The following is adapted from “Developing an African Drumming Program for Your Music Classroom,” created by ThisWorldMusic in partnership with The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
This is the third in a series of three installments on arranging for an African drumming ensemble: 1) Arranging for Classroom vs. Stage; 2) Arranging Drumming with Singing and; 3) Arranging for Performance.
3. Arranging for Performance
Although it can require intensive preparation to play even the basic ostinato parts in many polyphonic, polyrhythmic styles of drum ensemble music, holding a Western audience’s attention with highly repetitive music, no matter how beautiful or complex, frequently presents a challenge. This is particularly true in a purely instrumental performance that does not feature any dancing or singing.
One solution — and there are many — is to stagger the entrances of the ensemble parts, a standard arranging practice in many genres of Western music. Arranging in this manner will also help the audience to isolate the instruments as they enter, thereby engendering greater comprehension and appreciation of the composite group rhythm. And because the individual parts are akin to pre-composed “loops,” students can create their own original arrangements.
Below is an example that features students from the Boston Arts Academy (BAA) performing arts high school playing a rearrangement of Gahu, a style of music from the Ewe people of Ghana. The performance took place in 2009 on Boston’s Copley Square as part of BAA’s Annual Gala Benefit Concert at Trinity Church: