SOLO DRUM SOLO

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FRINGE BLOGGER ||

(The following is a guest post from Sammi Cohen, a Rochesteriat Fringe blog contributor and Fringe performer herself.)

You never know what you’ll find at the Fringe.  There is so much to do and see, and as an actor, when I do get to attend shows (which was very rare during the first two years of the festival, since I was in full-on performance mode), I tend to choose shows that fall within the theatre and dance realm.  However, I knew that I’d have to make it a priority to see this performance, conceived and performed by a dear friend of mine: drummer, educator, composer and Eastman School grad, Aaron Staebell.

Aaron and I have known each other for several years, and I’ve had the pleasure of working with him on numerous shows (including my Fringe shows for the first two years -- Hedwig and the Angry Inch and ROOMS: a rock romance).  Not only is he an incredible talent, but he’s also probably one of the best people I know.  I had the opportunity to sit down with my mohawked friend (at our respective computers) prior to his shows to find out a little more about SOLO DRUM SOLO.  You can find the full transcript of this interview on Aaron’s website.

How did you come up with the idea of doing an entire show of drum solos? 

"I was frustrated because the drum set is often not seen as a 'serious' instrument, especially by people in college for 'percussion.' I think it’s because nobody has written much serious music for it. I wanted to fix that problem."

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Have you done anything else like this (sans band) before? 

"Just once, and it was really just a practice show for [fellow drummer] Chris Teal’s Institute for Creative Music in August. But again, really, I don’t know anybody who has done this for a full concert like I am. We have all seen the classic Tommy Lee drum solos and stuff, but those are within a bigger concert."

Is it an intimidating prospect to have it be just you and your drum set, or is this kind of every drummer's dream?

"No, no, its definitely intimidating and terrifying, even. The music [that] people wrote for the project is extremely difficult, and asks the performer to approach the drum set in ways that are very different from the norm. It has almost been like learning a new instrument. Of course, there’s also nobody else to rely on, cover my mistakes, etc., and another big fear is [whether or not] people will be able to listen to and enjoy only drums for an hour at a time."

I know you got a crazy amount of submissions for this... how many did you get? 

"I think the count at this point is up to around 40, from everywhere—Brazil, Mexico, Japan, Australia, Italy, and of course, the US. It was easy to narrow it down from 40 to 30... much harder to get from 30 to 15."

What kind of criteria did you keep in mind when choosing pieces? 

"First, they had to be realistic. I want people to play these in the future, and if the music was way too difficult, it would not be appealing to other performers. That eliminated a few. After that, I tried to choose pieces that had something unique about them. For example, one piece has an audio track that I work with. Another uses kitchen timers. One uses graphic notation, which means basically following a diagram or picture with directions, and another is completely text-based, only offering instructions. Though this is billed as a concert of “just drum set,” it’s pretty amazing to me how varied the pieces are."

As the daughter of a drummer, a show made up entirely of drum solos piqued my interest, but I was also acutely aware of the fact that, in the wrong hands, such a show could be brutal.  Fortunately, Aaron approached this show -- as he does most things -- with passion and humor, and he has a way of making what could be daunting and exclusionary material completely accessible to his audience.  This show is just one of the first steps in what will be an ongoing project, with plans to perform more later this fall.  You can catch the second performance of this concert (with a completely different program!) at 6:30 PM on Monday night at Bernunzio Uptown Music.

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Sammi is a native Rochesterian and is no stranger to the Fringe, having performed in the festival for the past three seasons (including this year, as part of Intrepid on the Geva Theatre Nextstage).  In addition to her work as a singer and actress, Sammi also runs The Soubrette Brunette, a personal fashion and style blog that focuses on all things retro, kitschy and girly.  Follow her antics on Instagram: @thesoubrettebrunette