Drummer and music educator, Joe Hamm, joins the conversation as we learn about the El Sistema philosophy of providing music programs to under-resourced kids, the social value of music, the role of the drums within the context of a band, and touring.

Joe Hamm gives us his musical and educational background, and we talk about melodic drumming, ear training, and the deprivation of sounds and colors.
The philosophy of El Sistema was created in Venezuela in 1975.  It focused on the idea that an orchestra is a community and thus models the larger society.  Organizations that adhere to the El Sistema philosophy provide under-resourced students with consistent access to intensive music education.  Joe Hamm tells us about his program, Soundscapes, with which he and ~9 other teachers work with students in Newport News, Virginia.
We talk about Joe Hamm’s former rock band, Chasing Arrows, their tour schedule, and the impact of the financial crash of 2008 on the music industry.
More information about Joe Hamm can be found at https://www.joehamm.com/
More information about El Sistema can be found at https://elsistemausa.org/
More information about Soundscapes can be found at https://soundscapes.org/
Welcome to Fret Buzz The Podcast. I’m Joe
McMurray, and I am Aaron Sefchick, and today
we have drummer, music activist,
and Board of Directors member of El
Sistema USA, he works with
in Virginia, his name is Joe Hamm and I’ve
had the opportunity to actually perform
with him and get to know him and welcome.
Hey, thank you. Happy to be on thanks and
yeah yeah awesome great to have you
yeah. So Joe actually was recruited to
play a show on New Year’s Eve with me,
both of us were recruited by a vocalist
flute player and showed up and showed up
to that first rehearsal I guess one of
two verses and I was struck by one your
enthusiasm to your overall knowledge of
everything but you’re just extremely
easy to get along with and you took some
interest in Fret Buzz and brought up it
uh you might have something some
interesting things to say for our
listeners so thank you and by the way
Jennifer gamble was the artist you’re
talking about she just wanted your
musical board with Virginia Ward system
that’s been going on for a couple years
now it’s sort of burning into our
Virginia Grammys yeah so anyway so she
just went up Gaza war yes her her album
that she recorded she actually recorded
that with Jason and his band as they
were the backing band and Jay if you’re
from the Hampton Roads region you
probably hear Jay every night almost if
you listen to NPR
he runs the jazz programming at night
for NPR and so he if you actually listen
to her album it’s excellent
because yeah it’s they’re good and she’s
amazing so I study with Jay in college
he was the home game teacher that
challenged me the best and actually
still challenged to be the best on on
the view for a lesson
where did you where did you do your
music schooling
I studied jazz performance at
Christopher Newport University okay
with a specialization in percussion
drums I kind of had a little journey I
didn’t know I wanted to study music when
I got the school when I auditioned for
big band and combo and was able to make
it in to the group’s through audition
after I played with them for a semester
I said hey I’m just gonna throw myself
into this thing I’m just gonna figure
out and make a career in music
and declared percussion major because
there’s no major yet
and then eventually Jazz Studies okay
yeah so did you already have were you
already interested in jazz before that I
particularly des I put jazz from one
semester you know or one year of high
school and before that that’s really it
I I started by playing punk rock in by
eighth grade I mowed grass for a summer
with my friend Christophe and he’s now
in LA doing film editing and remote a
lot of grass man I’ve been there there’s
a great music store called Contemporary
Music Center up in Northern Virginia
actually oto-chan Tilley well yeah
Menzies Minzy Pittman was the guy and I
remember when I saved up enough money I
went over to there and I was like
alright I’m ready to buy a drumset and
he was like are you sure you don’t want
to play bass hits me to play bass
because I have like pretty large hands
and he was like you might want to play
bass I was like no I’m gonna play drums
and anyway so yeah punk rock man that
was how I got started
I heard that drums that jazz was like
some of the hardest music to play mm-hmm
errs and I was like okay let me try that
so I didn’t get into it because I was
interested in the genre I was interested
because I heard it was hard but then
once I started playing oh man this is
amazing it’s super hooked on this so
