Friday, January 17, 2020

It's here: The Deco pad

The new pad arrived in today's mail.
I unwrapped it carefully and examined it for a long time before trying it out.

The pad is about the same size as many factory-made, mass-produced pads of the era.
It has thin-walled wooden sides and a curved plexiglass top mounted on a wooden base.
The pad mounted on the plexiglass is made of rubber that is quite cracked with age.

There's a steel rod running through the middle of the pad, that can be tightened or loosened to change the pitch of the pad. The notes from my research say it was originally able to change by as much as two whole tones. I won't attempt such a stretch now because of the pad's age (and the wooden sidewalls seem pretty thin).

 The sidewalls, slightly warped from use and time, do not reach the platform. There's a tiny open space at the bottom of the sidewalls to allow for the adjustment.
The thumbscrew could easily be turned farther than I feel comfortable.

I will have to guess at what other pitches might be possible. I don't mind at all.The pad is in amazing shape considering its age.
There appears to be an imprint from a decal or badge. I thought they might be lettering from a logo, but it could just as easily be squiggles of thinkly-applied glue. I just don't know.

The rubber circle, not quite 4 inches in diameter, shows a lot of cracking -- but it's also still very pliable. I played with sticks and was surprised at its bounce and response. In fact, I decided to make a little video so you can all see how lively the thing is, over fifty years after its creation.

This is one of the coolest finds ever in my quest to research and learn more about practice pad design and development. I'll keep looking to see if I can find a patent (which would be cool, since it would fill in some blanks historically and mechanically).

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Research project: "Deco" pad, 1940s

I will be taking delivery on a very distinct vintage pad sometime next week.

In advance of receiving it, I decided to begin researching its history.
I ended up going down a cool little rabbit hole, and thought I'd share.

Here's the pad.

The pad, which doesn't seem to have a brand or model name that I can find, was designed and made by Robert I. Woods in the 1940s, and sold through his local music dealer in Liverpool, NY.

What's interesting about this pad, besides its distinctive design and looks, is that it can be adjusted to change the pitch using the bolt that runs through the middle -- tightening it will give you a slightly higher pitch; loosening will lower the pitch. According to the seller, later models in the 1950s included another adjustment that allowed one to open or close side panels for a change in tone. This is an earlier model from the 1940s, before that feature was added.

Some of the pad's historic info was provided by the seller; the rest I had to go looking for.
What I found included stories about the music shop's origins and the sale of the building for conversion into condos (sigh); some hunting to determine which Robert Woods actually invented this pad (Robert I. had a son named Robert F, who was not a musician); and the history of the business where Robert I. did his inventing.

Most of this info was found by scouring the web for obituaries. You can find out quite a bit from reading someone's obituary about how they lived and what they did with their time on earth. And you don't need to pay for an Ancestry subscription, either. Many newspapers keep records of obits going back into the late 19th century. You just have to be willing to do more digging on your own, which for my money beats paying Ancestry to do it. It's more fun to do it myself, anyway.

Here's what I found about the music dealer that sold Woods' pads:

From Syracuse historical site:

Business started in 1935.
Owners Dave Gersony,  Howard Gersony
Location- 119 So. Jefferson, later moved to So. Clinton Street.
Lines- Gretsch, Martin, Fender, Haystrom, Yamaha, Ampeg,
Marshall Amps, Peavey, Polytone, Korg, Crown, JBL,
Malatchi, various sax, trombone lines, Vinyl Records (45's, Lp, 78, EP's)
Recording tape & accessories, Vinyl Records (45's. Lp, EP, 78 RPM)
Musical Instrument sales & lessons, a full serve music store.
Huge selection of Jazz Recordings
Sadly our good friend Dave Gersony passed away Aug 31, 1997

And here is what I found out about Robert I. Woods, who was an inventor, the local school band director and a lifelong musician (obituary from 1984):

Finally, digging a little further I was able to learn about Woods' employer, the Lipe Machine Shop:

