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Sunday, July 12

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Artist Sun Feb 12 2012

Tour Diary: Canasta in Mongolia - Day 5 - Drums

Canasta's drummer, Brian Palmieri, offered up the final tour diary entry from Mongolia before the band headed for the plane yesterday. If you're wondering what in the world this Chicago band is doing in chilly Mongolia, see the previous tour diary entries.

"The final hour is now upon us. In these last hours of our Mongolian adventure, I'd like to take a moment to reflect and reminisce.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you. . .

Boom-berrrr!

The Mongolian language has around ten different words for drum or drums (noun).

The one most commonly used is pronounced Boom-Berrr (rolled 'r'). When I finally realized what the word meant, I was delighted. What a fun, onomatopoeic, word for drums! Try saying it. BOOOM-BERRR. Fun, right?

Well, unfortunately, the word that brought me such joy, if for a brief time, would eventually become the source of great disappointment and anxiety.

In preparing for the trip to Mongolia, the band coordinated the gear situation over dozens of emails. There was a lot of back and forth over what would be available, what we could or should bring, and what we could possibly live without. As the drummer, I knew I wouldn't be shipping my own drums overseas. That would be madness (it's my only kit and it's over 50 years old.). As the emailing with our embassy contacts concluded, I felt pretty confident that I would have at least a halfway decent set of drums to play on throughout our visit/tour. After playing our first workshop at the school for the blind in UB, I felt confident that everything would work out just fine. The school (which seemed rather modest and probably not well-funded) provided a totally decent beginner/ intermediate level set for me to play. I assumed that this would be the set I would play throughout the trip.

As we concluded the workshop, I was informed that we would not be using that particular set because it would take up too much room in the bus to bring it along for our rural tour. Still, I remained calm and assumed that as per our original arrangement, there would be "drums" provided throughout the tour. These drums were supposed to include a snare, rack tom, floor tom, kick drum, hi-hats, a crash cymbal, and a ride cymbal, along with the appropriate pedals and hardware.

I quickly learned that the standards of what constitutes a decent, functional drum set, can very quite extremely from one country to the next.

The trouble started in the UB at our local TV performance, then got progressively worse in Harhorin (though the drums were not the biggest issue there) and Arvikheer. In the UB, the set that was provided was pretty rough and only had one real cymbal stand and one half-assembled hi-hat stand to hold the ride cymbal. It was rather stressful, having to limit my ride cymbal playing so as to not knock it off the stand, crashing and disrupting our major Mongolian TV debut. Actually, after we finished our performance, the host of the show apologized to me for the sad shape of her drums. I appreciated the apology, but assured her that it was fine, as I was able to adapt and still put together a decent performance.

Harhorin is a very very rural town, so I was expecting the drums to be mediocre at best. What I didn't expect was to be provided what was basically a child's drumset with a hi-hat pedal that didn't work, a kick pedal that barely worked, a crash cymbal and hi-hats that sounded like old cookie sheets and NO RIDE CYMBAL. However, in the context of our show that night, the drum problems seemed almost secondary, as we had so many other bigger problems and concerns. So, I tightened, taped-up, and adjust as much as I could and just played all my ride cymbal parts on open, crappy hi-hat and stumbled my way through.

When we arrived for the show in Arvaikheer, we were relieved to finally see a bigger, more modern city. We missed the comforts of indoor plumbing, hot showers, and decent food. The venue was a beautiful theater, complete with a huge stage, 400+ seats, and a very decent sound system. The overall band vibe was excited and optimistic. Set-up was going pretty well and all we had to do was to wait for the drums to be brought over from the local university.
It was about 40 minutes to showtime and I was standing off to the side of the stage when I heard the distant swish of hi-hats. "Hooray! The drums are here!" I thought to myself. In a moment that seemed to pass in slow motion, I walked around the curtain and found . . . THE EXACT SAME SET AS THE ONE IN HARHORIN IN A DIFFERENT COLOR! Remarkably, this set was actually WORSE. The snare drum only had one head, the toms had the resonance of a three-ring binder, the kick only had the batter side head, the kick pedal was barely functional, AND again, NO RIDE CYMBAL! I was absolutely beside myself. How could this have happened again? We were assured, the organizers had access to a real drum set! I felt so angry. I felt so disappointed. I felt so worried. How was I going to through together enough parts to make a playable kit?

After my initial panic, I employed some deep-breathing techniques my girlfriend taught me and was able to regain my composure. I asked our interpreter to check and see if there was at least a functioning snare drum and/or ride cymbal anywhere within a reasonable distance. Luckily, the theater had an old steel snare drum that despite, sounding awful, could still be used. I condensed the kit down to kick, snare, hi-hat, and crash and hatched a plan with the band to play a toned-down semi-acoustic set using lots of shaker and tambourine, avoiding the actual drums where possible.

We made the most of a crappy situation and gave the people a show to remember. As the night ended, I found myself feeling oddly calm and grateful.

I realized that I couldn't blame anyone for the awful drum-situation. After all, in towns and schools where the majority of music taught is traditional, why would they prioritize having a modern drum set designed for western-style music? During the Harhorin and Arvaikheer shows, Allyson, our support from the Embassy assured me that no matter what the sound situation or drum situation, these people would be super enthusiastic and appreciative of our having come all this way to share our music. She was right. We were playing to people who had never seen any kind of live western music, much less an established, indie-pop band like Canasta.

While I fumbled through the shows, altering my drum parts on the fly and feeling quite awkward, it was so refreshing and heart-warming to hear the crowds cheering and to have the kids approach us with joy and excitement. In retrospect, the drums, the missing monitors, cables, mics, or whatever really didn't matter. These people were doing the best they could with what they had and in the end, the shows turned out to be fulfilling and inspiring for everyone involved. So, BOOM-BERRR may not always directly translate, I probably should've just brought my own cymbals, and we certainly didn't have our best shows ever, but sharing the music and the experiences is what makes it all worth while.

Time to go to bed. Our plane leaves in less than 9 hours."

<-- Read Day 4!

 
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