yeah it’s kind of how we got into it
very cool
do you have any
were there any jazz drummers you were
listening to that really inspired you
early on I would say Max Roach Art
Blakey Elvin Jones those are three that
yeah big guy there’s some good ones Mack
Roach just max which is a very lyrical
player lot of melody in his drumming and
you know I didn’t typically think of
drumming as him a lot of instrument
before I really started getting exam so
he he’s his era
I mean he’s back in the 40s right max
and our Blakey is like a little bit
later right 50s like more of the Miles
Davis era yeah Elvin jungle miles J it
was mmm okay for our listeners who don’t
really understand what you’re saying
when you say a drummer has melodic how
would you explain that because I’m sure
there’s a lot of people out there like
huh yeah I mean Joe and I were talking
about this about how having a drone
Ronnie guitar player podcast that’s like
there’s really cool intersections that
you can explore and that’s kind of like
what we’re talking about here yeah I
mean a melody is one single line right
one one line of music notes happening
you know one after another drums is a
collection of a drum set is a collection
of notes essentially pitches rather and
you can play melodically you can write
melodies you can play London Bridge is
falling down you can play all kinds of
Christmas songs and stuff like that on
the drums it’s a relative patience
matter it’s not our actual pitch right
now and you can get pretty close if you
really are trying to tune your drum to
that pitch right what if you play a
London Bridge is falling down the
drumset people will know yeah yeah
absolutely yeah and it that’s a lot
different than just thinking that the
drums is playing a beat yeah yeah so you
can integrate those concepts together
when you’re when you’re lighting parts I
know that there’s a lot of drummers out
there that that don’t go through the
process of tuning their drums and kind
of conceptualize
the idea of tuning their drums actually
means and especially to a specific song
that’s you know that’s getting into
pretty good detail of you have a
specific song and then kind of tuning
your drums to that song so it kind of
resonates with the rest of the band
that’s going on oh yeah I mean synthetic
resonation is really important when
you’re putting it together so that you
get any weird nodes or sonic conflict
yep but I typically like to tune my toms
and fourths or thirds depending on its
on the size of the drums I’m using and
if those are those drums like those
those intervals are not right does each
drum as a natural pitch range so you
work within what what I’ve got to work
with but well yeah it’s important to
think musically as a drummer you can’t
just throw beats down to things you
gotta be listening
you know Joe we were playing but we’ve
been playing for the past I guess maybe
two months or so and there’s a lot of
listening going on yeah I I am
particularly remember playing the st.
Thomas it’s a Sonny Rollins tune you are
it is like you’re playing the melody
with us it’s uh you’re definitely not
playing a standard rock drum beat on
that you’ve got the bump bump bump bump
bump bump um yeah yeah it’s it’s it’s
enjoyable to play with the drummer who
does that because you don’t always get
that I mean there’s a lot of information
and you know there’s a lot of
information you can’t throw that out
yeah yeah
doesn’t matter what genre you’re playing
either we’re kind of talking about
playing solos gasps styles but this has
nothing to give gasps this has to do
with opening your ears up and and again
this is not just a drummer this is all
musicians you know like Aaron what’s
your what’s your take on all that I I
mean going through years and years and
years of playing with drummers and then
also teaching drummers in a band
I find more often than not there are a
lot of drummers who aren’t aware of the
melodic capabilities of the drums I
think that a lot of people do think of
it as just you know the rhythm section
and it’s you know sometimes a little bit
of a hurdle to kind of get over that and
try to get the drummer to actually
conceptualize like when we go through I
know in a band situation where we go
through a chord progression or some kind
of progression within the song I always
try to get the drummer to be involved
especially because they need to know
exactly what’s going on within the music
I have a I noticed that there’s a
tendency for drummers just as soon as
you start talking about chord
progressions or sections of a song the
drummer kind of just leans back and does
their own thing and waits for the band
you need me to come in ok 1 2 3 4 like
