'World of Percussion' at Vailsburg Library
I got to last Wednesday's special educational event on the second floor of my local branch of the Newark Public Library a half hour after its scheduled beginning. I thought I just wanted to take some pix of the event, but once I heard the half or so of the presentation that I did catch, I wished I had heard the whole thing.
There was a table of instruments behind the presenter, Leonard ("Doc") Gibbs, only some of which I saw him explain. There are two other chances for me and other people to see the entire presentation, both next Wednesday, March 14th, at 10:30am in Centennial Hall of the main library (5 Washington Street) and at 5:30pm at the Weequahic Branch (355 Osborne Terrace).
The Vailsburg presentation was not as well attended as it deserved to be. There were only about 20 people in the room at any point when I was there. I hadn't known there even was a second floor to the Vailsburg branch. I had theretofore been only in the split-level portion of the library, the first floor with one half-flite down to the children's section and a half-flite up to a mezzanine where adults can use computers. The Library has its own computers that people can sign up to use, plus a wifi connection for people who bring in their own laptops. This can be of great value to me, inasmuch as I have an alternative to expensive cable modem for Internet access, a mere 4-minute drive from my home. I could even walk there in good weather.
This 3-dimensional artwork adorns one wall in the adults section around a corner from the table where I set up my laptop.
Gibbs explained the instruments one by one, as to their name, where they come from (e.g., Senegal, West Africa; Brazil), how they are made, how they are played, and what they are used for (e.g., music or communication).
Mr. Gibbs is a very good teacher with very fluid speech — none of the "uh"s and "ya know"s that mar so much public speaking nowadays. ("Ya know" has largely displaced "uh" as something people say to fill empty air — which really doesn't need filling; "Silence is golden" — when they can't think of what they want to say at a specific moment. That bad habit, in extreme form, torpedoed Caroline Kennedy's attempt to run for the U.S. Senate, but no one seems to have taken from that debacle the need to stop saying "ya know".)
In the foto above, Gibbs introduces the "hang" (pronounced hong), a Swiss instrument that, he explained, is like a convex, alternate version of the concave steel drum of Trinidad, with areas pounded down to produce different musical tones.
Gibbs asks if any of the kids would like to try it. Curiously, at first none of the boys comes forward, but two girls do (the one above, and the one below).
Gibbs does eventually induce one boy to come up, but he does not attack the instrument with gusto. Later, in the video near the end of today's post, "Rita" from Nigeria asked for dancers, and one boy but no girls volunteered. Curious meets curiouser.
(I realized that I have always mentally mixed the two senses of "drum" when thinking of the musical steel drum: the barrel from which the musical areas are cut and pounded, which is itself a "drum"; and the percussion instrument formed from shaped sections of the steel barrel, to form a second type of "drum". (Wikipedia: "The 55-gallon oil drum was used to make steelpans from around 1947.") I think I saw, on TV in my youth, actual oil drums at full size with raised areas at the top being played in steel drum bands.
Another instrument Doc Gibbs showed is the African drum below, formed from goat skin and a hollowed-out log. Different tones are produced by striking different parts of the membrane / drumhead (close to the rim or out in the middle), and with different parts of the hand.
I asked Mr. Gibbs if that drum, when used for communication, was played in a kind of Morse Code to convey specific messages, or just rhythmic patterns indicative of general themes. He said that general patterns were employed to inform people within earshot that, for instance, there was a ceremony that day to initiate a boy or girl into manhood/womanhood, as to invite people to celebrate with them.
So, I summed up, a specific message, say "Dr. Livingstone is coming", could not be conveyed? A member of the audience, "Rita" from the Ibo country of Nigeria, thought that a message like that could be conveyed, and Gibbs improvised a make-believe drum version of that message.
Rita then offered to and was permitted to teach the audience a Nigerian song, a brief video of which I merge with another brief video of the close of the evening's presentation, at the end of this post.
Rita also told us of a folk remedy for stuttering that employed the metal, clapperless bell (above) Mr. Gibbs had shown us being played by striking it with a drumstick. In the remedy, the bell is used as a cup to drink from. She attested to its efficacy in her own case. I guess drinking from the bell has psychological effects on the psychological problem of stuttering. Whatever works!
Another instrument Mr. Gibbs demonstrated for us is the "guica", also known as "cuica", of Brazilian samba bands. It consists of a drum cylinder, of metal, over which is stretched a skin drumhead at one end. The other end is open, so the player can insert his hand, holding a wet cloth that he rubs on a bamboo reed attached to the drumhead but pointing into the cylindrical cavity. Different tones are produced from the resulting vibration by pressing on different parts of the drumhead. I found a 22-second video on YouTube that shows the result.
Gibbs then handed out various of the instruments to members of the audience, mostly kids, and told them when and how to use them in a pickup group performance. The exhilarating result forms the second part of a little video you can get to by clicking on the foto below or by going directly to its location at Blip.tv, http://blip.tv/el-craigo/world-of-percussion-at-vailsburg-branch-6014274.
Gibbs, Rita, the Vailsburg Branch manager (whom I have met but whose name I do not know, and is not shown on the otherwise informative NPL Vailsburg Branch Webpage), and another woman I don't know were posing for pictures being taken by another audience member, so I got in on that foto op.
There was a table of refreshments at the back of the room, which was popular with the kids. All in all, the event, tho underattended, went well, and the manager said she hopes the branch will host more such educational entertainments in the future.
Again, if you'd like to see this presentation, you have two chances next Wednesday, March 14th, at 10:30am in the main Library on Washington Street, Downtown, and at the Weequahic Branch at 5:30pm the same day.