Singapore Report

Hong Kong

This is the second to last stop on this three month 10 country tour.

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAOther than facilitating some corporate team building rhythm events for American President Lines in Bangkok, Thailand, Singapore was where I did my one of my first drum circles in southeast Asia in 1993.

Coming to Singapore brings back great memories for me. Back then, I was just starting my relationship with REMO as an International facilitator. By then REMO had supported me and the growth of the recreational drum circle movement in the United States with great results. Now that REMO was able to design and deliver specific drums and instruments for our diverse drumming community REMO, the man, decided to start sending me to Europe and Asia. Europe worked out but Asia had a major financial set back in those days, so after four tours we let Asia chill for a while and focused on Europe. look at the result in Europe. Now Asia is back on the map and you can see the result of the drum circles tours that REMO has instigated in the last few years with Christine Stevens, Chalo Edwardo, John Fitzgerld, myself and others.

Upon arriving on this ex-british colonial island last week, the first place I visited was the Recreational Music Center. Yes there is a RMC in Singapore, modeled after the REMO RMC in LA. Swee Lee Music, the REMO distributer in Singapore, has been sending drum facilitators into schools for the past 7 months. As an extension to that, they opened up their RMC in a mall in down town Singapore. It can easily accommodate 50 players and is packed with all the right toys. The RMC holds open community drum circles every Wednesday night and is facilitated by two competent facilitators, Ume, pronounced You-Me (but her real Asian name is Ummaira), and Ea Lian. Both of these young women have been students of Syed (a Hawaii graduate as of this August), since they were little girls if 9 and 16 years of age respectively. They were major players at the Singapore VMC Facilitators Playshop as well as the community drum circle.

Ummaira, Syed and Ea Lian

Ummaira, Syed and Ea Lian


Their RMC poster reads:
Need a weekly drumming fix? Fret no more
Recreational Music brings you a night of DRUM CIRCLE every week at no charge
Enjoy a fun relaxing drumming musical experience with us
You don't need to have any prior music experience
Anyone and everyone is welcome
So just bring your enthusiasm, the rest we will provide

Syed has been a major mover in the Singapore area for many years. As a professor in orchestrational percussion he teaches his students in a full eclectic range of percussion styles and culturally specific rhythms. The perfect musicality foundation for a drum circle facilitator. If I had my druthers there would be hundreds of Syed's teaching the big eclectic picture all around the world

Syed has established himself so well in the community that he and his performance troupe receives regular funding by the National Arts Council of Singapore. Also, his performance troupe's rehearsal space and nearly all their equipment and drums are provided for by the People's Association. His Village Music Circles Playshop training in Hawaii was supported by the National Arts Council Singapore. He has been holding community drum circles every two weeks since he has returned from this last Hawaii Playshop.

Syed and his group, the "Heart Beat Percussion Band", was performing at the Art House at the Parliament the night after I arrived and he invited me to come and watch. So I did.

After Singapore achieved independence from England, they turned all the old Colonial Government buildings into different community accessible functional buildings for performance arts, museums, community centers etc. They even turned the down town post office into a luxury hotel.

As I walked into the "Art House at the Parliament" I was wondering what that title meant. I soon found out as I walked through the doors into the "performance Space" to discover a large hall with ornate wooden bleachers configured exactly the way the British Parliament hall is set up in London England. It was the old Colonial Parliament building and the performance space was the center floor where the prim-minister would normally speak and the audience for the performance was sitting where the other ministers and government officials use to sit. There were REMO soundshapes and beaters on each seat.

The event was the signing of a Memorandum of Agreement of inter- agency collaboration between two government organizations concerning community building through the arts. They were the Peoples Association and the National Arts Council. Can you say Family Friendly Community Drum Circles? What an excellent fit.

Syed's performance was just after the signing ceremony. His troupe came in, each playing instruments that represent the many different cultures that live in Singapore. It was a great world beat percussion performance, but I did not see Syed.

Then at a particular percussion break Syed burst through a side door with Vicky, (Also a new Hawaii graduate). Syed played a REMO Valencia Facilitators bell, and Vicky played a Korean Cahng-Ko, (The largest talking drum look-a-like in the world), they encouraged the audience to pick up and play their sound shapes.