wait wait wait wait you’re a part of
this just as much as everybody else you
know you even though you may not be
hitting some strings are playing some
keys you would definitely have a musical
instrument in front of you and you need
to know exactly what’s going on at all
times whether that’s just you know you
need to make sure that you’re
understanding that each section may call
for a specific feel or a different
approach and if you’re not paying
attention to that conversation then
you’re blindly just going into that part
and that’s not really what that part
needs we need someone who’s in tune to
what’s going on the language that’s
actually being spoken between all of us
as musicians so yeah I mean it’s yeah I
mean it drummers there there’s a
foundation and I can now like I hope my
students is like you are the foundation
you and the base and that’s everybody’s
relying on you you that’s extremely
important that you’re carrying everybody
and everybody’s looking at you to kind
of feel that that that rhythm that’s
going on you you hold a very very
important part of this whole thing
that’s going on and it seems like in
school a lot of a lot of the percussion
players almost all of them end up
playing some sort of pitched percussion
like xylophone marimba right at some
point and I found I guess the drummers
that I have played with that have that
background whether it’s you Joe or if
it’s like Sean Rogers from Kyra’s
quintet Aaron and eyes’ll band they
actually end up I mean I think they have
a greater enjoyment of the music because
they are able to partake in the
discussions and I mean I remember Sean
our old drummer he was just as
knowledgeable about chord progressions
and music theory as anybody else in the
band so he was able to have input
throughout the write songwriting process
outside of just the percussion side of
things and I think that was fulfilling
for him and it gave him more value to
the band yeah yeah I mean I came up a
plank piano on my dad played piano when
I was when I was a kid and I have a big
family and a lot of people play piano or
guitar my uncle Pat played guitar my
Uncle Phil is a great bass player the
classical pianist so I grew up hearing
lots of sounds you know he was first for
me what really did it as far as
developing my ear was just ear training
class because I’m sitting behind the
drum set I don’t have a piano next to me
we’re talking about chords if I’m going
to be able to make a suggestion in a
songwriting process or know where I am
in the chord progression I have to be
able to hear well I do like the UM the
Roman numeral analysis to whatever I’m
playing in like a song so that was
really the thing that did it for me
that’s a really interesting point
because if I ever get lost a little bit
I can hear if I’m not right and I can
hear when I’m back on but you don’t have
any anything to test to be like am i
with them I’m aware I think I am yeah I
mean melody and just knowing the chord
progression just gotta know what he I
know where one is yeah I mean
you could just always count never stop
that would be the first way to fix I
guess all yeah yeah
counting though I mean it can’t always
count every beat sometimes you got field
blocks of measures yeah phrases feeling
phrase which is more what I’ve
appreciated knowing where I am in the
fret is and where I am in the chord
progression when when the cadence is
coming huh yeah that’s that’s kind of
like my roadmap right there cuz you can
count all day but I mean I don’t know I
prefer to feel phrases and feel melodies
and just know that 4s patch from know
that eight or twelve as fast all right
didn’t need to be like 10 to 3 for 11 to
3 for 12 to okay now you’ll play simple
but no I’m not a Lego
yeah not like a blah I’m not playing in
blocks you know I’m not okay okay oh
it’s new phrase well eight for whatever
you know it’s family I’ve never heard
any like an analogy is to love Legos I
used to build giant Lego 172 Lego piece
there yeah they’re eight small pieces oh
I have a neighborhood slavery they heard
that I don’t know how I should make a
music video me playing this or something
like this but make it sound really
awesome how big is it
it’s very small you’d have to do one of
those stop action videos with a doing
Lego man yeah you actually so also I
didn’t I didn’t bring this up earlier
but Joe is an excellent video
videographer and video editor so it
seems like this would be up your alley
to do yeah I could do that yeah that’s I
think it’s actually how I met Jennifer
at a film festival Mike my film about El
Sistema in soundscapes I made a 10
minute documentary planet and okay my
film was accepted to the Proteus
festival in the fall Virginia Beach and
