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PRESS & ARTICLES

Drumming and Chanting With George Grant - By Carl Rabke

“Drumming and Chanting with George Grant”

 

By Carl Rabke — Catalyst Magazine, Salt Lake City, Utah

 

He welcomes you to his home with a warm smile that radiates through the bushy silver tendrils of his beard. Stepping through the collection of exotic drums, tablas and cymbals, you can see a shine in George Grant’s eye that lets you know that he is on to something beautiful and he can’t wait to share it with you.

 

Drum Talk and Devotional Vocal Toning – these meditative, musical, percussive potpourris of self-expression offer the chance to explore music and voice in a way that most lessons seem to miss. “It’s all about abandoning the known,” say George. There is no form, no expectations for performing in front of others, and no way that is supposed to be. The sessions grow organic music that feeds off the nutrients of expression and emotion of those who create it.

 

George cuts and pastes rhythms and sounds from his vast musical background (which includes jazz, country, Iranian, and Turkish music along with extensive study in the tabla drums from India) to create a style that is unique to our time and culture. Rather than following the drumming and chanting patterns of another society, he seeks to capture and express our experience. “When historians look back, they will have to recognize the drum and chanting movement that we are taking part in,” he says.

 

One of George’s main focuses is on developing sensitive ears. During the chanting and drumming, he encourages participants to take a few moments to feel, hear and appreciate what surrounds them. Personal silence allows the percussive rhythms to flow through the body. At times, the harmonic resonance is so pervasive that you feel like you are chanting, even as you experience the sound with silence. Through sitting back and absorbing the music, your own contribution flows naturally into the stream of sound.

 

The concept of listening stretches far beyond the skins of the drums. As George notes, “Conversation is an art form.” The skills learned in communicating with musical improvisation are applicable to any conversation that exists without boundaries or expectations. Michael Levin, in his book The Listening Self, highlights this importance of listening: “It is imperative, if an historically new kind of self is ever to emerge from the traditional dualism…our listening needs to learn receptiveness, responsiveness and care.” George’s workshops seek out the voice and ear of this new self.

 

Trying to capture in words the feeling evoked in these workshops is like describing the colors of a redrock sunset to someone who has never been there – it is a personal experience, so full of beauty, that is might be easier to say, “Just go see it, then you will understand.” George describes the chanting as a “sonic massage from the inside out.” As you close your eyes and hear the different tones of a chant like “kyrie” vibrating through your organs, or feel your hands pounding out rhythms of a musical conversation with a room full of people, it will become clear what he means.

 

Along with showing George’s exceptional rhythm and musical knowledge, his workshops reveal how gifted he is as an educator. He creates an atmosphere where inhibition is easily dismantled, and musical potential is tapped and flowing in everyone. These workshops create an experience that few could ever forget, and we are truly blessed to have an innovative educator, and drumming virtuoso like George Grant to share his experience with us.

Professional Drums to a Different Beat - By John Draper

“Professional Drums to a Different Beat”

 

By John Draper — Staff Writer, Daily Utah Chronicle, University of Utah

 

WEDNESDAY OCTOBER 9, 1994

 

University of Utah Instructor George Grant Wants Complete Musical Freedom.

 

His diverse collection of percussion instruments looks like an exotic music store, or even a toy store. For Grant, sound is color. He uses the pitter-patter of tabla (a traditional drum from India), the ringing of bells, the splashing of cymbals and even the droning of his voice to create impressionistic aural paintings.

 

This eclectic mix of sound, along with a non-technical approach, forms the basic of Drum Talk, a class that Grant believes is for anyone who wants to make music.

 

Grant grew up playing in high school marching bands and local rock bands, but it took him a while to musically find himself. While in college, he discovered free jazz and experimental musicians like guitarists Ralph Towner and John McLaughlin, saxophonist Jan Garbarek, and multi-instrumentalist Egberto Gismonti.

 

He eventually abandoned popular music. Indian classical music inspired him 

 

to take up tabla, which he studied exclusively for 10 years.

 

He eventually brought other instruments into this music, including the Persian zarb drum, cymbals and frame drums. Although Grant has played with Indian musicians and the tabla remains his “favorite instrument,” he does not see himself as a part of the Indian tradition.

 

“I am a Westerner,” he insists. “I use the tones and the sound of the tabla to express what I want to express, instead of using the tabla to carry on the tradition of India.”

 

Grant believes that someday his voice may replace the tabla as his favorite and central instrument.

 

Some may see Grant’s music as esoteric but he developed Drum Talk because be wants music making to be accessible to everyone.

