Beijing, On the Road in China – May 2017

Hello My Friends,

I have been in Beijing for a week without internet or phone access. China and Google are butting heads (again), so my Gmail and my internet has not worked since I left Seattle.

BUT! All of a sudden, two weeks worth of emails has been dumped into my computer. In case that this is a fluke, I am grabbing this opportunity to send out a quick message to say that, with the Beijing Playshop over, I will be reading all your messages on the train ride to my next Playshop in Xi’an in the center of China. And I hope to find some inter-web access there for my next report.

Remember in last years China report, the three week Beijing cough that I picked up and took to Korea and Japan?

Welcome to the land of almost no sky. Rare is the time I have actually seen the sun through the Beijing haze this week (no one here calls it smog). On some days, I could see the outline of the sun (like an eye looking down at us through a yellow gossamer blanket), but I optimistically carry a pair of sunglasses, just in case.

As a storm from the south blew into Beijing this morning, it shrouded the city with sand and dust. The storm turned the usual yellow sky into thick yellow air that you could hardly see through. As I left my hotel to walk to our Playshop training venue a few blocks away, I was handed a paper mask by the doorman. And I am glad that I had it for the short walk. When the people of Beijing take the particulate count in the air seriously, now, so do I. When I walked down the street, the sandy wind gusts were blowing down lots of leaves and tree branches.

But by lunch time the sandstorm was gone. Besides leaving a layer of dust on parked cars, it had blown away the Beijing haze and left us with a clear blazingly bright sunny day. By the end of lunch, all the leaves and branches had mysteriously disappeared off the streets and half of the parked cars had been dusted off.

I am glad that I carry my sunglasses with me, just in case.  Life and sunlight in Beijing is a dance.


Some China Playshop History…

Other than doing three quicky Corporate team building DCTrainings in business conferences in China in the early ‘90s, my first “Official” mini-Playshop DCFacilitation training was at the Beijing Music Arts University. It was part of an early REMO-sponsored Asian drum circle demonstration tour.  But this “demonstration” was a 6 hour mini-training that had been organized by KHS Music, REMO’s distributer in China.

Only musicians, music instructors, orchestra percussionist and orchestra conductors were “Invited” and allowed to attend what was a very “Controlled” population training program.

It was a tough facilitation training for me to do.  I had to work with a bunch of musically related professionals “Who Knew Too Much” and who had never seen a facilitated drum circle before. I had to help them “Un-Learn” some of their old school concepts so they could do “Rhythm Jaming” with each other, so they could practice “Music Facilitation” instead of their usual “Music Dictation.”

When I told them to “make up their own rhythms” they instead, would play culturally specific rhythms from Cuba, West Africa, Brazil, Haiti, etc. It was what they knew and felt “Safe” playing. To keep them from being locked into old school rhythms from other cultures, I had to pass out to them, simple universal rhythm parts that were non-culturally specific. Then I would invite them to “improvise” on top of those parts.

YEA! It worked… I had tricked the music professionals into free-form improvisation. They understood their “Student” roll in a dance with my “Teacher” roll, and did what I told them to do. They used the simple universal parts/phrases that I “Taught” them, as “Platforms” for being creative and experimentally improvisational. Once I told them that we were attempting to create “Drum Jazz” they began to understand the intention of rhythm facilitation.

So through a reverse facilitation process, I did reverse teaching engineering. I dictated interlocking parts to them as a platform to encourage rhythmical improvisation. Normally I would encourage improvisation to create interlocking rhythmical playing parts.

With the challenge that this group of professional musicians gave me, I had discovered that either approach, when properly facilitated, would lead to interactively connected In-The-Moment music making. To me, In-The-Moment music making is the most ultimate “musical” goal of any rhythm event facilitator.

Also included in that very challenging DCFacilitator Training, were a group of grey clad government officials. They sat stoically in the back of the room just watching…. intently. I couldn’t get them into the circle to participate. They wouldn’t budge, or smile.

After the mini-playshop program was complete, I was taken to a small room where I was told I was to be interviewed by the government officials. All the “Grey People” were siting around a conference table. They were waiting for me to sit down for what I thought was going to be an informational/educational interview. Once seated, I was given an intense and scary, almost interrogation by the female leader of those government officials. One person took notes. No one else in the room said a word. They just watched and listened… Intently! The leader of the group was not amused when I tried to interject some levity into the somber atmosphere.

