Monthly Archives: April 2010

Meet Cale Parks…one of my favorite drummers.

To put it simply, I love watching great drummers drum.

On this blog, I will regularly introduce you to some of my favorite drummers.  I’ll always have good video footage of them doing their thing, and a transcription to help you understand better how they’re making all that racket!  I hope you enjoy these drum profiles as much as I do.  Of course, there’s nothing as good as actually seeing these people perform live!  Hopefully, some of this up-close footage that I’ve taken can amplify that experience.

There is one thing I’d like to emphasize: if you like the song/sound/drummer that you see, please support them by buying real/hard copies of their records and cds.  Then, go see them in concert to get a real education! Also, buy a shirt for your next day at school.  The best way to support creative music is with your wallet.

The first drummer that I’d even consider featuring here is Cale Parks.  I’ve known Cale for a few years now, and recently brought him down to Ellicott City, MD to give a drum clinic.  It was Cale’s first clinic to give, and my first clinic to host.  And, I think you’ll agree after watching the following video, the result speak for themselves.  We had about 40 drummers, young and old, in attendance.  This blog is partially timed to the release of Aloha’s newest recording “Home Acres.”  Which means, you’re lucky!  A whole bunch of great new songs to enjoy.

Cale Parks

Cale Parks

Cale’s drumming can be called ‘organic’ and ‘earthy’, along with  ‘jazzy’ and ‘flowing.’  I’ve heard him compared to Mitch Mitchell and other great artists before.  But maybe the best compliment I can give is that every person I’ve turned on to Cale’s music digs it.  Simple as that.  He’s a beautifully thoughtful drummer, and an amazing musician.  I’d like to quickly give another nod to Keith Larson of Mid-Atlantic Drums for lending us an absolutely beautiful Maryland Drum set for Cale to play on.

I’ve got almost two hours of footage from the clinic that I’ll put up from time to time, or if you’d like a copy of the whole thing on DVD something could be worked out (with money going to cover costs and to Cale.)

Today I’m putting up great footage of Cale playing the Aloha song “All the Wars.”  It’s powerful and clean drumming, with a nod to the popular 6/8 Afro-Cuban back-beat groove.  You can find this song on the cd “Here Comes Everyone,” which is a must for any rock and roll library.

First, here’s a .pdf transcription of the album version of “All the Wars.”  It follows closely what you’ll see here live.


Two other things I’d like to mention.  If this transcription/video helps you learn how to play All the Wars, please make a video of yourself playing along to the track, or just as a solo!  I’m sure Cale would be happy to check out young drummers learning some of his grooves.  If you post to you tube and comment this blog with the video link, I’ll repost with your video.

Secondly, with the .pdf and video available, have you considered a small donation to keep this type of information coming?  Check out the donate page if you’re able to give even as little as $1.  It’s all very helpful.

Finally, visit Aloha online at or

Let’s Go Shopping!

In the first two posts for this blog, I talked about being offered the opportunity to start a drumming ensemble at Winston Middle School in Baltimore, MD and how I decided on the initial musical direction for the group.  Today I want to go through the process of outfitting 15 kids with high quality/affordable percussion instruments.

In my personal library of percussion instruments, I already owned a full set of Brazilian samba percussion, a small set of marching drums (basses, snares), plenty of drum set hardware to outfit the two partial sets that Winston owned, and a lot of little percussion toys and sound makers.  All of this equipment would give me plenty of variety in music choice and learning opportunities for the students.  I had therefor decided that any new purchases would be in a traditional African set-up of djembes, djun djuns, gankogui bells, axatses, talking drums, and maybe a few other special purchases.

Deciding on this general direction of purchases was only the very first step in the process of actually acquiring the drums.  Next I needed to do alot of research to make sure I’d end up with quality drums and fair prices.

Through the very generous workings of the Herbert Bearman Foundation, under the direct approval of Mark Bearman,  I was funded in the ball park of $3000 for the drums.  This was, of course, a dream come true for both me and the students at Winston.   The Herbert Bearman Foundation is a wonderful organization that gives money to worthwhile projects in and around the Baltimore area. 

