This blog has now reached it's end. The American Adventure has finished. Will there be a sequel in the near future? One will never know, but for now let's let the credits roll...

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Chapter I - Intermissionsionsion

I went to see McCoy Tyner, the great jazz composing legend, today at the Catalina.

It was fantastic right up to the point McCoy walked off the stage because some a-hole was recording him on a video camera or some shit.

Which got me thinking - I want to come to a point where I'm established enough to be able to walk off stage whenever I want. It's a weird ambition, I admit.

Right now I'm at the point where I'll smile and take as much bull crap as I can handle, then some more, because clearly I need the work.

But one day...

I really need to punch that moron. If only I weren't so skinny.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Tales From MI - Chapter 4

Today's episode is dedicated to the Hess. That's Mr. Gary Hess, Mr. PIT for you.

First quarter, Mr. Hess was in charge of a bunch of my classes. And he was my private instructor for the first 6 months.

 Gary's known for being a little scary. He actually joked about not smiling in my picture and I told him 'it looks more natural'. Well, I'm kidding. He's an awesome instructor and a crazy great player. He's just incredibly honest when it comes to his classes. He'll tell it like it is. If it sucked and if you come in unprepared, he'll give it to you right there. No sugar coating with the Hess.

I remember day 2 at MI in one of his other classes - Developing Your Groove. That class basically puts your whole basic coordination to the test to find out just what you can't do and what you can. All sorts of coordination patterns against ride surfaces and stuff. It's actually a good class - aside from the fact that there are 10 other drummers in the same class bashing away and burying the click.

First time off the gun, everyone totally rushed the metronome. Eager horses, everyone.

And then there's Gary's famous metronome ending. He gives the rat-tat-tat-tat-tat ending (in music notes, it's C_G_G-A_G-B-C with the _ meaning going down.. you'll know it once you hear it) and we give the last two smacks on the B-C and then he turns on the tuning tone through the PA and we make as much noise as possible.

More on the Hess later on.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Tales From MI - Chapter 3

Day one isn't quite done yet.

On day 1 we were introduced to the wonder that is Digital Drumming. Going into the class, I didn't quite have a clue what it was going to be about. Turns out it's about playing in the world of modern music with backing tracks and loops and stuff. Perhaps one of the most important classes I've taken here at MI.

You listen to all those pop tracks that come out on the radio - even when there's live drums being played on it, there is still so much effects and loops that are going on in the tune. Essential information. So begins my struggle to play with a music loop and a backing track.

This was also the class where I began practicing my skill of identification. I've heard countless times of the idea of something 'ahead' or 'behind' but never quite sat down and made myself do it. So this is where the fun began and gosh it was hard.

But the greatest thing about this class was meeting my teacher for the first time - Donny Gruendler.

The man himself. No shortage in the amount of jokes told in class, no shortage of fun. He's an awesome instructor and gets the lesson across really well. Really glad to have been under his tutelage.

And no shortage of 'Storytime with Uncle Donny'.

Cheers, Donny G.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Tales from MI - chapter 2

We're still in Day 1 of MI. The fantastic fun didn't stop at stumbling in reading class with the Hess. Oh no, the fun was just about to begin.

Welcome to RSW1 - rhythm section workshop 1.

The very first class that we were to play with a live rhythm section. My teacher was Andy Megna (who is unfortunately the only teacher I didn't manage to get a picture with in the last weeks of school) and he was a monster. He played at our little 'welcoming orientation' thing so I got a glimpse of just how great this man was going to be.

They plonked a chart in front of us. It was the simplest of things, but it would later turn out to be the crucible in which all drummers would stumble and fall. It was the Billy Jean groove - that's 1 and 3 on the kick and 2 and 4 on the snare. Every drummer knows this groove and every drummer thinks they can play it. Well, we're expected to play it.

Many, or perhaps all of us, brushed it off as a piece of cake. But then we sat down at the drums and tweaked every thing to our perfect adjustment, ready to just show how awesome we were.

And all of us just bombed. The simplest of things - we can't do it.

Which vindicates my belief that that groove is still the hardest thing that a drummer is required to do. Just to do that and make it sound good. Man that was a great wake up call. Our great teachers who wrote the curriculum knew exactly what was going to happen when they gave us that chart and groove. They knew exactly the medicine we needed to show us just how much work there needed to be done. Every weakness was exposed at that point.

I will never ever forget that first RSW class. Nothing short of an eye opener. It made me realise that although I had been playing that groove for the longest time, at that point in time no one would pay me to play it the way I was doing it.

Well, now I see the importance of it. I see just how important that first class was that set the tone for the rest of what I was going to learn. Now I can Billy Jean the crap out of any groove.

But that's not the end of day one. Mr Donny Gruendler is coming up next and that's just the awesome-st thing.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Tales from MI - chapter 1

The pictures are going to take a little delay because I've got to get the cable from my friend before they get on my computer. I'll kick off a series of stories, as many as I can remember, with tales from dear MI. I'm gonna miss that place badly. Especially all the great instructors I've had the pleasure of studying under.