Along with a Hipeek player and a Surdo player, Syed facilitated the instant drum circle. He repeatedly used a simple half sculpt showcase while having the rest of the group mark accent notes in a simple series "1 + 2 + 3 + 4 and play."

It was simple and beautiful or simply beautiful. The performance was all over in just 10 minutes, but the point was well made by Syed and the Heart Beat Percussion Band. 5 of the 7 members of the troupe were participants in the VMC Facilitators training.

The Singapore Drum Facilitation Program

Swee Lee Music is the REMO distributer and organizer for this particular Facilitator program. They have modeled REMO in all the important ways and has the "Big Picture" and community outreach figured out. Instead of allowing only some of the participants to purchase the new

"Drum Circle Facilitation book, Swee Lee Music made sure every program participant got a book at no cost to them. They also catered lunch and dinner at the event.

The venue they picked was a pavilion just out of the city, in sight of the beach and south sea ocean. Although we started the first drum call on 2 PM Friday; the program did not fully start until after a small group of Muslims arrived from their afternoon prayers around 2:20. By the time we stopped at 9PM, we made it through the first four learning platform exercises, as well as their accompanying Triplicities. A great start.

Here are the demographics for this program:

24 people in the program, 11 men & 13 women.
2 hawaii graduates
1 weekend graduate
Drum Circle Facilitators 5
Music Teachers 3, One from Shanghai
School Teachers 5
Kids at Risk councilors 2
Special Needs Servers 2
Corporate Trainers 2
Personal Growth 1
Prison councilor 1
Doctor 1

In the group was the president of the Singapore chapter of Percussion Arts Society. The closest that I will get to PASIC this year. I am sorry that I will miss it.

This group seemed to be focused on professional development in diffrient areas. When I asked how many people drummed for fun and recreation, only 10 out of the 24 participants raised their hands. I fixed that discrepancy by the end of the Week-End !

By High Tea time on Saturday we completed all the learning platform exercises, and Triplicities. All that was left was Jump Time. It was great to have one forth of the population be experienced facilitators to use as models for the beginners.

The learning platform exercises

The learning platform exercises

The Singapore Community Drum Circle

We held our community drum circle at a popular beach with in the Singapore city limits. This was a mini Boardwalk area with kids rides were were situated in a covered band shell area that gave us shade from the Summertime sun. It was a transit circle populated weekend beach goers.

This festive, family friendly drum circle was something few of the people walking along the beach knew existed. It was wonderful to see the people realize that it was not just a performance but something that their whole family could participate in together. We had a designated group of greeters walking up to the "Peanut gallery" of observers with a big smile and extra instruments to invite then to join the community celebration. And they did.

The average size of the circle was around 100 people as people came and went. But by the end of the two hour event we had "Captured " about 50 stay-and-play Die-hard players that made for a good representation of the "Anatomy of a Drum Circle." 50 people + 24 graduates made for a core group of 75 players that held the rhythms together quite well.

Like with most Asian training closing drum circles, I did the drum call and then turned it over to a 24 measure, or more, facilitation jump time for the graduates. By doing Drum Call on my own, besides set up the body language, I am able to demonstrate how to enter a Transition Point in the rhythm in such a way that I use it as an experiential training for the playing population, (Teaching with out Teaching). By entering the Transition Point very late when the rhythm is in REAL trouble, I am able to teach the players what a Transition Point is, and that my role as their facilitator is to help them through a rough rhythmical patch. As the program progressed the jump time became more relaxed, the grooves became more solid and we actually let the group groove flow so they could offer us transition points for jumping in to the orchestration point.

It was very good to have the experienced Facilitators working the event; Syed, You-me, Vicky and Ea Lian. Not only did they up level the over all program with their graceful interventions but they also helped me facilitate the facilitators. At the end of the event I took the time to acknowledge the working facilitators in the program and have them advertise their up coming events and get some sign ups. I expect the RMC drum circle population to double because of this event.


