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John Wyre

COPYRIGHT CANADIAN BROADCASTING CORPORATION

MAN ALIVE

"DRUM SHOW" PART 1

JOHN WYRE 1:

Wow, that's a heavy question. Why? I'm not so sur that I perceive it that way that it did disappear. If we look at the drum as being one of the original musical instruments, one of the original tools of expression that has evolved with humanity, ah when we look at the variety of drums all over the world, I think ah we see a lot of changes that have been, particularly with immigrant cultures like North America, Australia, cultures where people come from all over the world, come together and can draw on the whole world as resources, they tend, at least at this point in history to have their own unique variety of drama for the point of our discussion. I feel a fantastic freedom growing up in an immigrant culture because I have no ancient tradition of centuries of how to play the drum leaning on me and holding me back in a way. And if we take the concept of not attaching importance to an idea ah then an immigrant culture is a beautiful culture in which to be educated and to grow up because there is tremendous freedom. With centuries of tradition comes this pressure from belief systems and ancient ideas that have .... and become maybe part of the genetic code. Who knows?

JUST HOLD IT THERE, DAVID.

(CUT)

THE DRUM OUT OF MUSICAL ....

Oh scared the shit out of them.

OKAY. WE'LL GET INTO THAT.

Yeah we'll get into that, yeah.

.... SCARED THE SHIT OUT OF THEM. YOU CAN SAY THAT.

There's probably a better way to phrase it.

SCARED THE BEJESUS OUT OF THEM.

The bejesus, yeah.

I'LL ASK YOU MORE SPECIFICALLY WHAT DID THE CHURCH HAVE AGAINST THE DRUM?

I think if we look at the variety of ah musical cultures in the world and the tradition that the drum holds in some cultures where it's a very strong voice, particularly in the music of Africa, Indonesia, Southeast Asia. And when you view the contacts made by our Western culture, most of that was done through missionaries. And I think they were literally scared. They were afraid of the power of the trance. They were afraid of the energy and the focus that these people experienced and the ecstacy that they had access to through the performance of music and dance and the drum was the tool that led them there. And it's ah it reminds me of an experience I had many years ago in a period of searching and wandering. I wandered into a church and ah asked the minister who I knew and respected, I said I don't understand how someone can preach the fear of God. I said the love of God, that's something that's very obvious to me but the fear of God I don't understand. Then he said, you have to realize, John, that many people are scared into the ministry. And whew, what a balance came about for me and what an insight into how many people deal with the challenges they face on a daily basis.

THE DRUM HAS WORKED ITS WAY BACK INTO WESTERN POPULAR CULTURE STARTING WITH BLACK MUSIC. BUT I'M TRYING TO GET A HANDLE ON WHEN THE DRUM FIRST BEGAN TO BE PICKED UP BY WHITE CULTURE AND WAS TRANSFORMED INTO A POPULAR MUSICAL EXPRESSION.

I think we see, through Western classical music, the introduction of the more exotic sounds of the Janissaries, the Turkish musicians that were ah influencing people like Mozart. And we see the tambourine and the triangle and certain drums introduced into the repertoire of Western composers. In a popular sense, I think that there were always musicians who responded to the energy and vitality of black music. So as ah as jazz began to evolve as blues began to evolve ah there ah there was a certain ah response from those people who, who, who said yes. And imitation is the greatest form of flattry so my ah my roots as a drummer ah bounced off of so many great artists of all colours and races and creeds and ah I can't ah and by this point in my career, my God I don't I feel like I'm part of a huge family that spans the globe.

I'M THINKING SOMETHING JUST DROPPED

(CUT)

KIND OF THE DRUM AS THE ENTRANCE INTO GETTING OUT OF THE HANDS OF THE MUSICIAN INTO THE HANDS OF THE AVERAGE JOE. AND IT JUST STRUCK ME, THAT HAPPENED WITH THE BEATS. THEY ALL GRABBED BONGOS, YOU KNOW, AND WHETHER THEY KNEW HOW TO BEAT ON THEM OR NOT, THEY BEAT THEIR BONGO DRUM. SOMETHING HAPPENED THEN.

