The drums kick it off with a whirl, immediately unleashing an easy-going reggae progression. Rhythmic guitar riffs dance with the bom-bom-bom of the bass and help set the groove. Sprays of cymbals periodically spice it up, and then the steel pans sneak in, introducing the chorus before slipping out again.
Guiding this percussive menagerie are the vocals, a melody telling the story of a young man with superhuman hearing who makes a living matching musicians with just the right set of cymbals. Its the Ballad of the Dogman.
The narrative is a bit odd. But that was the point. The challenge for University of Iowa senior Matt Grundstad, and the other North American musicians who entered a competition sponsored last year by the Sabian cymbal manufacturing company, was to take the supplied lyrics and compose a catchy, cohesive song lasting no more than three minutes.
In September 2002, Grundstad learned that his Caribbean-flavored entry won the grand prize, earning the percussion student a $5,000 music store gift certificate; a three-day, all-expenses-paid trip to Sabians headquarters in Canada and a tour of its factory; and his choice of 15 cymbals from the companys warehouse.
Some entries were clever, some highly derivative, but Matts managed to stand out and gain the unanimous vote, says Wayne Blanchard, Sabians senior marketing manager. And needless to say, we were more than a little surprised when he later informed us that he also played all the instruments!
Although he performs with 12 bandsincluding five ensembles within the UI School of Musicand the competition was open to music groups, Grundstad chose to write the music, play and record all the instruments, and provide vocals for the tune on his own.
He wasnt quite alone, however.
Dan Moore, associate professor of music and head of the percussion area in the UI School of Music, was a key playerwithout adding a single note. Throughout the creative process, he was at Grundstads side offering guidance and support.
Grundstad says he wouldnt have entered the contest had it not been for this mentor. It was Moore who saw an ad soliciting contest entries in Modern Drummer magazine and approached his student after class, encouraging him to give it a shot.
Matt is very talented, and I knew he had the skills necessary to do it, Moore says. Hes a multi-instrumentalist and he also sings and writes songs.
Grundstad was intrigued, and before long he was back in Voxman Music Building, bouncing ideas off Moore. The two worked in tandem to make Grundstads vision a reality, spending about 16 hours over a three-week period to record, mix, and master the final product.
When we started recording the song, I only had a basic idea of what I wanted it to sound like. So I recorded the main riff, decided on a structure, and came up with the rest as we went along, Grundstad explains. I would try out different ideas and Dr. Moore would tell me which ones he liked and/or disliked. I maintained creative control, but he gave me a lot of advice. It was cool.
Much of the work was completed in Moores office, which doubles as a recording studio. The room houses an assortment of musical instruments in one corner and a wall of digital recording equipment in another. Moore was able to purchase the equipment through a grant from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Iowas is the only percussion department in the country with its own recording studio.
Learning how to navigate the studios cutting-edge equipment was one reason Grundstad decided to enter the competition.
Plus, in the end I would have a recording of something I had played all the instruments on, he says.
The experience has been invaluable for the Iowa City native, who plans to graduate with a Bachelor of Music degree in May. The prize from Sabian has allowed him to furnish his own recording studio, and working closely with Moore will help him in his career.
Trying to be a professional artist of any kind is risky, Grundstad says. It helps to work with someone who has, in fact, done most of the things that I aspire to do, someone who can tell me what will work and what wont. And the fact that Dr. Moore knows so many people in the music industry will be helpful after graduation. Eventually, I want to move to a big city, and hell be able to connect me with the right peopleI wont have to start from scratch.
Grundstad first encountered the professor during a high school marching band camp held on the UI campus. Then, as a first-year student, he joined the UI PanAmerican Steel Band, a School of Music ensemble that is directed by Moore.
Dr. Moore used to look over my shoulder during every rehearsal. After each song we played, he would point out every single thing that I had done wrong, Grundstad recalls. It was frustrating at first, but I started to realize what he was trying to show me. When you play in a group, it is very important to know what your job is. For instance, when you play drums in a soca or calypso band, your main job is to be the timekeeper. In a jazz group, however, that role is often fulfilled by the bass player.
Every time you learn how to play a new style of music, its almost like learning a new language. First you learn the fundamentals, then you form sentences, then you can have conversations. If youre really good at it, you can speak with an authentic accent.
Grundstad since has collaborated with Moore on several other recording projects. Last year, the PanAmerican Steel Band released Everywhere Calypso, a CD recorded and mixed in the percussion studio. The last track is Capoiera, a Brazilian folk tune that was arranged and sung in Portuguese by Grundstad.
Grundstad also has worked with Moore to explore his personal music interests, and he encourages other students to do so with their professors, regardless of class size or major area of study.
For example, he says, Moore was aware that Grundstad didnt care much for studying European concert percussion. So once Grundstad had completed the minimum requirements for concert percussion proficiency, Moore offered his student an alternative for his weekly private lessons: come into the studio and record.
A lot of the stuff that Dr. Moore has taught me is not in the curriculum. Hes not required to teach me about recording or allow me to do it, but he does, says Grundstad, who is using the studio time to prepare a portfolio of his work. And its not just meDr. Moore does stuff like that for all of his students. His goal is to help us succeed in the real world, not to make us memorize a textbook.
Moore says he sees himself more as a mentor than as a teacher.
People who come to the School of Music already are musicians, he says. The main thing for me is to give them the guidance and inspiration they need to do things like this contest. The joy of the job is when your students succeed and pass you. Thats what teachers wantwe let the students climb up on our backs. Matts students will do the same.
Although Grundstads immediate goals involve being a professional musicianeither on the road or in the studiohe does not rule out the possibility of teaching. He has been giving drum lessons for several years and occasionally has volunteered at United Action for Youth (UAY), a nonprofit center in Iowa City that offers free programming and services for youth ages 12 to 18. In fact, UAY helped solidify his desire to pursue music.
UAY has a recording studio that anyone 18 and younger can use for free, he says. Thats how I got started recording music. I learned a lot of industry terminology and also how to use several different types of recording equipment. If that facility hadnt been available to me, I might never have known that I have talent in this area.
In fact, when the prize notification came from Sabian, one of the first things Grundstad thought about was the old drum set he had used at UAY and how several of the cymbals were cracked. He decided then that he would donate a full set of cymbals from his winnings.
Part of the process of learning any art form is collecting information and passing it onthats how art grows, he says. I figured that donating those cymbals would be a good way for me to give something back to the place that gave me so much when I was growing up. UAY is great for aspiring musicians. It offers free music lessons and time in the studio. I wish more kids would take advantage of that opportunity.
When Grundstad arrived at the center to make the special delivery, the reward was immediate. A young student was in the middle of a drum lesson, and when he saw the equipment, his eyes lit up and a smile quickly spread across his face.
It may be Grundstads first taste of the rewards of teaching music, rewards that Moore understands well.
Inspiring students is one of my favorite parts of the job, Moore says. The other is connecting people to music. Theres no greater feeling.
By Sara Epstein Moninger