FOLLOWING THE SOUND AROUND THE WORLD, AN INTERVIEW WITH DAVE CROWDER by Ed Drury
I met Dave Crowder about a year ago when he was on a didjeridu journey up and down the western United States. Dave was recently here to perform at the Oregon Country Fair. I failed to connect with him on this trip, but I did catch up with him via the world wide web. Dave recently organized a didjeridu gathering in his home town of Boulder Colorado and I wanted to find out as much as possible about his experiences as organizer, teacher, and performer in that event. - Ed
[ED] In addition to having a wonderful time at the Boulder gathering, you must of learned a great deal by organizing such an event. Can you share any of that process with us and perhaps some advice to anyone thinking about undertaking such an event?
[DC] Actually most of what I learned about organizing events was learned back in 1991 when I started the first Ultimate Frisbee league in Boulder, and I've pretty much stuck to the same techniques for each event I attempt to organize. This method summed up in one word is - communication. Since I could probably write a book just on the Boulder Gathering alone, I'll just focus on one particular part of it... the planning of the performances: The easiest part of planning for the gathering was the mountain camping part. I just delegated the campout to a friend who was gung-ho about some particular camping site he had discovered. Conversely the most difficult part proved to be planning the stage events. I began with a quaint little place called PennyLane where I had performed on an open mike evening. I remembered that the sound man had really liked the sound of the didjeridu and had begged me to come and play anytime, so here was the obvious place to start. When I asked him if we could have a whole evening set aside for didjeridu performers he was positive and wrote us in on his calender right then. I could have just left it at that, but I figured another really nice thing that would help a didjeridu gathering would be to see a performance by an internationally known band that centered around the didjeridu. So I went to the Boulder Theater and boldly asked to see the manager. After repeated attempts to connect with this person, and getting put off to a booking agent, then leaving several phone and e-mail messages with this guy, I finally I got a conversation. This was really just a reaching for the stars and possibly being forced to settle with face down in a mud type action, but I knew it wouldn't hurt to ask.. All they could do was say "no". So, I told Mike - the booking agent - who I was, and what I wanted. He was actually interested! He listened to several CDs of Adam Plack, Steve Kent, and a few others and decided he wanted Nomad. So he contacted them and got blown off. By this time, our event was getting close to the scheduled solstice week, so I wasn't really planning on this part to come together. I was quite ready to just have a mountain camp out, how to play workshop, and single stage performance be the entire event schedule. But, Mike called me about two weeks before the event and said he would be into having a didj/drum circle at the theater on Sat. night - the night of the solstice. I said yes to this, thinking that we might get shafted as didj players with a bunch of wild heathen drummers blasting our ears out. But, Mike was willing to put me in charge of the stage since the original idea of having didj at the Theater was mine. So, I didn't hesitate to seize every opportunity to insure that the didj would be heard when the drummers arrived. Shawn, the manager there said that he would have 5 pairs (one floor mount and the other mouth height) of mikes, set up on the stage, and that it would be up to me as to who was on the stage at what time. I used a drum circle etiquette flyer that was distributed at the door so that drummers would be prepped upon entering the theater that they would be expected to listen to the beat and play with it and not to try to play louder than the atmosphere suggested. This form was copied from someone else's drum circle I had visited several weeks before. Naturally I contacted the guy who created it and asked if I could use it. So, I just changed a bit of the wording to fit our event better. The thing went off without a hitch and everyone was all smiles and hugs afterwards! I guess my point here is that in planning an event so that it goes well for everyone, you will have to use every available tool at your disposal, including the people that you know who might have some good ideas or resources. But the main thing is this: You will have to communicate with everyone many many times BEFORE it happens. I sent e-mail back and forth with the Boulder Theater booking agent about 10 times and talked with him personally about 5 different times. Rob Thomas was contacted about 10 times via e-mail. Mysterium, the music store where we did our workshop, and PennyLane were only contacted about 3 times, but that was because I knew them well and those channels were wide open. I call this method of organization "massaging the communication pathways". People don't like to be left in the dark about matters that someone else is planning. They must be repeatedly reassured that things will happen such and such a way, and they must put everything out on the negotiating table that they have invested interests in. You must listen to all of this, and come to an agreement about every little thing. Then you must tell them everything you have in mind with complete honesty without holding back anything. Only after all of this is done can you really hold the reins and go galloping hassle free into glory.
[ED] I understand that there were several performances during the gathering. Is there any particular act which stood out for you personally? Perhaps surprised, inspired or moved you as a didj player or maybe in a spiritual sense?
