Vaudeville Vignette: Expanding My Musical Repertoire

Photo by Joie Grandbois
Photo by Joie Grandbois

Vaudeville Vignette:  Expanding My Musical Repertoire
by Nikki Starcat Shields

It seems all the members of Dark Follies are expanding the range of our performing skills, which makes good sense for a Vaudeville troupe. Most of the band members are picking up new instruments, and some of the dancers are adding percussion as well.

So when our Dark Follies Mistress organized some classes with our Music Director’s drum teacher, I was excited to join in. The focus was on traditional Middle Eastern rhythms and instruments, like the doumbek and the riq.

Okay, so technically learning a different type of drum isn’t a new instrument. But I’m the newest musician in the Dark Follies Not Just Rhythm Orchestra, meaning that I’ve only been drumming for a few years, not for decades, and I’ve never taken formal lessons. So that’s as far as I feel I can push my limits (for now). I mean, I’m an introverted writer, for goodness sake! What am I even doing in a Vaudeville troupe? But anyway…

I was a little nervous before the first class. The teacher, Eric LaPerna, has a reputation for excellence, but also for being rather, um, strict (am I allowed to say “hardass” in the Dark Follies newsletter?). I’m also a recovering perfectionist, so the thought of screwing something up and being snapped at had me blushing in advance.

There was no need to worry. Mr. LaPerna was a direct and forgiving teacher. He obviously really knows his stuff (here’s a clip of him playing – how can he even go that fast?!). He was able to quickly convey both technique and musicality to a group of students with mixed abilities. He challenged me, yes, but in a truly inspiring way. I applied myself to practicing between classes, wanting to get my body memory up to speed with the rhythms I was now hearing in my mind.

Mr. LaPerna was actually hardest on our Music Director, Stephen, who has been his student for many years. He assigned him technically challenging versions of the basic rhythms the rest of us were practicing, then picked apart what he was doing wrong. I even learned from that, beginning to hear the difference between what he wanted and how Stephen played it just slightly different, still working to achieve the exact sound.

I was kind of in the middle of the pack, being comfortable with rhythm but not yet accustomed to the way the doumbek is held and played. There were a couple of our dancers who were newer to drumming, and Mr. LaPerna was patient and persistent in helping them find the sound he was looking for.

That’s what I liked best, actually, about the classes. No matter which level of student Mr. LaPerna was addressing, I learned from what he was saying. He shared his wisdom in ways that sunk into my mind slowly, and they’re still unfolding several weeks later. His approach covered both the left-brain, analytical type of learning, and the right-brain, how-does-it-feel-and-sound? integration that’s necessary for any musical endeavor.

I’m busily saving my pennies for the next round of classes.

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