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A Drummer’s Dream

2010
Distributed by Argot Pictures
Produced by Kent Martin
Directed by John Walker
DVD, color, 85 min.
Jr. High - General Adult
Music, Drumming, Percussion, Canada


Reviewed by Vincent J. Novara, Curator, Special Collections in Performing Arts, University of Maryland

Recommended with Reservations   
 
Date Entered: 8/22/2012

A Drummer’s Dream documents the clinics and performances constituting a weeklong drumming camp held at a remote Canadian lakefront farm, hosted and organized by Montreal drummer Nasyr Abdul Al-Khabyyr. Within the first few minutes of this celebration of virtuosity, viewers catch a glimpse of what they are in for: masterful and expressive performances of bewildering polyrhythmic drumming. The seven drummers gathered for the camp are diverse in background, style, and career, and, in addition to Al-Khabyyr, include Dennis Chambers, Kenwood Dennard, Heracio “El Negro” Hernandez, Giovanni Hidalgo, Mike Mangini, and Raul Rekow.

The documentary is beautifully filmed, from the performances and instructional sessions occurring inside an aging barn or on a lakeside dock, to the surrounding landscapes revealing a lush Canadian summer in full swing. The production team makes effective use of multiple cameras for the performance footage, ensuring that every technical marvel can be observed and studied. Audio fidelity is crisp and articulate.

As a documentary of a musical event, A Drummer’s Dream never conveys exactly what the week of drumming seeks to accomplish. At least twenty students (teens through middle-aged adults) attend the camp, and during interviews the students primarily indicate that they are inspired and overwhelmed by the staggering talent of the featured drummers. Furthermore, Al-Khabyyr’s camp does not come across as having any overarching or unifying objective – as seen in other music camps – apart from ecstatic shredding on drums. The closest one gets to an objective is Rekow explaining: “What we’re here to do is give the encouragement and confidence to these students to go on… to say ‘I can do this, too.’” Nevertheless, the majority of the instruction shown in the video seems to lack any useful practical application, aside from developing advanced virtuosic soloing skills, which is not a usual requirement for most working drummers (despite being great fun).

From viewing A Drummer’s Dream, the impression is given that the epitome of drumming is mastering complex Afro-Cuban grooves (here referred to merely as “Latin,” a term of common misuse by drummers). Moreover, lengthy portions of the documentary are devoted to congas, but very little is covered on developing those basic techniques. For other styles, it appears that some jazz interpretation is addressed, as well as extended techniques that might prove useful for aspiring math rock drummers.

The featured drummers are equally charismatic before the camera as they express the great passion they devote to their craft, and display genuine warmth towards one another, as well as towards the students. The educational atmosphere is encouraging, albeit with many concepts that are perhaps out of reach to most attendees, as evident whenever one of the students is captured drumming. Throughout A Drummer’s Dream, the professional drumming is entertaining, though possibly less so for the uninitiated. Interviews with the featured drummers wander at times, and are rife with hyperbole regarding their peers to a wearying degree. A highlight is the open manner in which each drummer shares their backstory of getting started, early breaks into the field, and what it means to still play.

A Drummer’s Dream may prove popular in libraries that support a music school with an established and thriving drum set program. Yet, even for some of those institutions, the film will seem more inspirational than practical. (There is no shortage of instructional videos by contemporary or past masters of drumming going back to the mid-1980s.) As the documentary of a musical event, this release has more in common with It Might Get Loud (Thomas Tull Productions, 2008) than any of the pedagogical media available for serious students. However, for enjoying sheer drumming prowess, A Drummer’s Dream will not disappoint.

Awards

  • Winner, Fipa D’Or Grand Prize, Performing Arts France
  • Winner, top Ten Audience Favourite, Hot Docs
  • Official Selection, RIDM, Montreal International Film Festival
  • Winner, Top Ten Canadian Film, Vancouver International Film Festival