A small panic started growing in my gut. I wondered if I had said something wrong during my facilitation training. I was also getting scared that I might say the wrong thing during this interrogative interview and get kicked out of China, or worse.

The government official wanted to know “Just what was the exact intentions and purpose of this Rhythm Event Facilitation “Technology” that I was trying to introduce into the Chinese music system?” Her words.

My answer in a nutshell was, “To empower the people (I might have said “empower the masses”) to connect to a common purpose through rhythm, while celebrating community through group music making.”

The thirty minutes of questioning felt more like a one hour interrogation. And even though the inquiring “leader” wasn’t any more friendlier at the end of the meeting than at the beginning, I must have passed the test, because I eventually started working with KHS Music in Taiwan and then finally in mainland China.

My first full DCFacilitator training Playshop in Beijing had a student population of 100 participants in one room. I had a lot of “Learning Moments” during the training of that large of a population. I have carried many of those learnings into the other VMC Playshops, such as:

What do you do when you have (4) 24-person breakout practice circles, but only have one room to work with?

  1. Place the circles in the corners of the room, as far away as possible.
  2. Have the participants clap their rhythms with their hands for the facilitator who is in the middle of each circle to do the exercise. (Call to Groove Attention Call & Stop Cut, - OR - Half Group Sculpt with Call & Response)
  3. Have one or more players in the center of the room play the pulse with mallets on base drums, surdos, or REMO Bahia Bases. They strike the first note of each “measure” as an “Open” note, and the other three pulses with a “muffling” note or play the last three pulses on the side of the drum to get a wood sound, “Boom click click click Boom click click click”.

Necessity IS the mother of invention. Problem solved!

The next year we held two 75-participant Beijing Playshops in a row. They were scheduled back to back, with a one day rest in-between for me.

On my third year in China, we did DCFacilitation Playshops in three cities. Now VMC schedules four DCFacilitator Playshop trainings each year. The training schedule this year is Beijing - Always Beijing,  Xi’an - in the center of China, Wuxi - near the big textile city Hanjo, and the final China Playshop on this tour will be held in the southern city of Guangzhou.

The China Playshops are like no other in the VMC Facilitator Training system. Tonny, from KHS Music, wanted me to design a 3 level training system so that the facilitation information could be passed out and ingested at a more leisurely pace.

So I have designed the Chinese Facilitator Trainings with just enough experiential and cognitive information for the beginners to get out into the world for a year, and make the mistakes that they need to make to be successful. When they return for the Level 2 part of the Playshop the next year, and many of them do, they bring their experience back to the newer group as models for the next step. In a way, they are the Challenge participants in the regular Playshop trainings.

The right number of the Level 2s return to their 3rd Playshop to do their ”Level 3” training. Along with doing the Challenge program and modeling for the Level 2s, the Level 3s are ready to help lead the breakouts and do a little support-mini-mentoring on the side. In this program I am stretching their radars from facilitating the circle to facilitating the playshop training group.

One extra element of “mini-mentoring” that I give the Level 3 participants, is that during the “Freeform Jump-Times” in the program, when a Level 1 or Level 2 participant has finished their “Jump” they run out of the circle to where a Level 3 has been watching them and is waiting to give them a two minute critique.

The China 3 year - 3 level - 3 tiered system is working…

This 2017 Beijing Playshop had 65 participants with 54 Basic Level 1 participants, and the rest were Level 2s & 3s. Can you say Organic Learning Platform Pyramid?

The demographics of this Playshop represents the usual suspects that I find all over China: Drummers and Drum Teachers focused mostly on West African drumming, Music Therapists, Music Teachers, School Teachers + two Orchestrational Percussionists. But no Special Needs or Well Elderly related professionals were represented.

Although similar to the regular trainings around the world, I have adjusted the China Playshop trainings and the curriculum to accommodate the Chinese culture and help them move from a Dictator - Leadership style of drum circle facilitation to a supportive empowerment style of facilitation.

It has been a delicate operation to dance around the politics of this culture without offending anyone or appearing to be preaching against the status quo. But step by step, the rhythm revolution appears to be successful and growing China.

On to Xi’an...

Life is a dance   Arthur