Yeah. I think it's just a natural process for people to want to get outside of their everyday consciousness. Whether you do it with prayer, whether you do it with drugs, whether you do it with alcohol, whether you do it with a vacation of some kind or a hobby and for those people that are very lucky ah whether you can do it for a living. And the greatest blessing in life is to be able to make a living doing what you love to do. And I still from time to time marvel at the process that my life has put me through and the fact that I can bang on my drum and I can survive that way. It's extraordinary.

CAN I ASK YOU TO ELABORATE A LITTLE BIT ON YOU USED THE WORD ECSTACY TALKING MOSTLY ABOUT AFRICAN DRUMMING AND AFRICAN PLAYERS. THAT'S OBVIOUSLY NOT JUST COMMON TO AFRICANS. IT'S COMMON TO EVERYBODY WHO REALLY PLAYS THE DRUM IN CERTAIN KINDS OF WAYS. CAN YOU DESCRIBE THAT? JUST TRY AND PUT INTO WORDS FOR ME BECAUSE IT'S IF YOU CAN. WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU

That's like trying to trying to describe ecstacy is like trying to describe God or trying to describe oneness. The most sublime explanation that I've come into would probably be the Tao Ta Ching Lao Soo's explanation of his perception of, of ah the universal or organic wholeness of things, of life and things. And to be able to become part of that process in a with a state of consciousness that is not selfproejcted. To lose yourself in the great wholeness of life is an extraordinary experience and for anyone who's had that experience, it pretty well defines their life. It puts them in the direction that they want to go as ah the cobbler who's building shoes if he can lose himself in the process of making a pair of shoes, he's in heaven. And you, from time to time, perceive that you were there. And that perception brings back the duality that kind of keeps you away from being there, as we say. So in that sense, all musicians have access to that larger world through the practice of their craft. And the process of losing yourself in any process becomes ecstatic.

BUT THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT DRUMMING. MAYBE IT'S COLLECTIVITY, I'M NOT SURE. THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT DRUMMING THAT MAKES IT A LITTLE BIT DIFFERENT. I CAN'T PUT MY FINGER ON IT BECAUSE I'M NOT A MUSICIAN BUT I DETECT THAT IT'S SO. UNLESS I'M WRONG.

I think there are elements about drumming that are so basic to the human condition the beating of the heart, the walking, the gait of your walk, the rhythm of your work. If you're labouring at something physical, if you can sing or whistle ah if there's a flow or a dance movement to your work, it becomes effortless and you can work all day and not feel ah wasted. Ah drumming is centred in this basic rhythmic flow of the life process, the ebb and flow of your breath determines whether you're relaxed or not. And this is one of the big rhythms that we have in our life. The heart is one of the quicker rhythms depending on our action and focus and if you're out there cross country skiing, your heart is really pumping away. You're doing a Rossini Overture but it can also be very laid back. But the breadth is very broad; it's like the surf can be sometimes and there's a there are a lot of rhytms in the body that one can perceive.

YOU MENTIONED A KEY THING I THINK. YOU SAID, AND I'M PARAPHRASING, SELFFORGETTING. A LOT OF PEOPLE FIND THAT SCARY. THEY FIND THE IDEA OF THAT SCARY.

Yeah, yeah. Well when you consider the alternative, ah I don't think that there's anything out there to be afraid of. I think there are only things out there to understand and we don't have the opportunity for that understanding unless we embrace. This is the challenge of change. This is the challenge that all artists share with their contemporaries. There's a need for change. They thrive on it. They're able to let go of the past to embrace the present hopefully. And maybe point to the future. I don't think anyone is a fortune teller. But ah the closer we can perceive now, I think the better we can function in any in any endeavour. And in order to perceive now, we simply have to pay attention with a quiet mind. And in order to do that it's we need to stop thinking about ourselves which is the major preoccupation of this computer that we have up here. And to achieve that state which is not selfprojected is an extraordinarily blissful goal that ah is to be ah embraced without reserve.