(from Wikipedia)

The building became an industrial incubator after Charles E. Lipe, 29, a young Cornell University engineering graduate of the Sibley College of Mechanics in 1873 and son of a German-born farmer from Fort Plain, Montgomery County, New York, moved into the building in 1880 and set up the C. E. Lipe Machine Shop. The building was commonly known as the Lipe Shop.
The Lipe Shop was a "haven for inventors and an incubator of industries" and Lipe himself was a prolific inventor. He had invented a cigar-rolling machine, a broom making machine, motion picture equipment, automatic looms and time recorders.


Now, I didn't absolutely have to go digging this far back to get the basic facts. It would have been enough to know who invented and sold this pad. But going back further gave me a richer picture of the environment in which Woods was encouraged to innovate and invent things that would make something better out in the world. As a high school music teacher, he certainly would have seen his share of cheap practice pads that offered nothing other than a flat surface to practice on. His design added in some adjustability, and some nice design elements as well.

What's interesting (to me, at least) is that Woods doesn't appear to have registered a patent for his invention. This could be for several reasons:

-- he may have attempted to file a patent claim that was rejected because his design either copied too many aspects of someone else's or because not enough of Woods' design was considered "new" and/or "original" to be granted a separate patent;

-- he may not have had the means to file -- it costs more than applying for, say a simple copyright for a song -- but that's not likely considering his lines of work;

-- he was making them on his own time and selling them through his local music shop, which means this product was never produced on a large enough scale to go forward to patent registration and marketing beyond the Syracuse area. If that's the case, it also suggests that relatively few were made, and therefore even fewer exist today.

My money is on the last possibility.

I am hoping to find out more about this pad, but like all my vintage pads, information can be difficult to come by because practice pad innovation wasn't as big a deal as new drum designs (Remo Belli's tunable practice pad excepted).

But if any of my readers have ever seen another one of these, I would love to know about it.

I'll share more pictures and, if the pad is safely playable, a short video after it arrives.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Old-modern sticks: Cooperman "Lemley" model

Today's curiosity: Cooperman "Lemley" model 20 drum sticks.
I got these in an online auction from someone who was trying to dump them at a low price. No one else wanted them, so they were mind with a winning bid of $5 plus postage.

Cooperman Drum Company have been making drumsticks and rope-tension drums for over 50 years, primarily for the fife-and-drum crowd but also more recently branching out into concert sticks as well. The US Army Old Guard fife and drum corps uses Coopermans, as do most fife and drum units around the country. They're turned one at a time and matched for both pitch and weight in their Vermont workshop. Some years ago, the company divided into two divisions: Jim Cooperman focused on repair, restoration of rope drums and handed the manufacturing over to Dave Loyal Drums. Dave, a former member of the Old Guard brought years of playing and woodworking expertise with him to take on making Cooperman drums and sticks, and so far the transition has been  going well.

I cannot yet figure out exactly how old these sticks are, but since they are clearly older than what's being turned out since Loyal took over production from the Cooperman family a few years ago, I have to assume that they are some kind of older; my guess based on the available company history is that these date from before 2000 and probably before 1990. I hesitate to call them "vintage" at this point. The Cooperman "Lemley" model as created to pay homage to Ed Lemley, a champion rudimental drummer of the 1930s who wrote numerous rudimental solos (including his famous "Crazy Army," found in the NARD solo book).

The Lemley stick is currently out of stock at Cooperman's web store. It has been made in both persimmon and hickory. This model measures 17' long and 11/16" in diameter. The taper is medium-short and unlike many modern marching sticks, there is no taper at the butt end, meaning that the balance feels odd and some adjustment is needed to get used to playing with this stick.

Based on my practice time with a shorter modern stick (Jeff Queen solo model by Vic Firth, my regular practice stick), I found the diameter of this longer stick to be almost too small, especially with the large bead. I tried playing the sticks and switched back and forth between them and the Queens to get a feel for how they were different and why. Not sure if you can gain anything from these videos but here they are.

