|Stay on the path!||Thursday, 6/28/2001|
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Pathband at Demo June 15, 2000
Kai and I arrived at Carleton and Sherbourne at 11:15, Lorie arrived at 11:30. We put our horns together and Lorie bolted some additional percussion instruments to the snare drum before strapping it on.
After we get set up, we decide to join the growing crowd in the center of the park. We marched in playing an original composition, "March," and settled into a comfortable spot among the crowd. We ended the tune and looked around. There was a big table full of food, supplied by a group call "Food not Bombs" I believe. People were milling around, eating, etc. A wide range of people were present. There were some who obviously (and tragically) bore the marks of their homelessness and destitution. There were also many trade unionists in attendance÷contingents from CAW, CUPE 3903 (the union of York University teaching assistants and contract faculty), and the York University Faculty Association÷ as well as members of church groups and other assorted activists.
We played another couple of tunes. People continued to mill around us, etc., obviously delighted with our presence. Then we noticed our old friend the bagpipe player (we had played with him last year at the demo against the NATO bombing of the Balkans) a little ways off, under a tree. We went over and joined him to play "Scotland the brave" and some other bagpipe tunes I canât remember the names of. Was nice.
We then returned to the center of the gathering, now with the bagpiper, and played another couple of his tunes, then one or two of ours. Then there were some speeches, during which we took a break. At this time I estimate there were perhaps 1,000 ö 2,000 people gathered.
I think it was at this point that an elderly, white-haired haired woman (perhaps from one of the supporting church groups?) approached us. She wore a huge and radiant smile, and wanted to thank us for playing. She said something to the effect of "I came here to protest, you know, but with all the music and food, this feels more like a celebration than a protest.·"
On the march to Queenâs park we played all our tunes, made up some new ones (including "June 15th Blues") and were joined, at various times, by several different drummers, at least one of whom wants to play with us in future.
We arrived at Queenâs Park. At this point we Pathbanders stayed at the back of the demo, and packed up our instruments, as it was clear that a confrontation with police was now becoming a possibility.
Then the crowd seemed to converge on the legislature building, with everyone moving in tighter, or so it seemed from where we were at the south edge of the park. Later, I learned that this was the moment that spokespeople from Ontario Coalition Against Poverty had been refused entry to address the legislature, and demonstrators at the front responded by taking down one of two sets of barricades barring them from the front entrance.
I told Kai and Lorie that I wanted to get closer, so I strapped on the drum and moved up to maybe fifty or a hundred yards back from the crowd. I started drumming, very loud, which seemed the right thing to do.
Then there seemed to appear a big cloud of smoke (tear gas? a smoke bomb?) people started running, and a phalanx of police on horseback galloped through the crowd. Then I saw people running out of the crowd bleeding from their heads, and covering their eyes. How many injuries did I see like this? Maybe 5 or 6 over the course of the next half hour. I later learned that at least two people were treated for broken bones. People were running around looking for medical help (I was told some kind of medical/first-aid outpost had been set up where people were receiving some sort of aid.)
The horses charged through several times. More smoke and cops on foot waving their clubs. With each wave I had to fall back to maintain a safe distance. Kept drumming the whole time though. (This made the news. A reporter for the National Post wrote of me and others, "above the shouts and screams, drummers beat out a steady tattoo on garbage can lids and the odd real drum [that was me], a martial rhythm that remained weirdly unchanged as the scene dissolved into a kind of Lord of the Flies on the lawn of the Legislature" (Michael Harris in the National Post, June 16, 2000, A3).)
At one point a phalanx of six or eight horses came galloping down through people and flower beds to my left, about 30-40 yards in front of me. The horses started coming my way, one right at me. The cop looked right at me as I played as loud as I could at him (couldnât think of anything else to do, and this seemed right). After a moment he veered away through the flower beds.
[As a side note: this was a most interesting moment for me, from a phenomenological, experiential, point of view. I recall this as a moment of undifferentiated immediacy of sound, subjectivity, and situation ÷ a moment of immediacy which was almost lost, and was, I think, actually interrupted, (that is, momentarily mediated) by a foreshadowing of what would later become, in memory, a self-conscious awareness of the special experiential quality of that moment.
In recollection, the moment was enveloped in a kind of protective drummingness.: the physicality of the groove, the emotional and esthetic implications of my particular articulation of the groove, the luxuriously rich timbral quality of the snare drum (I love my drum, it sounds so good!), the edgy snap of the snares articulating themselves on top of the rich lower overtones of the drum, the shear volume of the thing.· As the cop rode toward me, everything in the situation made both him and me know that it would be impossible for him to harm me. His horse would bolt before he got near me. Thatâs how I recall it anyway.
