Drumming is an under-considered art form. After all, it’s not often you hear someone call Ringo Starr their favourite Beatle. What you encounter instead are lists of ‘The World’s Greatest Drummers’ dominated by musicians who drum and sing, as though merely getting out there and pounding the skins isn’t enough to categorically earn respect; as though drumming is something essential but vaguely inglorious.
But for every bad joke and stereotype directed a drummer’s way (Q: “What’s the last thing a drummer says in a band?” A: “Hey guys, why don’t we try one of my songs?”) there is an awareness-raising event designed to counter it. Take, for example, the Sydney Drum & Percussion Show, an annual exhibition of the percussive arts designed to bring together drummers young and old so that they might hone their craft – and perhaps vent about how bloody hard it can be too.
“The drums are such a physically demanding instrument,” explains Lucius Borich, drummer for prog rock giants Cog and a musical legend who will be appearing at the 2017 iteration of the show. “It doesn’t even matter what kind of shows that you play. I mean, I played a wedding on the weekend and I was playing really soft, but even then you still need to hold yourself in a certain way and think in a certain way. So when I play bigger, heavier shows [with] Cog, it takes my body a little time to respond to that.”
Virgil Donati, an acclaimed Australian drummer who has performed with artists as diverse as Planet X, Ring Of Fire and Steve Vai, would have to agree. “[Being a good drummer] is all about lifestyle,” he says. “If you take care of yourself, your body will give a lot in return. Contemporary drumming places a lot of demands on the performer – not only physically but mentally.”
As a result of that physical toll, both Borich and Donati have rigorous fitness plans in place, and they work hard to make sure they can perform at their very peak. “I have to really try to keep in shape as much as I can,” Borich says. “So I do a lot of yoga, which is really great for my breathing, my circulation and my stretching. And I surf quite a bit too, and do some running and some occasional weights. I’ve got children, so that keeps you pretty active too,” he laughs.
“Behind the scenes there is a lot of work that goes into staying in shape,” Donati agrees. “Not the least of which is unrelenting practice, and supplementing that with workouts, runs and a good diet. Although I know [that] runs counter to the stereotype of musicians!”
As a result of their rigorous fitness regimes, both performers refrain from staying out till all hours of the morning on tour, and generally prefer to conserve their energy. “I can’t do the partying thing any more,” Borich says. “I used to do that a little bit, but you find out real quick that it just doesn’t serve you at all.”
Yet despite the trials associated with such an ascetic outlook, the drummers are rewarded for their hard work by experiences that could almost be described as transcendental.
“I really like to get quite emotional when I play,” says Borich. “I just close my eyes and get really into the moment. For me, that puts me in a whole other headspace. It becomes about not even seeing where the drum kit is, but just about knowing where the parts are. Instead of being technically invested and analysing it, you just start… feeling it. If you can find that meditative space when you’re playing, it doesn’t matter what kind of show you’re playing – it just makes for a better gig, that’s for sure.”
“Feelings are the central force in generating great music,” says Donati. “By feelings I mean not only [the physical senses], but also spontaneity and improvisation. Ideas are preconceived. The ability to unite these felt qualities is always a work in progress – I don’t think there is ever an end to that process.”
Drummers and fans will be able to see both these artists reach their exalted states if they head along to the Drum & Percussion Show. But that’s not all: as an added bonus, they’ll also be some of the first people in the country exposed to Ascension Drumsticks, Borich’s new business venture.
“I’m launching my drumstick brand at the show with my partner Matt Love,” Borich says. “We’re called Ascension Drumsticks and we’re all Australian made and Australian owned … I think Australia needs some homegrown Australian drumsticks.
“Also, because I haven’t played in Cog so long, I’ll be performing some Cog songs at the show too. I’ve picked the best songs – there will be a good mixture of different techniques, all featuring different types of drum work, and I will include my electronic stuff too. I’ll be really attacking the kit. I think it’ll be good fun.”
Donati, too, has already begun warming up for the show. “[I am] rehearsing for several days before leaving LA, and hopefully it will be enough time for me to consolidate my ideas and compositions and execute them flawlessly on the day.”
The 2017 Sydney Drum & Percussion Show takes place at Rosehill Gardens, Saturday May 27 – Sunday May 28.