I am hoping to obtain a very special vintage pad soon.
If I'm successful I'll let you know about it here (after I research it, of course!).

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

drumming and grief

I've spent the last two weeks in California, where my father-in-law was dying and finally passed away. We nursed him and loved him to his end, helped to bury him, and helped my mother-in-law begin to sift through the mountain of responsibilities that stretched out before her, including paperwork and going through her husband's clothes and much more.

During breaks in the family time together, and the tasks I heped to carry out, I took a lot of short little breaks to chop out on a practice pad I'd brought with me, primarily for meditative purposes rather than to actually practice any music in a meaningful way.

Setting the little pad in a post of the porch rail, I'd play eighths, sixteenths and so on; switch to paradiddle ladders and shifts, and occasionally lapse into an old cadence from my high school or college days. Mostly it was the physical act of moving the sticks up and down on the rubber pad, rather than the sounds I made, that soothed me and helped me calm my insides.

Being around someone who is dying is emotionally draining. Burial, mourning and greeting friends and family after they've died is really hard and demanding and takes a lot out of you.
So when I needed to chop out a little, I had my pad and sticks and I was so glad I'd brought them along. (Turn the volume up for this one.)

(Note to self: Next time, bring a bigger pad that won't move around with every accented note.)

Now that I'm home again Im looking forward to rejoining my community band. They start rehearsals again next week so I have some time to prepare. They've also asked me to facilitate a drum sectional, for the purpose of readying some street beats to play between songs when we march. Since most of the drummers are new to this kind of drumming I'll need to start with some really simple things, but they all have good ears and hopefully will catch on quickly.

Working with new drummers is really good for my humility right now.

Stay tuned. I'm working on an acquisition of a special vintage pad if I can swing it.
Up next, some vintage sticks and a little history.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

when drumming is therapy: drummitation (drum meditation)

This week, plans were upturned when we got the news that my father-in-law had entered into home hospice care. His cancer treatments have been unsuccessful in stemming the growth of the disease and he is preparing for the end of his life, which we're told could come in weeks or even less time.
We leave for California on Monday to spend the remaining time with family.

As you can imagine, this is a stressful time as we rush to make travel arrangements, figure out pet care, and cancel holiday plans.

And when things get intense and our nerves get frazzled, as has happened repeatedly in the last few days, Sweetie advises me to go into the other room and drum.

Yes, really.

Drumming is something I've often done throughout my life to relieve stress. Today has been especially difficult as we juggle various details of our need to rush to be with family. So more than once, I've retreated to the back room in our little house and chopped out.

In the morning it's been as simple as playing slow and steady eighth notes to a metronome, gradually increasing speed and continuing until my hands get tense, then backing off of that a little and hanging out at the fastest comfortable tempo for several minutes. This is usually enough to calm me down and clear my head.

If after that I feel a desire to chop out on random stuff I can do that too, like in the videos below.
This "drummitation," as I like to call it, has helped repeatedly in my quest for calm during tense times. I recommend it highly.

Numerous studies have shown that repeated drumming can calm the fight-or-flight response in the brain, can improve blood flow and lower blood pressure, and can help to relieve stress in much the same way that gentle exercise does. I must have known all that instinctively before I'd ever read about it, when I was a kid; my childhood was filled with a great deal of stress and drumming was something I could always do to calm down. About eighteen months ago I began to turn it into a morning meditative practice, with a metronome and a rubber pad (to avoid disturbing Sweetie, who worked in the dining room and asked me not to meditate on an actual drum while she was home).
It has become a regular part of my meditative practice and a cherished part of how I wake up and come to "full density" in the morning.

Wherever your drumming takes you this season, I hope it's enjoyable and fulfilling.
Happy Holidays.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Things I want in my drumming world

They say if you name things they can become more real over time.

