Friday, October 4, 2019

play outside

During this week, my partner and I are both serving congregations as cantorial soloists.
But we're serving different communities and have to practice different music and/or settings.
In our very small house, that sometimes means we take turns practicing and the other goes somewhere else for an hour ot two to give each other some space and time alone in the house.

It was my turn the other day, so I took sticks and a pad over to the park and chopped out a little.

Since hanging out on the Marching Percussion Group on Facebook, I've learned quite a lot and have gotten exercises, advice and encouragement from some very experienced drummers, including a few rockstars who marched in drum corps in the 1960s and early 70s. Since my drumming in town is limited to to the community band I play with now and then, where the musical challenges are more ensemble based than rudimentally based, My rudimental chops are developing slowly after my eight-year hiatus in the late 90s-early 2000s; and I am slowly making up for some of the lost time.

My flams STILL suck, mostly because of my arthritic left hand; and I can play more easily only after soaking my hands in hot water in the mornings before I play. But my rolls and diddle exercises are smoother now, and I enjoy playing more than I did when I started back up again.

If time and logistics permitted, I would love to find a rudimentally-based drumline to chop out with, even if just for fun once a month.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

drum plotting for the studio, part two

So I tried to set up and VERY lo-fi sort of testing situation with one of my songs from the upcoming album, using the few resources I have at hand -- my laptop with a rough vocal-guitar demo of the song, an iPhone to take video of me adding experimental drum beats, and a couple of od Xymox pads to get the snare sound I'm looking for to hear what it will all sound like.

It went something like this.

The challenges of living low-budget mean that I don't have lots of fancy recording equipment at my disposal. The challenge of having grown up playing concert and marching percussion before electronic amplification for those disciplines was in use means that I lack a lot of basic knowledge about electronics.
The result is that I have to cobble together potential studio scenarios using lo-fi, low-equipment approaches like the one above.
It's good for learning purposes, but perhaps not something I'd employ in the studio.
Still, it's good to try and expand my ears this way because it helps me clarify exactly how I want to play and sing a particular song when it's time to go into the studio -- where I'm paying an hourly rate and cannot afford to waste time. Experimentation happens before I record for real, just like it happens before I perform in public for real.

Signing off now until after the Jewish High Holy Days, which start tonight. Cheers!
(And if you're an MOT, Shanah Tovah!)

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

drum plotting for the studio

When you record an album and you're playing all the parts, you have to plan ahead.
In between rehearsals and services for the High Holy Days, I'm also preparing songs that I plan to record for my next solo album. Recording is taking place the week after Yom Kippur, roughly mid-October! So today during errands I stopped at a coffee shop and spent some time with one of my songs for the album.

In the studio, I normally prefer to play everything live, in real time; but when I have to accompany my voice with a guitar and a drum, the only way to do it is to multi-track.
In order to preserve some spontaneity for the guitar and vocal parts, I'll play them live, and then I'll go back and add a soft drum track afterwards.
In this case, the drum is fully a second "voice" with something to say, so I have to plot out the time signatures and basically where I'll keep things simple and where I'll play something more complex.

Rather than writing out a multi-staved full sheet of music, I sometimes do something called a drum plot, sort of like the old "Trip Ticks" AAA used to prepare for your cross-country drive.
This is a basic Trip Tick for the drum part, in the process of being created. Today I just wrote out the road map, playing measures to make sure I knew when the time signature needed to change.

When it's done I'll have added in markings for complex measures and/or short solo breaks.And then I'll have a road map with just enough detail to use in the studio when I'm ready to lay down the drum track.

 It's become a point of some pleasure that I know how to sing and also to play every instrument I plan to use on a recording. (It's also fortunate that my personal taste -- keeping things really stripped down -- is aligned with the instruments I know how to play well enough to record!)

For more info on my upcoming recording, check out my music web site.

Back after High Holy Days with some more drum-specific fun.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

The small but mighty band: UBB plays at the Climate Strike, PDX

From the Climate March on Friday. We were small buy mighty.

Unpresidented brass Band playing at Terry Schrunk Plaza, Portland:

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Undergrads don't get published in peer-review journals!

