Last night, I attended (with my 5 yr old daughter) the Virgil Donati clinic in Richmond, VA. As expected, he was an amazing player and a drumming machine. He opened with a 30 minute solo and displayed his amazing abilities to play with extreme independence, play poly-rhythms in two different time signatures (at the same time), and just move around the set with incredible speed, power, and ease. At times, he reminded me a lot of Billy Cobham.
What was interesting was that, for some reason, either the music store or Pearl
themselves, hooked him up with an Export kit. Not a Session or Masters or Reference but an Export. And to my surprise, they didn’t sound all that bad. They didn’t have all the sustain that the upper series have but they did stay in tune and had plenty of punch. They were nice and clear and served him just fine. Run these drums through a PA system and put some good heads on and you might not be able to tell these from the higher end drums that cost twice as much. He also used his signature sticks, cymbals, and his new signature snare (of course). At the end of the clinic, some lucky guy actually won the snare signed by Virgil. What a fantastic prize!
Virgil was a real monster behind the drum set and seemed to get lost in his own little world when exploring these poly-rhythms (some of which were crazy time signatures like 13/16). He would break into these really odd patterns and at first, one might think it was just free-style soloing over a steady pattern such as quarter notes on the HH (left foot). Some parts sounded like pure noise. But knowing Virgil's talents, I knew that every stroke was intentioned and carefully designed and none of it was actually free-style or "noise". At times, I had trouble following it all and I'm very comfortable playing in odd meters so I can only imagine what the 12 year old kids were thinking. I can even see how they might have thought he was "messing up" of "off beat".
His feet were amazing too and he could rip out singles and doubles with extreme ease. What was nice about the use of his feet is that we didn’t hear any blast-beats or boring and predictable speed metal beats and I was glad. It would have been too easy just to play really singles with his feet and amaze all the 12 year olds. Instead, he used his skills in a much more tasteful and musical ways.
He emphasized the importance of rudiments and reading and went over a few exercises in a hand out everyone received. Most of it was probably too difficult for young drummers but at least they became exposed to poly-rhythms on paper. I don’t think most of these kids were ready to play 8th note quintuplets over multiple surfaces while playing a HH pattern with both feet.
When reviewing the exercizes on the hand out, he got the audience to clap the meter of the exercise and he played examples over top. Very interesting stuff but not exactly something you'll use to get gigs. After he reviewed the exercises and demonstrated several techniques of overlaying the meters, certain sections of his solo began to make sense and sounded more like intentional, albeit insanely designed patterns and less like free-style "noise".
Overall, it was an amazing experience and I’d go again in a second. Personally, I would have like for two things to happen that didn’t.
One – I would have liked him to close with a short solo of some kind instead of ending with the Q & A. The clinic just seemed to end abruptly without any huge finale.
Two – I would have liked to see Virgil play more orthodox patterns and grooves. At least so the younger drummers could grasp it and get into it. The majority of his solos just seemed so extreme and advanced that I doubt a lot was taken by the middle school kids. All they probably got out of it was “yeah – learn paradiddles and learn to play really really fast! And something about triplets and playing in another time signature is cool…
”. Occasionally Virgil would bust into a cool groove but it would only last for a measure or two…only long enough to establish the root meter. It was just long enough for people to start tapping their feet and then he’d go off into some permutation or a totally different meter and the groove was gone (to us anyways). The feet stopped tapping and we were all scratching our heads.
Other than that, it was an amazing clinic! Thanks again to Pearl
(especially Raymond!). If anyone gets a chance to check out Virgil, you really should do so!
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