I can still remember day one of getting into college. A little nervous I must admit, but that's because at the time, I hadn't been in school for more than 4 years. I'd not had a proper routine of classes for a long time and sitting in the classroom environment after that period of time was a little interesting.

First day of classes took me by surprise. It was Gary Hess' reading class. That man is a machine when it comes to reading rhythms. He wrote the EORR - the encyclopedia of reading rhythms - that we use as our curriculum. He's got ridiculously perfect time and he's a metronome in himself.

That first class caught me off my feet and I stumbled terribly. It wasn't so much that I wasn't able to read. I had the skills and I had the knowledge. It's just that the presence of twenty other drummers in the room banging away at these rhythms and the pressure to not screw up and throw everyone off was just incredible. I tested into level two reading, so the guys who were around me were experienced in the ways of Gary's classes. I, on the other hand, had barely a clue how to keep up.

It took a while for me to get comfortable in there. Soon, my years of reading knowledge began to work themselves back into gear. The cogs of the machine were beginning to move once again. A little rusty, but certainly not damaged in any way. It took a while to get comfortable in Gary's reading class. Thanks to the EORR, or the rhythm bible as we call it, and Gary's whole reading curriculum, I got suited to reading again. And then he comes and throws charts at us. Which once again I wasn't entirely prepared for.

The thing is that I've been trained before. I know what I'm doing. Those particularly brain cells were fast asleep due to years of being idle. Eventually they got working and I started to feel comfortable again.

And it certainly helped that Gary was my private instructor for the first 6 months. But that's another chapter in the....


Tune in for chapter 2.

Thursday, September 16, 2010


And so volume 1 of KJ's American Adventure comes to a close. It has been an amazing 18 months and it has come to a beautiful and satisfying end. This part of my great journey is now complete. A new volume is about to begin.

I've met some amazing musicians from all over the world and I've learned so much from every single one of them. That's the difference coming to a music college like this as opposed to studying privately back home - I may have gotten the same level of training but there is no way I could've gotten the same amount of exposure.

I've seen many of my classmates become phenomenal monsters behind the kit and I've been able to draw from them. There is no better inspiration to practice that the spur of competition. Alongside them, I've managed to establish myself as a worthy adversary and they've kept me on my toes and I've done likewise. I've managed to carve a small little space that I can call my own that no one else can replicate. I'm starting to sound like me.

And that's an awesome thing.

Initially the desire was to do what everyone else was doing and beat them at it. That's what you think when the words 'being the best' come to mind. But it slowly becomes revealed that there is no way in the world that one can achieve that. Everyone is different. Just as I am different from everyone else. There are things that I can do that no one else can. I may not be the best drummer as of right now in certain things, but there are also certain things that I can kick way more butt than most others.

And that is a lesson you cannot learn anywhere else.

It has been an incredible volume in my adventure. Cumulative hours of practice in these past months goes beyond 2000 easily. I've broken countless pairs of sticks. I actually had a picture of my stick collection, but that was in my camera which I lost.

Yes mum. I lost my camera. Don't ask me how or where because it happened in the final weeks of school and my brain was in no condition to attempt a backtrack of my steps to figure out where I lost it. The bottom line is that it's gone. I'm sorry. It served me well for a year and a half. Maybe it just wanted retirement.

Back to practicing. I've also cracked 3 cymbals in the course of my adventure. The greatest thing I'm going to miss about MI itself is the 24/7 availability of my practice space. I cannot tell you what a joy it is for me to be able to go to school at any hour I like and play drums without worry of noise or time or anything. I can just sit down and play to my heart's content. I work best in the wee hours of the morning despite my mum's constant pleas for me to go home. After 18 months she still hasn't quite realised that it has little or no bearing on my urge to practice up till 4 or 5 am.

Scold or nag if you must, but I think I can still afford to do that now. Especially when my physical condition can still take it.

That's another thing. This experience will never be replicated again in my life. There will never again be a time of such intensive focus on my instrument. Waking up each day, going to class with 15 credit hours of drums. Nothing but drums. Who would've thought that they could create an entire 90 credit program for drums and drums alone. Classes, practice, classes, practice... entire days swallowed up by just drums. Nothing is more fantastic for a drummer. Such joy. Tiring. But incredibly joyful.

I'll be writing a lot more over the next 2 weeks trying to reflect back on the many adventures I've had in school for the past 18 months.

Volume 1 has come to an end. But volume 2 is just beginning. And it's just as exciting. By the sweat of my brow and the strength of the Lord, I will pursue this to the very end. It will be a volume of new challenges and exciting opportunities. It's exciting to see where God will lead me and where He'll put me.

I'll end here for now. There's a lot more to come. I'll end with this little thing I posted on twitter which I would like to repeat. Upon reflecting, I've found that I can come up with some really profound stuff sometimes. I guess the Holy Spirit has His way sometimes.

"If I leave my life in God's hands it doesn't mean I don't need to take care of myself. It means I can afford to fall, and land in His arms."

Friday, September 10, 2010