a must-see for aspiring drummers
Directed by John Walker (Canada, 2010) Documentary
A Drummer’s Dream is an absolute must for drummers and interesting for anyone else who loves music.
The location is Westport, Ontario – cottage country, near a lake, at a summer drum camp with 40 students. The instructors are seven “master drummers” who are among the best in the world in rock, jazz, Latin fusion and soul.
In 2010, the guest musicians meet in a big, 19th-century barn with perfect acoustics for drumming. For a week, they share their music knowledge. The professional drummers come from diverse backgrounds with diverse skills. Dennis Chambers’ mom bought him a drum kit when he was four; though he doesn’t read music, he has played on more than 300 records. Kenwood Dennard plays piano keyboard and drum at the same time. Horacio ‘El Negro’ Hernández comes from Cuba where there were few music stores; he made his own drum heads with X-ray film. Mike Mangini started on a toy drum and is now said to have the fastest hands. Also instructing are Raul Rekow, Nasyr Abdul Al-Khabyyr and Giovanni Hidalgo
We are told that the first drum was a heartbeat. One instructor beats a rhythm on a microphone to illustrate this. He starts very simply with a steady beat, adding sounds to show how the music is built up. His face is always expressive, his cap is on backwards. He’s very hip. It seems playing the drums is fun for him and definitely makes him happy.
The audience, mostly young guys, watches intently. Then he hits the edge of a drum and changes the rhythm. Next, he has sticks and cymbals moving very fast at the same time, along with his hands and feet. He slows down and hits the cymbal and drum at the end. Stop.
The drummer explains that he is always thinking, but that he has to control the thinking because the music has to come from feelings.
He sometimes changes the time signature. He might play different patterns at the same time and move into 19 different patterns. His foot might have a steady beat and then move to another rhythm.
Hidalgo talks about performing for two weeks doing three sets a night. He plays different types of drums and sings as he plays, sometimes using his fingertips and hand on a drum. Someone remarks, “He’s built like a congo drum.”
Some of the students play along with the professional musicians, some on drum pads, some on chairs.
The kids are encouraged. “The more you practise, the faster you get there,” they are told. “Don’t drink or smoke too much, keep your mind clear.”
When Canadian film director John Walker, an avid drummer, was 16 he had to decide whether he wanted to play with his band or play as the opening act for Frank Zappa in California. He got a job offer to work in a movie studio that same week. Big decisions. It was the summer of 1969. Walker took the film job and went on to make documentaries, including Utshimassits: Place of the Boss, The Hand of Stalin and Men of the Deeps. The rest is still history in the making.
A Drummer’s Dream won the Fipa D’or Grand Prize at a festival in Biarritz, France, and a Top Ten Audience Award at the Hot Docs International Documentary Festival.
Running time: 1 hour, 24 minutes
Available: Ottawa Public Library, Amazon;