My next step, now that funding was assured, was to decide what types of drums I wanted to buy.  I needed to have enough equipment for roughly 15-20 percussionists at one time, and fortunately I was told by Greg Thompkins that each student should have a drum of some type to play on.  In other words, I wasn’t looking to buy 6 drums and have 10 kids with shakers or some small percussion instrument.  I knew that I’d put the groups together with proper instrumentation, but during the classes on drumming technique, I could have everyone on a real drum.  That philosophy is a real blessing and am very thankful that the BJEP and Bearman Foundation had that level of support in mind. 

The first hurdle in choosing the drums was should I go with a Remo style (tunable, plastic head, more durable) djembe or did I dare go with real skin, wonderful sounding djembes.  Believe me, this wasn’t a decision I took lightly.  It really came down to this:  Anyone who has played both types of drums knows that there is absolutely nothing that compares with the deep, beautiful sound of  a handmade, skin djembe.  The students at Winston did not have music classes and I wanted to give them an experience with the best sounding equipment I could.  I knew that would mean taking a few entire classes to simply practice holding, packing, unpacking, and caring for the djembes.  I knew that I would be responsible to rehead the drums, tune the drums, and basically have 10 new djembe children to protect, but it is worth it. 

So, at this point in the process, I had decided that I wanted to buy 8 Djembes, 3 Djun Djuns, 2 Remo Tublum (which I’ll explain later), 2 Talking Drums, 9 Gankogui Bells (6 double, 3 single), and 6 Axatse Shakers.

I decided to add the two Remo Tublums for two reasons.  First, they are easy to play and have a conga like sound.  If there were any smaller size students, or students incapable of holding the djembe at a proper angle (because of physical handicap or variety of other causes) I wanted a simple free-standing hand drum to be available.  Also, the heads are relatively thick, and I thought we might be able to use them like the Kaganu drum in a Gahu ensemble (played with sticks.)  As I mentioned previously, I’d been exploring David Locke’s Gahu resources with my own percussion friends for the past year and certainly could see bringing some elements of that to the Winston group.

Now the “How” and “What” questions were answered, leaving only the “Where.”  I put together an invoice and shopped it to three different drum outlets.  And here comes a big lesson for anyone in the business arena.  Even though I was planning to buy nearly 3K in drums and had the funding already approved, one of the three contacts (the one that worked for the large national chain) didn’t even return my phone call, and when I went to the store in person kept me waiting for over 1 hour before talking to me.  Then, when he did come to talk about my purchase, he said “Well, you should have just emailed me the invoice.” 

That’s not how I roll.

With something this important, I need to talk face to face with someone, and get a guarantee from them that when the drums arrive I can go over them with a fine toothed comb, sending back for replacement anything that is in the slightest way defective or damaged.  Without that understanding up front, no money will change hands.

Arrive on the scene Keith Larson from Mid-Atlantic Drums.  Keith is well-known in the Baltimore area for being a master drum maker (Baltimore/Maryland Drums.)  His newest enterprise is a real-deal, old-fashioned, service first drum shop located in Baltimore County.  Keith worked hand in hand with me over the course of a month to help choose quality drums, locate the most affordable bell/shaker suppliers, and sat with me as I unpacked, inspected, and repacked them all upon arrival.

For the Djembes, Keith turned me on to Meinl.  The hand-made Meinl djembes are amazing, and the quality is truly consistent.  They’re made in Africa, and inspected by Meinl before being sold.  All I can say is that the eight I purchased (6 large and 2 medium) came in sounding incredible with not a single defect/scratch/or uneven head setting.  They also each come with a thickly padded/zipper bags with back pack straps.  Not that I would ever try, but the bag is so thick you could count on the protection if the djembe were knocked over (these aren’t thin cloth bags.)

For the Djun Djuns, I went with Toca.  Skin heads on a synthetic shell.  These drums are powerful, very durable, and sound great.

The bells and shakers we purchased from Overseas Connections.  And the Remo Tublums, of course, from Remo.