(LAUGHTER) HOW COULD THERE BE SOME RESERVE?

Well there can't be. And this is the this is the challenge that we face. We think there is reserve. We think there are things holding us back. And the process you find yourself there and oh, oh when you're standing back watching yourself, you're not there. And you have to dive in head first. The common experience of giving yourself to someone else at a very ah wide social spectrum, most people experience in making love. You come together with someone else and whew ecstacy. Ah the system is magnificent in its ah design that that access to that ecstatic experience is the tool that we continue as a species.

VERY GOOD. ....

Yeah no, it felt

IT FELT REALLY GOOD.

We covered a lot of

AND AT THE END AS IF TO SIGNIFY HOW GREAT WAS MY STOMACH ACTUALLY .....

(b.g. talk)

I think there's another area that we might want to get into, David, and that would be concerning training and the perception that many people have that they need to know a lot before they can do something. And I don't think this is necessarily true but it's an area that we might want to talk about.

LET'S GO RIGHT NOW.

Okay. One of the things that the drum and its very simple link to the rhythms of our life and our body bring about is a very natural entry into ah a freedom from theoretical challenges. The biggest roadblock that I sense in many people is simply the thought that they need to know a lot before they can embark on a certain path. And ah my experience has been that we don't necessarily answer a lot of the questions that come up in our mind. They simply disappear and one is free to perceive. Perceive what? Perceive what's happening. If you want to be part of a musical ensemble you simply have to listen and add your voice. If you add your voice to your perceptions, you're going to meet people as you play. You hear someone over there playing the bassoon or playing whatever, you focus in on that and you're playing with it, that player is going to turn to you. I've had this experience thousands of times in symphony orchestra. You're just really getting off on the cello line and you have a lick that comes in and you relate to it. One or two of the cellos are going to turn back and they're going to say, oooh. And it's a beautiful form of communication that can happen. And you simply have to be open to the perception. And the thought at the heart of all this I think is the fact that life is so much more than we know. It's just amazing how much more it is than we understand. And in the face of tremendous educational authority , political, social authority, that claims to come from a point of understanding, wow, it's ah it's amazing that we survive sometimes. And obviously we pay a lot of dues on the path but ah I think that ah everything is ah endowed with what it needs to be and what it will become.

HOLD IT.

JOHN WYRE 2:

I found myself drawing on nature as the teacher, a the source, as the ah the encyclopedia in a sense where I can take an experience and look at nature for examples, for parallels. Why should people be any different than an oak tree or a dandelion or a rabbit or a bird that our seed is totally endowed with everything we need. When one considers the natural intelligence in humanity, one is staggered by the possibilities of simply trusting that, simply taking one's perception and going with it. Belief is something that ah can really confuse us. Knowledge is something that we know. The stove is hot. Belief is something that uses us. It's an interesting dialogue that we go through in our lives looking for understanding, looking for the possibility of finding that answer. And somewhere along the road, we must involve the fact that life is a process. There is change continually. There is no ideal situation. There is no clear answer. Everything is constantly changing. So we simply have to learn to pay attention and any any great ah theological or spiritual discipline in the history of mankind has a large department and volumes filled with the practice of meditation or paying attention. And for me looking back on education, all the way back to kindergarten, elementary school, the heavy insights were stop, look and listen. Whew. And what did the teacher say when you were out of control? Fold your hands and sit still. The beginnings the beginnings of perception. At thet time it was punishment. (laughter) And now those moments are very blissful when one can be still.

THAT WAS A GOOD ONE. CAN YOU IMAGINE THE TIME WHEN THE DRUM SOME PEOPLE HAVE ACTUALLY SAID I CAN SEE IT HAPPENING IN PARTS OF CALIFORNIA AND MAYBE THE SOUTHWEST WHERE THE DRUM IS GOING TO BE AS MUCH A HOUSEHOLD IMPLEMENT AS THE TELEVISION SET OR ....