the screen and
Regal Cinema which is cool look I didn’t
ever thought I would see that film on a
big screen
but anyway so that time that Jennifer
was like this is weird
I’m here as a filmmaker but it’s also a
music festival so I feel sort of weird
like I hope you’re calling myself a
filmmaker for a while but um cuz they
meant yourself first and foremost
musician yeah I’m a musician
yeah well it’s definitely that’s how
I’ve dedicated like my whole life as a
musician yeah I just happened to make
films now I guess so that’s how I met
Jennifer she’s like oh yeah don’t be
coming up whatever anyway we’re kind of
back to how John I met the film it seems
like musicians are always in need of
film services because we need you know
with the the age of Facebook and
Instagram people rarely click on an mp3
they want something to look at while
they listen to the music
yeah I mean the visual is so important
to look the way that music sounds you
know it’s all it’s all integrated I
think that it yeah if you can shape the
listeners experience by letting them see
what I guess you’re envisioning from
your music it kind of takes out some of
the some of the personal creativity from
it like I I like to close my eyes and
listen to music and kind of I don’t know
I have I see things in it it makes me
think of things when I’m listening to
music and I have my eyes closed and if
I’m watching a video I get wrapped up in
the visuals a lot and I don’t
necessarily do key in the music yes
oftentimes during any one of my classes
if I pull up YouTube or some kind of
video to listen to the song what I will
do is I will purposefully minimize the
window because any student that as soon
as I pull up a video their interest goes
straight to what’s going on visually and
I and I purposely say no that’s not why
we’re doing this I want you to use your
ears I want you to actually look through
your ears and find it like all the parts
going on within the song listen to the
transitions listen to the beat listen to
the things the instrumentation that’s
going on and if that video is up in
front of them they’re zoned into the
pictures that are going on in front of
them and then I’ll stop the video and
say I’ll ask them a question then they
have no idea what I’m talking about
because they were so interested in what
was going on with the video aspect of
things I’m like ah
you’re missing the point yes that’s the
deprivation that’s kind of what you’re
getting at
really I mean your awareness sound the
other side of it is like a more like
sensory immersion right so I like the
idea of being okay well how does the
smell how does this look how does this
feel how does this sound like you bring
all of your senses together to try to
create something if you’re gonna eat
food that reminds you of the way that
this sounds how would that food taste if
you’re gonna smell something like you
can put our set in a diffused an
essential oil or something like that
look which would you put on which would
give you diffuse make it smell like the
way that that sounds like cuz that
sounds smoky that does that sound like
it would smell smoky does that sound
what it would smell bright and minty or
does that sound what it would be more
relaxed like lavender you know but you
do that through the colors that you’re
choosing on the screen because obviously
we don’t have like a little smell box
attached to our laptops yet let’s shoot
up a little black like it’s a country
song and it’s gonna shoot up a little
puff of a barbecue smoke wellness from
the growler it’s some old bling stood
and there’s a little bit of a cigarette
smoke smell that comes out when you’re
trying to describe the feel ba are you
meeting like but yes so how do you
actually get the smell to come across in
video footage by showing pictures of
that scene of a smoky scene
have you seen the matrix it’s been a
long time yes you know it’s super green
mm-hmm there’s just a vibe to that whole
movie okay right and if you listen to
the soundtrack that goes with it it’s
all there’s like a lot of crescendoing
like French horn trombone it’s very
there’s like a tension like throughout
that whole movie okay another one is uh
that movie llamo del Toro was the
director is about a man that’s a fish
and woman falls in love with this fish
guy has Nicole I can I don’t know but
that whole movie is blue okay what he
wanted to do is he wanted to create you
wanted to symbolize the fact that this
underwater sea creature was a sea
creature look he may be the entire movie
blue until the woman fell in love with
the sea creature and then she wore a red
dress it was the first time he had seen
red in like an hour and when she wears a
red dress you’re like damn look at that