 

“Drum Talk is about including people instead of excluding people,” Grant said. Therefore, his class does not require technical ability or previous musical training.

 

Grant teaches his students to make music by having them learn simple drum patterns with their voices. Then he has them play the patterns and improvise on drums.

 

This “if you can say it, you can play it” approach may seem unusual to musicians in the European tradition. However, Grant says that it is not new.

 

“It’s the heart of dozens of drum cultures,” he says. After students feel comfortable, he allows them to invent their own vocal patterns.

 

Drum Talk, according to Grant, does not represent a single musical tradition, or a single drum culture. He calls it “personal music” because it allows people to incorporate their own ideas through improvisation and invention without judgement from others.

 

“We’re doing it for ourselves; we’re not doing it to please anybody else,” Grant says. “It’s just for personal recreation, and personal reflection.”

 

Although the music is about free expression, it is not chaotic. Grant compares it to a musical conversation. The students are required to listen and respond to each other. Some play supporting rhythms while others improvise.

 

Grant feels that his class is therapeutic because it helps students conquer their fears about making music and performing in front of others. “I psyche them out to take a chance,” he admits. “Our fears about making music are completely unnecessary, because nothing bad is going to happen.”

 

The first step in the fear conquering process is to get the students to perform the vocal patterns and talk about how they feel doing it. “It’s petrifying for some people to do this stuff,” Grant said.

The second step is to talk about why the students might be afraid to play music. Grant says that they eventually come to the conclusion that their fears are unfounded. When they lose their inhibitions, they can make music freely using their voices and Grant’s collection of percussion instruments.

 

“It’s philosophical training. We don’t get into much technical training at all,” he said.

 

Grant has been teaching Drum Talk at the University since 1992. He also performs, gives private lessons and workshops. He often works with public and private schools, at-risk youth groups and prisoners. Beside performing with local musicians, he has performed and recorded with sarodist Aashish Khan of India, son of the world renowned sarode master Ali Akbar Khan. He also recently performed with classical guitarist Benjamin Verdery and flautist Keith Underwood. He is currently working on an instructional cassette.

Drummers Drumming - By Marlin Stum

“Drummers Drumming”

Drum Talk Personal Expression With George Grant

 

By Marlin Stum, Catalyst Magazine, Salt Lake City

 

OCTOBER 1992

 

As children we learn to talk by listening. Long before we know the intricacies of poetic principles or proper grammar, we are able to converse. This, too, is the way we should learn to make music, say percussionist and music teacher George Grant.

 

“An infant first learns to imitate sounds, then learns words and finally phrases,” he says. “Then he spends he rest of his life learning to read and write the language. Often, traditional Western musical training is like trying to teach Shakespeare to that infant.”

 

George emphasizes working with listening concepts to develop musical expression for fun and relaxation, stress reduction and improved self-esteem. The focus is on simplicity and personal fulfillment rather than performance for a critical audience. George works with people of all ages. While his adult students sometimes are musicians, they are just as often mathematicians, nurses, business or communications majors.

 

“I teach specific imitation and response exercises that lead to free experimentation. The usefulness of drills as a training method was inspired by Doug Wolf, leader of the University of Utah’s nationally acclaimed percussion ensemble and a fantastic musician himself.”

 

Garrett Gregor a recent math graduate, took George’s “Drum Talk” class last year. “One of the main things I learned from George was the art of communication between people who are playing. I learned to listen to the other instruments talking, learning when to back out and when to be subtle. We actually began having conversations with the drums.”

 

His conversational analogy is but one metaphor George uses in his acultural, non-traditional approach to teaching music. Painting imagery is another, where he describes each drumbeat as a point in space, with one instrument creating an outline, another the background, and others the objects of focus.

 

“George talks about making music in terms of how we see things, making a high-pitched cymbal a ‘bright’ sound and the deep tone of a log drum a ‘dark’ one,” says Garrett. “He got us thinking of sounds as having colors and textures.”

 

He loves to quote Einstein, who said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge,” and George has an abundance of both. He says that formal musical training, with its emphasis on reading notes, doesn’t work for 90% of people who love to play music, but have no desire to perform.

 

George has performed his share. “I played drums all through school, the marching band, the concert band, rock bands,” he says. “In college I played a lot of jazz.”

 

George uses a myriad of percussion instruments in his classes, his personal favorite being an Eastern hand drum called the tabla. The tabla is a drum perhaps best known to Westerners as the instrument played by Alla Rakha, who has toured with Ravi Shankar, the famous sitar player. Rakha’s son, Zakir Hussain, is one of several music masters from India. George has performed with master musicians from India, Afghanistan, and Iran since first studying Eastern drumming at a private school in Boston. Although proficient enough to perform professionally, George prefers adapting his skills to teaching the non-musician.