To deal with drumming as a fashionable thing which it certainly is now, when you see drumming groups bringing up I think it's possibly our ah Western culture loosening up some, rediscovering this incredible tool and I certainly see it growing in popularity and I certainly see the allusion maybe of ah the drum as a stronger voice in folk music the way the guitar is a very strong voice in folk music. And ah possibly the development of some drumming ensembles of a variety of types. How large that's going to be is hard to tell, you know. The cycles of some day everyone is going to discover flutes and little tiny akarinas and who knows where it's going to go. That's hard for me to deal with the future in that regard.

... JUST FOR FUN, I WAS JUST SITTING AND THINKING INSTEAD OF FOUR OLD GEEZERS SITTING AROUND A TABLE PLAYING BRIDGE, SITTING AROUND A LIVING ROOM YOU KNOW

Playing the congas.

PLAYING THEIR CONGAS AND THEIR DRUMS ..... PROBABLY WHAT MY GENERATION .... WIND UP DOING ... LARGE NUMBER OF THEM.

Well we'll see, you know. The thing that's really turning me on now, David, is ah I'll rephrase that. Eliminate your name here.

PLEASE. I SHALL REMAIN ...

One of the things that's really turning me on now is to have young professionals come and hang out and ah just share the inspiration of getting to know each other through music and I see many musicians of different ah breeds and being in the business as long as I have, string players are normally very different from blow brass players and they're very different from French horn players and from oboe players. But to have a wide cross section of instrumentalists come here and singers and hang out and ah find ah access to more freedom, to find access to some doors that help them to open up maybe through the drum and through rhythm is very beautiful. In my late 20s, I began to ask myself ah about the process of performance and being a musician. And one of the strong thoughts that kept rising in my mind is or was if I am a musician I should be able to walk out on stage and simply be a vehicle for something to unfold. Nothing planned, nothing memorized, nothing ah written down or read from but the instrument is in my hand, the sound begins and it takes you on a journey. Murray Schaffer has been a strong inspiration in my life in many ways. And his line has always been enchanting for me. His melody is like taking a walk with a note. The concept is liberating for a composer certainly and for an improviser. And I think many musicians who spend years and years trying to get their body to do this or trying to get their system to come together in some way to make music in what seems to be an unnatural process often wind up with an awful lot of rules and regulations that they have to get rid of and get beyond so that they can open up and their spirit can soar. And the process of improvisation is certainly one that helps that happen. And there are a lot of young people that are coming to hang out to explore that. And the sounds, a lot of the sounds that I've gathered together in my career and instruments that I've constructed as well, ah kind of either go beyond or cut through or don't relate to in any way the traditional theoretical approaches to what music is or isn't according to Johann Sebastian Bach or according to Debussy or according to Weyburn or according to Shtokhausen or whoever. There is a spontaneity that I enjoy as a performer that improvisation provides and the drum is an easy access to that. And I think it's one of the reasons why I'm a drummer. I played some piano as a young person by ear. I studied trumpet for a while. And upon playing the drums I instantly perceived that I could sit down and make music with someone, immediately. I didn't have to spend a couple of years in the woodshed getting my body around and learning all these different exercises. So that then I could sit down and try and make music with someone. So it was that immediate communication with other people that confirmed to me that I was a drummer.

YOU SAY SOMETHING AT THE BEGINNING OF VAGABOND DREAMS ABOUT ...., ABOUT VIBRATIONS AND ABOUT THE END OF VIBRATION. I JUST WONDER WHETHER YOU CAN ELABORATE A LITTLE BIT ON THAT BECAUSE IT'S A VERY BEAUTIFUL THOUGHT THAT I THINK WE CAN ILLUSTRATE VERY EASILY.

