Hey Berklee! I had an opportunity to attend alumni jazz drummer, Kendrick Scott’s master class. So I know you are probably asking yourself, “Why is a voice principal attending a master class presented by a drummer?” I asked myself the same thing. But after hearing his first tune I quickly realized that this event was going to give me much more than I probably had imagined. First of all, if you do not know who Kendrick Scott ’03 is, he is an accomplished jazz drummer who, for the last six years, has been featured in Terence Blanchard’s band; appeared on the Grammy Award–winning recordings A Tale of God’s Will and Flow, in which he contributed original works of his own; and plans to release his third studio album this spring.
After he warmed the crowd with some of his original material, he opened the floor to a little Q&A. I really like these clinics because I get to have all my questions answered, whether it’s a guitar, piano, or oboe clinic. I figured out really quickly that musicianship transcends further than your principal instrument. To be honest, I don’t have a deep background in harmony and theory and have a really hard time with rhythms on paper that look complicated, so I appreciated the first question that was asked : “How do you make complicated figures look so easy or how do you deal with complicated rhythms?” To which Kendrick answered very plainly, “Break it down and think of it in four.” We did an exercise where we broke down the rhythm into segments by tapping a portion with our feet, counting the pulse with our mouths, and tapping the subdivision on our chests, all at the same time. I was blown away because before I would look at music with components like these and it was almost like trying to slay a dragon with a plastic butter knife. It seemed to get the best of me every time until this clinic. As I was tapping, I realized I had gotten out of my own way and was no longer thinking about the rhythm but was simply making music.
Quite often, as a vocalist, we are encouraged to learn piano or guitar. Sometimes this makes me feel like I need to find an instrument in addition to my voice, so I posed the question. Kendrick’s pianist Taylor reminded me that my voice is a powerful instrument that needs as much focus as piano or guitar. He suggested that learning other instruments is encouraged because it helps out other aspects of your musicianship like harmony, improvisation, and most importantly, rhythm. Meanwhile, he said that the role of a drummer in a group is not to keep time for everyone but to color the music on their instrument, “It’s all of our jobs to keep the time,” he said, adding he thinks that the vocalist should be keeping better time than everyone else and be able to take control of the music.
For fellow drummers, Kendrick talked about how the piano is imperative to the process of composing. He told a story where his mother (who was a piano teacher) wanted him to play piano but he resisted. As he got older, he drifted further away from the piano and stuck to drums. He said he wishes he had kept up the piano, though. “Be serious about the piano classes that you take here if you are a drummer—or everybody—because it’s a beautiful instrument where you can see everything [laid out] . . . and because piano is the most accessible.”
I learned so much from this clinic because they were not just talking to the drummers but to all musicians. Harmony, rhythm, ways to be a good band leader, and band cohesiveness were covered. These are all things that anyone, especially me, can take back and apply immediately. The impact is huge and the admission was free, so find a clinic or master class and take advantage of the free knowledge.
Jonathan Page is a first semester voice principal, who plans to declare professional music as his major.