The total was kept under my $3,000 expense projection, for which I send many thanks Keith.  I truly believe that the smartest way to spend money is with any business that takes a personal interest in the quality of the merchandise and the satisfaction of the customer.  Keith did both of these to the utmost, and he was a joy to work with.   

I added a link to that short video so you could get a sense of some of the drums, and of the talent I’d be working with.  This short clip was taken on the very first day working with the kids (after about 30 minutes of instruction.)  To say they pick things up quickly is an understatement!  In the video are the Toca Djuns, some of the Meinl Djembes, and you can hear the Overseas Connection Single Bells (attached to the Djuns.)  Wow!  An incredible amount of work was done to secure this equipment, the students took to the drums very easily, and I already knew it was going to be an amazing year at Winston Middle School.

In the next post, I’ll start to describe the different compositions we’ve worked on so far this year, I’ll talk about the three performances we’ve done for the school and the pieces we played, and I’ll talk about the student compositions that we’ve developed.

Please feel free to comment, leave other helpful suggestions, or ask any questions.  I hope this blog serves as an inspiration for many more people to bring music to our schools.

Starting a drum ensemble, the first steps.

As I mentioned in the first blog post, I was approached by saxophonist Greg Thompkins in August of last year with the opportunity to start a percussion ensemble class at Winston Middle School in Baltimore, MD. In this post, I will detail my thought process and explain some of the decisions that I needed to make before the first day of class last September.  

The first thing I needed to learn more about was the population of students that the ensemble would serve. I knew that I’d be working with 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students who currently had no musical offerings at their middle school. A few years prior, there had been a band program that was well thought of. But, after the band director retired, he was not replaced and the instrument room/band hall had become a storage closet for various items including cleaning supplies, filing cabinets, and broken musical instruments.  

As far as percussion resources that the school already owned, the selection was slim. In total I found; two drum set bass drums (both with broken heads/no spurs, two drum set 12″ toms (broken heads, not the matching toms for the bass drums), one snare drum shell completely coated in thick blue paint with no heads/snares/hardware, and one floor tom with no legs. There were no stands of any kind that worked, and no cymbals.  

I was certainly starting at square one. My strengths would certainly be the quality of the students. Winston Middle, while being labeled an under-performing school and currently on the Baltimore School Boards chopping block for the 2011 school year, is also known for a long history of excellence and great students/teachers. The school can be proud of an award-winning debate team, as well as a highly professional step team (whose performances electrify school assemblies.) I knew I’d feel at home there and was ready to start my planning.  

My own background with running percussion groups is varied. In college, as a Graduate Assistant, I ran a classical percussion ensemble for younger students and non-percussion majors. This group included highly talented instrumentalists who were non-percussionists but wanted to increase their musical ability and rhythmic awareness. The group focused on challenging, written out pieces, where a high level of music reading skill was mandatory. More recently, I’ve taught percussion in group settings to adults in continuing education classes, children with special needs (through in-school assemblies), and, in the summer, I’ve run my own children’s marching samba school for the past three years. My continuing-ed drum circle approach (which has now expanded via the classes I teach through the Lagniappe Project at Sheppard Pratt Hospital and Baltimore Library for the Blind) is modelled on the wonderful methods taught by Christine Stevens, Arthur Hull, and Kalani. I then expanded these approaches in my own classes to suit my personal style that appreciates ambient soundscapes, and a love of traditional patterns. Personally, I’d also recently started a Gahu drumming ensemble with other professional players from the area along with my friend/teacher/mentor Jon Seligman. This group was a monthly meet up of area drummers interested in really digging deep into David Locke’s thesis and book on Gahu. I also have a long history playing in and teaching drum lines of all ages and abilities, including participating shortly in drum corp while in high school. I knew that I’d somehow have to combine my knowledge from all of these outlets and create something uniquely appropriate for Winston.  