[DC] One of the interesting that happens to musicians when they play with others is that occasionally the whole is much better than the sum of the two parts. In other words if you just heard one by itself you might think it sounds horrible. And if you took the other part by itself, you might think it sounds just as terrible or worse. But when you mix the two, something beautiful results from the blending. On Wed. night at PennyLane, a blending of two extremely odd sounds became a mesmerizing sound that reminded me of what little true aboriginal style didj/singing that I've heard. Michael Stanwood & Viki Dodd did a duet with Mike starting out playing an agave didj. At this point I was not impressed and there certainly were no sparks flying. Then ,Viki began singing/chanting in a completely unique style that included a few overtones with guttural aboriginal sounding rhymes. The instant Viki began singing, the sound of the didj fused to the vocal part adding multi-dimensional layers that hypnotized both the players and the audience. That was when I was most surprised the entire weekend. I had never met Viki before, so wasn't prepared for her bizarre yet haunting sounds. After the show, Michael explained that Viki's singing often brought his didj playing to higher levels. As evidenced by the rather warm ovation, I would venture to guess that everyone, including Michael and Viki, was spiritually moved by that piece.
[ED] I'm sure that you probably picked up many new influences as a player during the gathering. Can you talk about your own playing during this time? Were there occasions where you felt a shift in your playing or a bit of a break through from your previous approach or techniques?
[DC] No, not really. However, on that Monday night when Bumble arrived, we had a jam session at my house where we used my JamMan looping device to create some really incredible rhythms. This was a sort of breakthrough, as it had never been used so efficiently before. To answer your question though about my own playing techniques, I'd need to go forward in time to my latest trip which included the Blue Heron Fest in New York. I was fortunate enough to meet Tim Whitmore of Big Blow & the Bushwakers. He is a master of tonguing and partials. My biggest focus on untested techniques was in advanced tonguing where you click the front of the tongue and the back of the tongue in quick staccato fashion; like this: taka taka taka Tim showed me what he calls triples where you go back to the front of the tongue after using the rear; like this: tikata tikata tikata He was able to combine this pattern blazingly fast such that it blends into a fluid flow. Also, he does a really cool amalgamation with "tikata" and a partial or set of partials directly after the triplet; like this: tikata boop tikata boop beep bip tikata tikata Learning these techniques, though they might seem innocuous to most wind instrument players, were my greatest recent breakthroughs. I work on these like I did when I was first learning to circular breath; many moments behind the wheel in my car saying "tikata tikata tikata tikata".
[ED] . Were there workshops or other forms of teaching going on at the gathering that you'd care to share with us?
[DC] Yes, We had one workshop that was promoted on the radio and with flyers positioned at various music stores around town; one of them was Mysterium, the quaint new age music store where the workshop was held. Sadly, though we were prepared for 10 or 20 people, only 2 participants showed up. One man and woman. They had the benefit of four instructors Patrick Walsh, Tom Lange, Bumble, and myself. The male was able to get circular breathing on the didj, as well as some pitch change and partials. The lady figured out circular breathing off the didj, but wasn't able to fully transfer it to the didj. She worked on pitch change and the drone without too much success, but later called me to set up a future personal lesson. I believe we will forgo any workshops next year for possibly another performance at a Denver night club. There was also another woman that saw Bumble and me performing on Pearl Street Mall on the day before the PennyLane gig. She made it a priority in her busy schedule to make it to that performance, and called me the week after the gathering. She and I communicated via e-mail for a few days and eventually set up a lesson where she learned various animal calls, screams, and a few rhythms. Possessing an unwavering desire to learn as much about the instrument as possible, she is probably my most promising student of didjeridu to date! She came in with the ability to circular breath and proud owner of a Rob Thomas plastic learner didj, and left feeling better about her didj and using a much larger vocabulary.
[ED] Have you any thoughts , at this point, about next year's gathering? What people might expect and also, how to contact you about the event with their questions and/or suggestions.
[DC]Yes I do. I think that since the turnout was so low for the workshop, we will not have one. Instead, I've received a suggestion from Tim Quigley that we have a third performance in Denver at some receptive night club, and we would even get paid as performers. He has said that he has several contacts that would be interested. Another change will be the guest list for the mountain gathering. This year I had delegated this task to a friend and we ended up with a rather dysfunctional group, in that the didj players were greatly outnumbered by non-players who weren't in the least interested in communicating with us. Next year I will take charge of that aspect of the gathering and only invite players and possibly close friends who would follow our groove. Finally, the last change I might make would be the possibility of mixing a currently existing solstice drum circle group, which has been meeting at the Solstice Institute in Boulder for several years, with our own solstice circle. This way, many more people would become involved and the event would become much larger. If you were to come to the Boulder Gathering you should expect 3 nights of performing on various local stages, an overnight camp out in the mountains, and huge amounts of musical sharing among great didjeridu players. Anyone who plays a didjeridu is invited and there are no qualifications as a player (ie you don't have to be able to circular breath, or hit boops, etc.) other than getting yourself here. You will not have to pay for accommodations as everyone is invited to spread out on my floors. I can be contacted by the following addresses:
firstname.lastname@example.org, Dave Crowder
1280 Hartford St. Boulder, CO 80303 (303)499-8229.
Copyright 1997 Ed Drury and Dave Crowder