, even painful. That soft mallet works perfect and you can still hit the sides with the stick portion. Well, thinking about it, one thing that is worse, is when you get someone on a bottom drum that can’t keep time.
I use a Latin Percussion Samba Whistle if I'm at a party and need some crowd control, or sometimes to help end a rhythm. Something besides a rumble or countdown gives more variety, and makes it more fun. It has 3 distinctive notes on it, so you can have a little fun here and there during rhythms with it. I suggest getting a quality metal one. The plastic knock offs just aren't as good, or don't sound as good either. Mine is made by Latin Percussion - it costs a bit more, but I've had it for 30 some years and it still looks and works like new. You can dress it up nicely by putting it on a semi precious stone necklace like turquoise, lapis beads or something like that. Get the best quality gear whenever you can. If you want to sound the best, buy the best you can. The same applies to drums. The good ones cost more but hold up longer. It ends up saving you money in the long run. I spent years upgrading my facilitating drum, and kit of drums. So take my advice, always buy up in quality if you can afford it.
I love the LP Giovanni Djembe as my primary facilitating drum. I went through dozens of different drums until I found just the right one for me. As soon as i touched it - it spoke to me, and that was it. It has a whole lot of range and soul for a manufactured drum. Finding that ideal drum for you can be a bit of a journey, but when you find it, you know it. I've played it over 20 years and only had to change the drum head once. It has a goatskin head, a reasonably authentic sound, but is also lug tunable. So when I'm in the A/C or outdoors, just a few quick turns of the wrench and I'm ready to go. My good Ivory Coast hand carved djembe just isn't practical for this kind of work. Only problem is they run about $500 - $600 new. But averaged over 20 years - 30 bucks a year, not so bad. I like a lot of the Remo gear, but I'm a firm believer in the quality and sound of Latin Percussion drums. Here's a few of mine.
Your voice is an instrument also, connecting and communicating is a big part of facilitating, so you have to keep your voice in tune. Exorcize it, because going frogvoice half way through a circle isn't good. Bring some Cepecol, or what a singer / broadcaster told me long ago, use honey cough drops before you start, it will lubricate and keep the vocal chords open.
I also keep in there 2, 4 x 6" clear make up bags that zip open. One is various tuning wrenches, Remo lug, regular drum key, conga & bongo wrench, allen wrenches for the doumbeks, a few thimbles, and paint can openers for the washboard.
The other packet is my med-kit and first aid. Pretty much as you'd expect - the assorted band aids, (Some people simply will not take off a wedding ring, as nicely as you ask.) For them a band aid over it, or please play a doumbek. (Less likely to get damaged, and if so, only $20. )Some 3/4" cloth tape, assorted gauze, some 3 in 1 antibiotic cream, fold up scissors, some nu-skin, Motrin and Tylenol in sealed 2 packs (at most drug stores.)
Often other musicians that might show up need some white tape for a finger, or something else, and if you have it on hand, it shows you care about them. I also bring the foam ear plugs just in case someone is overly sensitive to the sound. I facilitate through the music mostly and volume is rarely an issue, but I work a lot with seniors and special needs groups - some are very sensitive to drumming even if the volume is kept under control. I've used them only a handful of times over the years, but it's made it possible for those few people to continue enjoying the experience rather than having to leave. I get the ear plugs in the plastic sealed 2 packs at most sporting goods, or drug stores. Just something nice to have for those who may happen to need it.
Sometimes we have to eat before we play, it's the way they want things scheduled for the event. Usually heartburn comes as side dish with that, so I bring Tums, Rolaids, Pepcid, and etc. Antibiotic hand wipes and/or liquid is a good idea also, we shake lots of hands before and after gigs, not to mention handling gear after the gig. Whatever other med things you might need, bring those. I don't want to suggest things like constipation, or other bodily function meds, but it happens. Better to be ready if you get some tummy problems.
The other thing I bring besides the honey cough drops is some ginseng. It works for me anyway, especially if you have a long gig like a school where they bring 6 classes in one after another. I take it an hour before the first downbeat. I need to keep my energy level up, and that helps me. I want the last group to get as much from me as the first group does. Things like sodas, spicy food, anything sour or caffeinated hurts more than it helps when it comes to keeping your voice, and energy level up. Anyway, whatever works for you, bring it.
I like the Remo "Slider" djembe strap. It's adjustable, and has clips on the ends so you can just leave it one you, and clip it on quickly without having to fumble around. But more importantly, it cris crosses on my back and distributes the weight evenly. That makes a long session much easier for me. The run about $20 and come in different colors in case you like to accessorize like I do. What we wear, and first impressions are important - be colorful and proud of your ethnicity. Maybe I've watched too much "Project Runway". I blame it on my wife.
It seems like I almost always get my injuries, cuts and bruises from loading and unloading my gear. It hardly ever happens from playing, just a stupid mistake bumping a car door or something like that.
Some of the items I keep in my gig bag are the LP Flex-a-tone, and blue Vibra-tone, it's a tuning fork sort of metal tube instrument that goes woo woo woo. Please love that one. I mention to try and find “moments” to play it, and not just constantly do so, or it looses it’s impact. People seem to love the Remo thunder drum the best, it’s always a hit. (The blue one there.) I have to ask them to please play it with care, as the spring is 36” long, and it’s very fragile. Please don’t step on it, it will break. As Christine says, “It adds spice”. So anyway, that’s my spice bag, or gig bag as I refer to it. It cost me about $45 – not bad actually. Gator makes it. It’s very functional, soft, and easy to carry – let alone pack in my vehicle. I can always manage to smush it into a crowded space somewhere. And space is at a premium with I’m also hauling 40 to 60 drums.
I used to use a trailer to haul my drums, but as the last 10 years have gone by, insurance has gone up so high I’ve downsized so it all fits inside the vehicle. It has to. It seems like in most states and with most insurance they cover the gear if it’s “Inside” the vehicle, (If it’s outside in a trailer it requires additional coverage, and more expensive insurance.) So for me, in my case anyway, everything has to fit inside the vehicle. That’s why I like the soft mold able gig bag, and plastic steamer trunk. They pack easy. I use lots of nesting items.
Anyway, I just wanted to share a little here, and I hope some of these hints and suggestions are helpful to you on your journeys of the drum.
Please consider picking up my "101 Drum Circle Rhythms" DVD (or Instant Video) on Amazon for around $15, or some of my live drum circle jam music on iTunes. The proceeds help me to continue working, and keep the drum circle finder website going.