I started looking around the internet for successful percussion programs being run in other schools and was amazed at the breadth of what I found. There are djun djun ensembles in Chicago, Samba Schools in England, Taiko Classes in Arizona, and much more. I knew I’d want to offer the most diverse musical experience possible to the students. Since I already own a set of Brasilian samba drums, an almost complete marching drumline set (snares, 4 basses, tenors), and enough stand parts and drums to complete the broken drum sets…I was leaning towards African drums for anything new that I’d purchase. The traditional djembe/djun djun/bell/axatse/gankogui ensemble is easy to start, can involve lots of kids, and can easily (and properly) back up vocals/instruments/and anything from classical to pop if orchestrated correctly. Step one of my plan was done, I’d be pulling inspiration and ideas from traditional north African percussion, Brasilian Samba tradition, drum set opportunities, with possibly some drum line and New Orleans traditional marching thrown in.

Winston Middle School Drums

First drum purchase for Winston Middle School

In the next post I’ll detail choosing the types/sizes/and styles of instruments that I purchased for the ensemble. I’ll also talk about cost, getting the most for your money, care of the instruments, and why to always choose quality over quantity.

Winston Accessories

Winston Accessories

Thank you very much for reading and I would love to read any comments you might have.

Learn. Share. Discover…one beat at a time.

Welcome!  Bem-vindos!  Bienvenue!  Ahlan wa sahaln!  Welkom!

Thank you for visiting my blog.  This is the first post in what I hope will become a meaningful and free-flowing exchange of ideas on topics related to music, music education, percussion traditions, the right of every person to express themselves openly through the arts, and much more.

The idea to start this blog came to me from Dr. Lisa Rogers at Texas Tech University after I contacted her for help with the following project.

In the middle of 2009, I was approached by my good friend and fellow musician Yamaha Saxophone artist Greg Thompkins  to work with him and the Baltimore Jazz Education Project (BJEP).  The goal of the  BJEP is to fund jazz education to underprivileged youth through the funding of individual musical instruction in selected Baltimore City Public Schools.  Greg had already been teaching the saxophone to students at Winston Middle School and saw an avenue to involve more students by having me start a percussion ensemble program.

This opportunity was a dream come true for me.  Over the past five years, I’d already developed a system of group drumming that had proven very popular among adult students at CCBC (Community College of Baltimore County), special needs students at Maiden Choice School, and various other populations (veterans, seniors, and more.)  But, here was my chance to design a program from scratch for talented young people who had no current opportunities in music education.  The questions going through my mind ranged from the broadest of  issues like “What avenues of percussion should we explore?” and “How will I integrate the percussion program with the other instruments” to more specific concerns “How many drums should I buy?” and “What types or sizes” and “Where should I get them?”  

To start the process, I pulled from many sources to look at successful percussion programs around the country, and asked for advice from my former and current teachers, friends, and colleagues.  In one discussion with Dr. Rogers, she mentioned that the experience I have putting this program together may be helpful to other teachers interested in doing similar work.  And that I should put a blog together detailing both my successes and failures over the course of the first year.

So, I’ve arrived at the point where the Winston Middle School Drummers have been participating and performing in percussion class for almost an entire school year.  We’ve performed everything from traditional African drumming and singing pieces, to original dance/drumset pieces celebrating everyone from Ray Charles to Mary J. Blige. 

In my next post I will begin to detail the planning, drum purchasing, and implementation of the BJEP Percussion Program and Winston Middle School.

I hope this blog will inform and inspire you to drum, dance, organize, and help others express themselves musically.  I appreciate feedback, comments, and ideas that have worked for you in your musical endeavors. 

My first Gyil.

My first Gyil.

Future topics will also focus on: the traditional children’s samba program that I run every summer for the Independence Day Parades,  the drum circle course that I now teach at Sheppard Pratt and the Maryland Library for the Blind through the support of the Lagniappe Project, interviews and video lessons concerning all manner of percussion from myself and many of my wonderful friends/contemporaries/mentors, detailed writings on the study of instrument (marimba/kalimba) building which I’ve recently undertaken, and much more.

Catonsville Samba

Catonsville Amateur Samba Drumline

Again, welcome and enjoy!


Scott Tiemann

Scott on the drums.

And away we go!