Thursday, June 19, 2008

Drumming and Collaboration - a Conversation with Derek Debeer

After hearing about him by reputation for quite a few years, I had a most memorable conversation recently with Derek Debeer. You may know him as the drummer/percussionist often connected with Johnny Clegg, and who has also performed with Bruce Springsteen, Peter Gabriel, Sting, Tracy Chapman and Robert Palmer.

Over the last few of years he has turned his wealth of drumming and life experience into very unique team building exercises/workshops using drums and other percussion instruments. One statement from his web site: "Today more than ever, work life centres on projects, rather than jobs. Projects, by their very nature require a diversity of skills and expertise to be successful. Great teams, whether internal or between client and supplier, are built on trust and built for life." At the risk of sounding "so '70's," Right ON!

So, Derek and I talked about how he transitioned from musician to facilitator - it evolved gradually based on responding to increasing demand, reflecting on each experience, and evolving his work and thinking over time. I find he has made a very good connection between group / artistic drumming and how people work together in teams, and in particular how people create something new in an "emergent" fashion.

(Dare I say "collaborate.")

I've not yet experienced one of Derek's workshops (really looking forward to making an opportunity though), but during and after our conversation I've imagined some interesting lessons for collaboration inherent in his group drumming work.

  • It all starts with a common objective - creating something together.
  • We all bring our unique selves / talents and (sometimes) tools to the group and situation - what and how we hear, our individual musicality, and different drums and percussion instruments.
  • Someone leads - establishes some ground rules, sets the basic beat and tempo, and encourages participation.
  • Others identify where they can contribute and engage - other players listen closely to what is being played, identify an opening / opportunity and jump in with their contribution.
  • Some people play their role over the entire collaboration, while others come in and out, and / or pick another role - some drummers in the group stick to their beat / part, while others change it up (improvise) or stop and restart in a different place in the music.
  • Because of a variety of internal and external influences, and learning, the outcome is sometimes not exactly as planned - the tempo and sounds are not exactly as they started (or expected) but often more intricate, involved, innovative.

I wonder if Derek has ever done this...

Imagine that he has led everyone through the process where they've created a very complex, innovative sound where all parts and percussion instruments are working in harmony together. Then, he stops and asks the participants to put in ear plugs that block out the sound from virtually everything except the individual's drum or instrument.

Then he turns on a tape recorder and leads everyone through the process of drumming together again. With only visual cues to guide participants, I expect that when Derek stops the tape and plays it back, the result wouldn't sound too good.

That experience would go a long way to reinforcing some of the key concepts behind effective collaboration, and the importance of being attuned / sympathetic / adaptable to the context and what others are doing to effectively contribute to the overall process /intended outcome.

I personally really like the idea of using Derek's concepts and unique skills to improve teamwork and collaboration - I can see how it would appeal to a variety of situations, and a wide variety of people. I also find him personally a very interesting, unique and fun individual to talk to.

(BTW: Derek appears to be quite a creative furniture maker.)

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