So the program started out as a Transient circle and ended up as a complete event that ended up in full orchestra mode.

A couple of things that happened that I would like to take note.

After I completed drum call and did the usual welcome and thank yous, I opened the drum circle for "Controlled" jump time by the graduates. I basically facilitated the facilitators for the rest of the circle, making sure the facilitators gave players plenty of play time and stepping in occasionally to facilitate energy adjustments in the event. About a half hour into jump time this little 8 or 9 year old kid came up to me and while pointing at the facilitator doing a call to groove from the center of the circle asked me very politely, "Please sir, may I have a try." I said yes and after a proper length of groove time, I took him into the circle. I gave an attention call to the players and pointed to the kid standing on the Orchestration point while backing out of the circle. His name was Jeramia and with bright eyes and great determination he modeled some of the facilitation moves that he had seen some of the graduates use in the circle. His body language was surpassingly clear. He did some clear rumbles of sections as well as a surprise stop and start. To the cheers of the circle he made a theatrical GOOW. After he sat down and started to play, I caught his eye from across the circle and gave him a thumbs up.

An hour later into the event , my back was turned to the circle as I was engaged in enticing a traditionally dressed Indian family into the circle. I heard the drum circle groove volume suddenly go down.I turn around to see Jeramia on the Orchestration point again. He was facilitating full circle volume waves and then he switched to teeter-totter volume between two sides of the circle. His body language was very clear as he stepped away from his volume down side and stepped toward the volume up side. I said to myself, "Wow, who taught him that?" About the time I was feeling that his time was up, he stepped back to his seat, sat down and started playing.

Close to the end of the event, I found Jeramia in the circle again, but this time be had the facilitators bell in one hand and my facilitators stick in the other. He did a very clear attention call for call and response! I did a double take and was flabbergasted. This guy was a fast learner. Jeramia had been watching the facilitators closely. It was obvious that his self esteem and confidence had increased. Each time he did a simple and precise call he would hold the stick up in the air as the group responded. I got directly in front of him from behind the players behind the players and got his attention. I then put my pointing fingers on each side of my mouth and stretched my face into a smile as a signal to him to smile. He did so while doing a few more calls and responses with the players. Immediately after I made the smile signal I realized "Oh my god, I working the kid as if he was one of the facilitator graduates."

When Jeramia had finished his turn and was heading back to his seat I picked him up and holding him up high, I carried him around the center of the circle to the cheers of the players. Jeramia singed up on the contact sheet and the girls from the RMC has volunteered to be his mentor. I can't wait to see this kid facilitate next year.

Jeramia's third time in the circle

Jeramia's third time in the circle

Teasing, Inciting, Seducing, Conjoling, Any thing to get them to participate.

With the circle placed in a public recreational beach area inside the city of Singapore, there was plenty of people traffic resulting in a big "Peanut Gallery" surrounding the event. Among the gawkers was a mom and a 14 year old daughter. They were sitting on their bikes watching the circle. The girl obviously wanted to join. I walked up to them and offered them small hand drums. The girl eagerly excepted the drum and started playing. Mom said no thank you. With the Moms permission I offered the daughter a chair in the circle. She jumped off her bike and ran to the circle. Looking at the mom with my sad "Please come and play with us" look, the mom laughed but said " No thank you, I have to watch the bikes." I left her alone to go shmooze and entice some more Peanut Gallery gawkers into the circle.

But about 5 minutes later I walked up to the Mom, stood next to her and we watched her daughter fully engrossed in the music. I asked mom, "Is your daughter having fun yet?" The mother answered, "Big time fun, She is normally very shy."

I indicated to the empty seat next the the daughter with a wave of my hand, saying " This could be a Mother-Daughter bonding moment for you." Her body and face agreed with me, but she said "I have to watch the bikes. I pointed to a light pole situated just behind the girls seat and said that pole would be a good place to put the bikes and that I would keep an eye on them for her. She agreed and I helped her snuggle the bikes to the pole and got her seated next to her daughter for "rhythm bonding." After a while I noticed that the mom was no longer drumming for her daughter but also for herself. They stayed and played for the rest of the event.

Score one for enticement.