So here's my list of things that I want to materialize in my drumming world.

1. A community band that isn't only about playing at protests. While I love hanging with UBB, lately a vocal minority of the most active members have voiced their reluctance to participate in Honk! festivals and other "less political" events, preferring to play at actual protests (like the Proud Boys actions of last summer, for example). They want the band to be a political activist entity first, and then a musical organization. I respect that but don't share their enthusiasm for hurling myself into the fray. The White supremacists love to tangle with Antifa, the police love to stand on the sidelines and watch, then move in where there are enough potential arrests to keep them busy. Some previous events have been potentially dangerous. One recent event at the end of the summer was apparently successful for the band (they showed up in banana suits and deflected attention away from the violence, though the violence still happened). But overall, I play in a band to make music more than to put my body on the line for a political cause.

So I would love to find a Honk!-style band that wants to do Honk!-type events along with the protests.

2. In my humble little community band, the other drummers are mostly beginners. I showed up and immediately it was clear that I could play for real, and suddenly, the other drummers were respectful but not especially chummy. Like I was playing so far above them that I was a welcome addition to the band but not someone they'd necessarily go have a beer with after an event.

While I appreciate the existence and purpose of UBB, I desperately want to find drummers to play with who are into rudimental drumming and want to chop out together, say, once a month. In a crowd like that I'd very likely be the least experienced player and it would raise my playing a lot. But I feel a little sheepish about putting it out there -- a middle-aged woman drumming alone in Portland, Oregon sounds kind of pathetic in a way.

(Relax. That's just the clinical depression talking. I'm fine, really.)

3. It would be nice to be able to drum on actual drums a little more often. For that, I need to arrange a schedule with my Sweetie that gets her out of the house more often so I have it to myself. This one's actually more doable.

So mostly I enjoy drumming, but have grown tired of doing it mostly alone. I'd like to find some other folks to drum with now and then to challenge myself and change things up.

Portland, Oregon drummers -- anyone out there into old-school rudimental chopping?
Hit me up here by responding to this post. Thanks!

Sunday, November 3, 2019

wilcoxon rudimental challenge 2019

No photo description available.A tip o' the hat to Kevin Lehman for setting up the Wilcoxon Rudimental Challenge on Facebook.
Rudimental drummers from around the world are posting videos of themselves playing one of the solos from the seminal collection "All-American Drummer: 150 Rudimental Solos" by Charley Wilcoxon.

This book is filled with intermediate to advanced rudimental solos that assume a knowledge of at least the first thirteen traditional drum rudiments (based on the 26 original rudiments as designated by the founders of NARD back in the 1930s -- NOT the 40 rudiments designated much later by Percussive Arts Society).

I wasn't challenged to join the group by another drummer, so I worked up a solo of my choice, joined the group and tossed my hat in the ring. It took several days to work up the solo to a reasonable temp, and another hour to play it through several times with the repeat without screwing up, before I felt ready to make a video of myself. Then it took another ten takes or so to get a clean take from start to finish. Even then, it was hairy going, and I could've done the end of the repeat better; but it was fun to challenge myself like this.

I'll totally do it again very soon.

(Here's my attempt for posterity, played in the new drum which still needs some gradual fine-tuning and tightening over the next week or so. NOTE: I chose to play the rolls timed and wide open, rather than to rush the drags and risk blowing the timing and tempo. It's an individual choice, and up to each drummer what to do with the rolls.)

Enjoy! And if you think you'd like to give this a try, contact Kevin Lehman at the Facebook group to learn more. The group has grown rapidly so that there are now a few repeats of solos but that's probably not a huge deal if most of the solos in the book are spoken for. Check with Kevin.

If you don't own this book, it's available at multiple book stores, including Powell's Books in Portland, and also from Reverb online.

Here's Solo No. 1 if you're so inclined to dive into the collection. I think it's worth owning a copy of the whole collection. Happy drumming!