In retrospect it reminds me of the comment of a Shona mbira player, recounted in Paul Berlinerâs Soul of the mbira, that "if you find yourself in a terrible storm, with lightning and thunder crashing, and with people panicking around you, just play your mbira and you won't notice; you will remain calm."]
I dropped back to University Ave to get my saxophone (now packed in its case) from Kai and Lorie, and to suggest to them that things were getting pretty crazy and they might want to consider going home now. They had already come to the same conclusion, and did decide to go home at this point. I wanted to stay though, so I did, with my saxophone case strapped on my back and the snare drum strapped in front.
Now the crowd had been beaten back to Queenâs Park Circle, the road on the south perimeter of the legislature grounds. The cops had now driven us off the lawn at Queenâs park and into the street to the south. They lined up facing us in a solid line of riot shields.
We retreated first to a small park just across the street to the south. Thatâs where I met Spyros.
Spyros, was an older, wiry thin guy, in his mid 60s Iâd guess. He was playing a medium-small-sized timbali sort of drum that he held in one hand and played with a single drumstick. He waved for me to come over and play with him. When I got there he started playing a steady whump, whump, whump-whump whump (one, two, three-and four) pattern. I joined him and soon started playing an eighth-note pattern on top.
After a few minutes protest organizers directed us to move back and prepare to march back to Allen Gardens, the park where we had first congregated. Spyros and I moved south to College St. and continued drumming. Spyros kept playing that steady whump, whump, whump-whump whump, me rat-a-tat-a-tatting on top. After a couple of minutes Spyros stopped me and said "like this" and played "whump, whump, whump-whump whump." I played the pattern back to him and he smiled broadly. We started playing the "whump, whump, whump-whump whump" pattern together. It was a very big sound. Still, it was just too monotonous for me, and soon I was finding ways to embellish the pattern, fill it in, etc, which to me was a nicer sound, and much more fun to play.
We started to march eastward along College, with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty banner at the front of the demonstration. Spyros and I were just a little bit back from the front, drumming away. The demonstration took over half the road, and we stopped at each major intersection, stopping traffic in all directions for 3- 5 minutes or so.
It was at one of these stopped intersections that my hands began to tire, and I fell into unison with Spyrosâs simple pattern. He turned to me with a huge grin and shouted "Thatâs it!" I figured, alright, do as he says, and we played "whump, whump, whump-whump whump together for a few minutes.
We started marching again, and I had to confess to Spyros that I preferred to play an accompanying rhythm to his pattern, rather than the unison figure, and went back to an eighth note pattern. But my hands were tired, and periodically I fell back into unison with Spyros. It was during one of these interludes of drum unison that a bunch of spectators standing on the sidelines raised their fists, shaking them along to the pattern that Spyros÷ and now I÷ was playing. The marching protesters saw this and raised their fists in acknowledgement of the symbol of solidarity, and they too shook their fists in unison with the whump, whump, whump-whump whump of the drums.
I saw this and thought to myself "Hey, maybe the old guy is right!" (I didnât yet know Spyrosâs name). For much of the rest of the march back to Allen Gardens, I tried to maintain a unison pattern with Spyros, although I would often just get too bored and have to play something else.
As it happens, there were other marchers who were not completely enthralled with the insistent "whump, whump, whump-whump whump." Another person with a drum approached us at the very close of the march, as we were arriving into Allen Gardens, and asked us to "change the speed to something we can march better to." I brought the tempo up a bit, but I donât think that quite addressed the problem. Still, at least for a certain while, Spyros was absolutely right, the steady, simple pattern, played in unison loud and tight, was exactly the right thing to play.
The march, now over, began to break up. This itself posed a certain problem, as hundreds of police in body armour were beginning to line up at the perimeter of the park. People leaving individually were being stopped and harassed. I left with a contingent of 20 or so people from York University ö mostly members of CUPE 3903, the Graduate Studentsâ union. We all got home without a problem, although we later learned that a number of people were arrested after we left.
Some Concluding points
Now that it is all over, at least for the time being, I am left with a number of questions and observations. I will conclude with these observations.
-First, I am struck by the stark and extreme contrast between the beginning and end of the protest. What began as a festive, party-like gathering that was designed to affirm the dignity of the poor and homeless, and champion their demands for safe and secure living conditions, ended as a public and brutal display of state terrorism against some of the weakest and least privileged people in our community.
-The fascinating moment of musical and contextual "immediacy" that I experienced while playing the drum during the police riot. I am convinced that an understanding of the dynamics contained in such moments goes to the very core of how music is experienced.
-Finally I am left with the practical questions raised by my encounter with Spyros. What are the best musical choices in situations like this? How can music help the movement build solidarity of action and feeling, and so on.