Sound is a is a beautiful tool to ah lose oneself in. A lot of people work with background music. Some people like to hear dialogue on the radio and they tune to channels where people are rapping. Some continuum of sound that is sort of a backdrop. One rarely experiences the solitude of silence and if one can be in an anatombic chamber one hears one's heart and the pulsing of one's own system. So silence is really in that world I've got a special dictionary for certain words that I think should really almost be abandoned or rarely used. Perfection is another one. Words that really they stop us. There are a lot of negative perceptions put in that category but we're human. We have to deal with the fact that we make mistakes and so perfection can also slow down a lot of people because they believe in it and there's that belief concept, the idea of attaching too much importance to an idea. The thought of attaching too much importance to an idea can really freeze us as much as fear can freeze us and it becomes a padlock on our ability to kind of go with the flow. I think I've wound myself out here to the point where I have no idea what I was talking about.

(LAUGHTER)

.....

Oh the end of the sound.

THE END OF THE SOUND.

The end of the sound, yeah sorry. I digressed there.

IT'S OKAY, IT WAS A GOOD DIGRESSION.

(B.G. TALK)

Using sound as a tool for discovery is very common in a lot of spiritual disciplines. The bells of all the great churches and cathedrals and temples in the world are amazing tools. The Buddhists in particular has evolved some bowls and bell plates that ring for a long period of time. And as a performer ah for me one of the most precious moments and this happens more often in in the large, the large ensemble of a symphony orchestra than it did in small ensembles and I think that had to do with volume. An orchestra is capable, with a hundred musicians, of tremendous volume and energy. And to bring that whole ensemble to a very intimate diminuendo at the end of a phrase, to a relative silence, is magical because it just focuses everyone on stage. It focuses everyone in the room. And if it's a real ah special moment everything that's in that building is just brought together in a unison sharing of now. And music is a fantastic tool for this. So the monks use these bells and bowls to meditate upon. They follow the sound and it's an interesting experience for anyone to simply ring a bell and listen to it and do it in a position where one can be relaxed and stable. One's not jittery or tapping or ah one is simply trying to listen to the bell. Follow the voice of the bell and it will take you somewhere and just go with it. And that the end of sound is an extraordinarily precious experience for me. So as a performer I love to play with that, being able to sneak in and out with an instrument that I'm performing on, come from nowhere, build to whatever the music draws from the experience and then also to be able to disappear back into that anonymous nothingness that simply is a still perception.

..... I'VE NOTICED SOMETHING SIMILAR HAPPENING WHEN IN .... THERE'S A SHIFT FROM MINOR TO MAJOR. IT ALMOST IT'S AN ELEVATION INTO A DIFFERENT LEVEL THAT ... AM I IMAGINING IT OR ....

Oh no, no no. The concept of change ah in ah the art is the basic fuel of the creative process. And people are attracted to the arts for this very reason because in their life they seek stability. They don't want to change jobs; they don't want to change homes; they don't want to change partners; they want that stability because in that stability there is comfort and security. The nest is secure; everything is the way it should be or the way they think it should be. Music takes you on a journey and it draws you along and you give yourself to it and you go with it. So when that strong change comes down, you say, ah yes, and the more of these experiences you have, you come out at the end saying, oh, whoo, wow. You don't have to understand where you've been; you're simply transported from one perception to the next and you go willingly. Ah this ah with a lot of life experience can happen walking down the street as well. You simply have to go willingly, without fear, without ah any ah preconceptions about what should be happening. The idea of what should be keeps us from what is.

GOOD IDEAS.

JOHN WYRE 3:

