"Geek" was probably one of the kinder words applied to us during our time in high school bands. But somehow the über-geeks in the drum line were always above the name-calling, possessing some innate cool for no other reason than they played drums. Heck, they even were allowed to wear sunglasses.
The University of Texas at Arlington's Spring Percussion Bash aims at promoting not so much the cool as the cultured aspects of drumming. Organizer Dr. Michael Varnier, director of percussion studies at UTA, has presented the Bash for the past 15 years. "It's about exposing the public to the different aspects of percussion," he says. "We also like to bring in a celebrity to show what can be achieved at the pinnacle of percussion and so students can meet them, get lessons, the whole nine yards." Past celebrity guests have included names like Gregg Bissonette and Peter Erskine. This year's Bash boasts special guest Terry Bozzio, who has played with Frank Zappa, Missing Persons, Jeff Beck and many jazz artists.
While the UTA students and Bozzio will perform some original works on "every piece of equipment we can fit onstage," Bozzio will take the spotlight to perform a one-man show, including the "Black Page" drum solo written for him by Zappa.
The frenetic presence of Bozzio alone is enough to ensure a high level of energy, but according to Varnier, such vitality is the very nature of percussion. "The allure of percussion is that it affects so many of the senses at one time," Varnier says. "Some of the highest and lowest sounds in the musical register are reached by percussion instruments. It is very visual, too. The energy that is put into the performance is interesting to an audience."
Most people are familiar with the rock-and-roll, binge-drinking-gorilla-on-pharmaceuticals style of drumming, so it's often overlooked that there is room for finesse, subtlety and mathematics, hallmarks of the drumming styles of the famous and not-so-famous alike. Considering that percussion probably was the first form of music made, drummers have much more going for them than a dangling cigarette and a pair of sunglasses.