I wanted to let readers know that a copy of my article, "Percussion Instruments in 16th Century Ottoman Empire" is now available on
I originally wrote this as a term paper for a course in Ottoman History that I'd been invited to take by Dr. Jon Mandaville, my Middle East Studies Certificate advisor and a great guy. Since it was a graduate course, he allowed me to take it as a 499 and assigned a term paper that was, at 25 pages typed, half the length of what his grad students in history were required to turn in.
I had never written so thorough or long a paper in my life, with footnotes and everything.

When I turned it in, I also had to give the class an oral presentation that summarized my research. That part was fun, because I basically wheeled a large cart from the band room, piled high with percussion instruments, into the History department and gave a talk with demonstrations for the class, who were all grad students. It was a difficult and ultimately fun assignment.

During my research, the editor of Percussive Notes, the quarterly journal of the Percussive Arts Society, responded to my request for assistance (he said he couldn't really offer any as the topic was not in his wheelhouse) and invited me to submit my paper when it was finished. I promised him I would, but only if I got an A on the paper.

I got an A-minus. The editor urged me to send it.

So I sent him the paper. Since I could not afford membership in the PAS at the time (and since I was only a term away from graduating and wouldn't need a PAS membership in Cantorial school), I asked if he would send me two copies of the issue when it came out. One would be for my advisor, and the other for my father.

About two months before graduation, I got my copies in the mail, and brought one to my advisor as my way of thanking him for challenging me.

He hadn't known that I was submitting my paper anywhere. He was thrilled.
He cut the article out of the magazine and posted it outside his office, with a sticky-note that said, "written by PSU's Beth Hamon for HST 499" -- and circled my photo with a yellow highlight pen.

His graduate assistant Aaron, who'd taken the class with me and had submitted a 50-page paper (on his chosen topic, trade routes throughout the Ottoman Empire) was astonished, and more than a little jealous.
When I asked why he was so shocked, he told me, "Because Percussive Notes is a peer-review journal!" Seeing my confusion, he added,  "Undergrads don't get published in peer-review journals!"
To add insult to injury, I had to ask him what a peer-review journal was. I'd never heard the term before.
Aaron didn't know whether to hate me or take me out for a beer. He ultimately chose the latter, and urged me to keep writing.

My father was also very proud (he didn't know what a peer-review journal was, either, since he'd never gone to college). He told me to keep the second copy of the magazine for my files.
I'm glad I did.

In order to get free content from I had to buy a membership, or share something I'd written in exchange.

Enjoy reading it.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Shuffling along with LIDO (vintage sticks)

No photo description available. 
A recent find, these Lido 2B drumsticks date from probably the early 1960s.
                                            No photo description available. 
No photo description available.
No photo description available.Lido was a brand used on drums and sticks made in Japan during the late 1950s/early 1960s. But the catch -- and what makes it harder to research -- is the fact that one Japanese plant manufactured sticks and drums for Lido and a host of other budget-level brands, simply stamping the product with whatever brand was ordered.

For a model 2B the sticks feel rather lightweight, but the grain still suggests some kind of hickory.
There's a lovely patina to them, and only a tiny bit of wood has been worn away from one of the tips. They're decently balanced as a pair, and they play nicely on my vintage Slingerland pad.
They feel more like a large-tipped orchestral stick than a concert band stick.
Eventually, Lido and a few other budget brands from this Japanese plant would be subsumed into the Pearl Drum Company.


Sunday, September 15, 2019

happy hands

As I've explained here before, I have some kind of arthritis, which may or may not be related to also having auto-immune issues. On difficult mornings, my hands are stiff and sore. On better mornings, like today, they're still stiff and my left middle finger still locks up but they don't hurt nearly as much.
So when I have a good hand day, I play whatever I can.

Today it's an old cadence I taught back in the Bronze Age of my pageantry arts teaching career, called El Mondo Groovo (drum cadences aren't generally known for their thoughtful titles). I also tossed in a basic "halt" at the end.

Sticks: Vic Firth, Jeff Queen solo model)
Pad: Vic Firth Slimpad