I think my own personal musical path certainly began at home in my roots because my dad was a musician. I grew up in the musical community of a symphony orchestra. But my own personal experience came probably with singing in a boys choir in a Christian church in which I was raised. And I remember the extraordinary ecstacy of singing that melodic top line and I remember how disappointed I was when my voice changed. I mean this was major league pissed off, you know. My my buzz was gone. And that set me on the journey of trying to find an instrument, trying to find a tool to help me find that buzz again. And ah the drum was the instrument that answered the call ultimately. My father could bring home any instrument that I ever wanted and he brought back a ton and the drum was the one that gave me the buzz. So that began a process that ah started ah I guess in rock and roll with when rock and roll was born in the mid50s, singing and playing in rock groups. Ah it was a very very quick, a perception also of what was happening in jazz so that my perception of music expanded ah from church music to rock and roll to jazz. And the teacher that I accessed was the tympanist in the Philadelphia orchestra. He turned me on with enormous enthusiasm. His name was Dan Hinger enormous enthusiasm to using the drum as a tool for my imagination as a school or a playground for my imagination. And if you played one note correctly with this man, his enthusiasm was such that it would carry you through the week to your next lesson or through the year in a sense and in fact through my life. He was a really great person and still is. Ah so the dream the seed was planted there to be the tympanist in this symphony orchestra. But I got into big bands and stage bands in high school and playing jazz locally. And then the process of ah making a commitment to music as a career later on in high school, going to the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, pursuing the dream of being a tympanist and in the process of going to school being able to access the Marlborough music festival which was an extraordinary inspiration in my life. My first summer there I was 20 years old and the first great orchestra and possibly the greatest orchestra I've ever played in in my life with Casals conducting and some of the greatest string soloists in the world coming together to play chamber music and to do it for the love of doing it. I still get chills when I remember the experiences that were there. And 8 summers I wallowed in that tradition at Marlborough which is a mecca for music makers. When I left Eastman I began my journey to various symphony orchestras and a major part of my performing career was as a tmpanist in the symphony orchestra which is kind of like being the referee sometimes. It's kind of like playing drums in a big band. You're the heart of the music. You are right at the core of the flow, the ebb and flow of whatever piece is happening. At the same time, this this overwhelming desire to improvise was there and sometimes in the middle of a Beethoven symphony or a Mahler symphony you can lay down a little lick or two that hasn't been written and get away with it, but I'm talking about let's really develop this. And so as a result of that and a lot of professional friendships, Nexus was born. And in 1971 we filled a stage with instruments that we had gathered from all over the world and we improvised a concert. And did that for 3 to 4 years until we began to develop repertoire and a balance between improvisation and ah repertoire began to unfold for the ensemble. And we've been together 22 years now and it's a real hot band. And ah so much is part of this musical family that is Nexus for me now that it's hard for me to put it in words but it certainly is a family that I'm very much attached to and a part of. And along with that journey that Nexus took me on came an increased awareness and perception of the great musical cultures in the world and great drumming traditions and for the last 10 years the evolution of what I call world drum festivals where I bring drummers together from all over the world to create some kind of performance on a smaller intimate basis of maybe 5, 10 players or a large extravaganza of 100, 150, 200 performers. So my musical path in my life has been blessed with extraordinary good fortune and ah this is my life. It's ah

WORLD BEAT IS BECOMING INCREASINGLY POPULAR AND IT'S VERY MUCH ANCHORED IN THE DRUM PART OF THE CULTURES THAT IT'S DRAWING ON. DO YOU SEE ANY DO YOU SEE THIS AS A COMPLETELY POSITIVE THING OR ARE THERE NEGATIVE ASPECTS TO IT?

I think the the process of of world music, the process of the synthesis of many cultures and the blending of this, when you look at any great cuisine in the world it's a mixture of the influences of many cultures. It's a process that is inevitable on our planet. When I first began to perceive Western popular music and the inroads it was making into let's say into African culture and you're walking through a city and there's a young African person with a ghetto blaster on their shoulder listening to Western pop music and you say to yourself, wow, your culture is so rich. It's a treasure trove of fantastic cultural expression that is so powerful and so free and so beautiful and yet you're wired to this ghetto blaster. I began to see a lot of African music as an endangered species. I began to see Western pop music as an intruder. But over a period of 15 to 20 years, ah the evolution of pop music and its ability to embrace the musics of the world and musicians of the world, what's evolved is the first world language. Pop music speaks to everyone on the planet. And this is so important that we communicate. It's so important that it's much more important as far as I'm concerned than the survival of a tune that maybe had been evolving for 500 years. I don't know. I'm not in a position to make that decision but I can view it now as a very positive force because it brings us together. And if we can share some of our life experience with each other, if we can sit down with a positive dialogue with someone whose life is different han ours, then we learn something and we begin to appreciate rather than fear.

PERFECT.