Drummers Called to ‘Beat-Down’ Famine in the Horn of Africa
Marv Dahlgren, former principal percussionist and assistant timpanist for the Minnesota Orchestra, is calling drummers across the nation to play the same piece, "Three Camps," this Saturday to raise awareness of the famine in the Horn of Africa. Photo by Howard A. Gitelson.
This Saturday, January 14, drummers from around the country will grab their drums and drumsticks and join in a grassroots effort to raise awareness of the famine in the Horn of Africa called the Hunger Beat-Down. At 2 p.m. Central Standard Time, drummers are invited to play the commonly known drum solo “Three Camps,” a piece that is reminiscent of the drums used in army camps during the Civil War. (Click here to see the sheet music for Three Camps.)
The mastermind behind the Hunger Beat-Down is Marv Dahlgren, aka, the “Drum King of the Twin Cities.” Dahlgren, 87, is a former principal percussionist and assistant timpanist for the Minnesota Orchestra, and currently teaches at the McNally Smith College of Music.
I caught up with Dahlgren over the phone last night to ask about the inspiration behind the Hunger Beat-Down and how he believes drumming can raise awareness of famine and starvation in Africa.
Why is the famine in the Horn of Africa an important issue for you?
When people are starving to death and we can’t get food to them and milk for their children, it makes you wonder, what’s going on in the world? People are dying every day and I believe we could help them. I’m more or less a pessimist. People say that the famine is bad and we can’t do anything about, but I think we can at least raise awareness.
In 1985, there was a similar situation in Africa and at that time the whole world seemed to be aware of it. Everybody was talking about it and doing something about [it], and so I’m just wondering why it’s different this time.
I realize people are more concerned about themselves now than they were in 1985, and times are tough, but still, there’s very little written about it in newspapers.
How did you come up with the idea for this Hunger Beat-Down?
I thought we could perhaps raise awareness somehow. I was sitting around talking with some other drummers, thinking about what we could do and one of the drummers said, wouldn’t it be neat to get everybody to play the same thing at the same time? I thought about that. I knew it had to be a really simple drumbeat, and I thought about “Three Camps.”
Tell me about “Three Camps.” What attracted you to that piece in particular?
The drummers in the Civil War were the ones who did the communications – they would play and spread messages throughout the camps. They even had a beat called “roast beef” to tell soldiers what they would eat that night!
“Three Camps” is something a lot of drummers learn. Not only is it one of the first drum beats learned, but it’s one of the best because it’s written in triplets, so it has a swing feeling, which is unusual from beats coming out of the Civil War. That piece bridges what we play today in jazz.
What kind of response have you gotten from other drummers around the country?
Well, I have gotten responses from people in 22 states. I’ve reached out to drummers in all 50 states, and people from 22 of the states have said they’ll get drummers together. In Cleveland, OH, the symphony orchestra is behind it, and they’re putting it in their program notes and the symphony drummers are all playing.
Here in the Twin Cities, we probably could have as many as 50 drummers coming to St. Paul where I teach at the McNally Smith College of Music. And in Minneapolis, drummers will be at the McPhail Center of Music.
Why do you play the drums?
I don’t know what it means to not be able to play drums. I’ve been drumming since I was about 3 years old; it was just what I wanted to do. I went to a great school that had a drum bugle corp. I’d walk to school with a drum strapped around me playing beats! I don’t know if people thought I was crazy.
I was lucky, and I had a teacher in junior high school who didn’t charge us anything, so every week I got a free drum lesson. Amazingly, when I went to college in music, the drum teacher went into the navy for World War II, so he asked me to take over for the students. I was the drum teacher in the college!
What do you hope drummers who participate will take away from the Hunger Beat-Down?
I don’t think they’re going to take anything away except for the knowledge of the starvation that’s going on in Africa. There are an awful lot of people who don’t know about it, and if they don’t hear about it consecutively, they will forget about it.
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