 

“I especially love teaching kids,” he says. “You show them something and they get it right away. They have fewer inhibitions — those come later when we’re older.”

 

He describes a class where he taught severely handicapped kids, some who could barely sit in their wheelchairs.

 

“You could see it in their eyes, that they were getting it and loving the personal expression, even though they could barely hold the instruments.”

 

Carol Pratt is a special education teacher who organized an inter-school Special Education Festival at North Layton Junior High last year. George was one of five guest artists who worked with intellectually handicapped junior and senior high school students at the festival.

 

“George had us make all of our own instruments,” says Carol. “We got together with the wood and metal shop teachers and made chimes, blocks and rattles. Our kids don’t get a chance to participate in a lot of arts, and this was a wonderful opportunity for them.”

 

“His class gave them a sense of rhythm, and helped them with their motor and speech skills. It opened up a new world for some of them.”

 

George will teach through the Utah Arts Council’s “Artists In Residence” program this fall. Also, Drum Talk is offered through the University of Utah DCE.

Discovery Students Use Music to Connect Mind & Body - By Lori Hunsaker

“Discovery Students Use Music to Connect Mind & Body”

 

By Lori Hunker, Assistant Editor, Box Elder NEWS JOURNAL – Brigham City, Utah

 

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 21, 1998

 

The Hopi Indians created a symbol for the white man – a stick figure with its head disconnected. That isn’t a racial judgment, but rather a reflection of culture, musician George Grant explained at Discovery School last week.

 

Grant helps children and adults connect their head and body through music using Drum Talk™.

 

“We need to feel music in our bodies,” Grant told students. “Music is not just about what you understand in your head.”

 

Grant is concluding two weeks at Discover School through the Artist In Residence program and is working with all grade levels.

 

The fifth grade class has worked with Grant daily, preparing for a performance Thursday, Jan. 22 at 6:30 in the multi-purpose room at Discovery School. The performance is open to the public.

Fifth graders were given complex tasks. Some were using silent finger counting to keep track of the beat. “Markers” were those students marking the last two counts of an eight count pattern. Other students chanted Drum Talk™ words, and still other students played marimbas.

 

Grant modifies his methods, depending on the age of his students. Kindergarten students played two sticks, holding them like telephone poles, railroad tracks, or snowplows.

 

Students also played their hands, holding one like a pizza tray and clapping it with the other hand.

 

Children from kindergarten to second grade are at the prime age to get timed. A child is timed when he/she can perceive the steady beat that underlies a pattern. A pattern is something that repeats itself.

 

Grant said he’s known musicians who can play a difficult pattern without being aware of the underlying beat.

 

Grant cited a recent study which indicates that “if a kid is timed, he/she will be in the upper third or ten percent of his/her peers throughout life,” he concluded. “Music coordinates all parts of the brain at the same time. All centers are stimulated simultaneously.”

 

DRUM TALK

 

Drum Talk is a global phenomenon. Cultures create words to represent each sound that a drum makes. Grant teaches American Drum Talk. He taught students four Drum Talk words: Dome, Gadget, Takataka, Chikachika.

 

Americans need to dance more to connect themselves to their bodies. Our culture conditions us, or rather de-conditions us, Grant explained. American music is about finding out who is the best, which is very exclusive.

 

“Drum Talk is about not excluding anybody. I have something for everybody to do,” Grant said. “If you can say it, you can play it.”

 

Performers on rock videos are almost always moving around. If they don’t move, it’s like water backed up behind an irrigation gate. The water is there but it isn’t going anywhere.

 

Grant is a self taught musician. He grew up with music in his home but didn’t have a music lesson until he was in college. He learned to play by ear. His experience isn’t typical of many musicians in the United States.

 

To be a musician, we don’t have to be trained for greatness from day one. Each person needs to learn to be comfortable with music, whether one is a professional musician or a personal musician who plays for himself and family for the enjoyment of it.

 

Grant’s use of DrumTalk has evolved into a book, George Grant’s Drum Talk which is being edited for national publication. Grant offers weekend workshops and has been an Artist In Residence in various schools since October. He does some performing and gives private lessons. The Artists In Residence program is funded through Marie Eccles Caine Foundation, Utah Arts Council, and Box Elder School District Foundation. Various schools in Box Elder School District take advantage of the program every year by inviting artists from different mediums to visit.

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