yeah just because you haven’t seen it in
a while and you could do the same thing
with sounds and the drummer I could not
play any cymbals at all for like 2
minutes and 45 seconds of the song and
then play cymbals on the bridge and
nobody’s heard symbols for 2 minutes and
45 seconds that’s a long time their rock
song or pop song yeah when you hear
those cymbals your ears just open up and
you’re like oh my god that’s amazing
I mean people hear symbols every day
symbols aren’t like a crazy sound but
that’s an example of I guess deprivation
of that certain sound that can evoke
that that sort of feeling so I don’t
know the same thing is the case with the
with a meal you know you could have a
whole chocolate meal Oh chocolate me Oh
chocolate dessert I mean I’m down for
chocolate ok put one strawberry on there
whoa what is that you know and uh yeah
you know so it’s just it’s a matter of
holding some things back and waiting a
little while so I like sensory
deprivation because it opens up your
ears you know it’s a get rid of video
and say forget all of this it’s over
stimulation that we live in gets screen
ads and it’s crazy it’s like back to the
future yeah yeah those the couch
earrings like when he goes to 2015 it’s
really far in the future
there’s just screens everywhere in
flying stuff that’s what life is sort of
like for us and go to the gas station
there’s like gas station TV yeah like I
don’t wanna watch the gas station see
you anyway yeah so it’s good to have
focus your minds so yeah I’m all about
that I’m all about focusing students or
ourselves but it’s also good to play
with all the senses oh yeah so your
video that you made about El Sistema
that brought you to this video would you
call it a film conference you said it
was it was a video talking about the
general mission of El Sistema yes and so
I don’t think our we haven’t explained
it all what else is emma is to our
audience okay
I’ll explain this so el sistema is a
philosophy that enables people to have
access to music at an intense level and
at a very high quality with a social
mission behind it that’s the goal so
music is elitist art is elitist it’s
elitist because it’s expensive so if you
don’t have access to equipment or
lessons like teaching that you guys book
to you right then you don’t have the
chance to be able to learn something you
can play the drums and stuff like that
but if I mean
we’re talking about getting to the level
conversation that we’re having today
about textures and senses and you know
philosophy on playing and melody and
things like that I mean that’s taken all
of us years of training and work and
study to be able to just joke around on
a podcast right well that’s you know
these are concepts we take seriously we
want to make sure that that that
experience is accessible to people and
not just for art’s sake but as a social
function so that’s what else sistema is
one way of explaining it is that an
orchestra is a great example of a model
society you have a hundred people ish
let’s just say a hundred all working
together for common it doesn’t matter
whether you’re playing the first violin
or the second clarinet or you’re the
conductor or you’re playing a few notes
in the percussion section your part is
critical to the entire piece coming
together and that is an analogy for
society it doesn’t matter whether you
are a leader statewide or a national
leader or whether you are a custodian or
you are somebody that’s painting lines
on the street all these people are equal
of equal importance because if something
doesn’t go right
everyone knows sort of the analogy of
the orchestra to society and it is
important that children that are born
into poverty have the opportunity to
access music education or free so el
sistema supports other organizations
that are trying to bring music into the
community is that how it works
el sistema is a philosophy it originated
in 1975 by Jose Antonio Abreu who is an
economist and social reformer and
pianist in Venezuela and because of the
the need in Venezuela and the murderer
rates and the poverty and the water
quality issues and the standard of
living issues he connected that seeing
that giving people money or giving
people some sort of assistance literal
assistance was not as work some value
and the feeling of her self-worth has
something to contribute to the world and
having a purpose so by starting with a
sense of of spiritual wealth not in the
religious sense but in just feeling
self-worth the material wealth follows
that so he said okay here’s an
instrument here’s a music stand come to
this garage at this time and he had I
think I don’t know what the story is
fourteen fourteen students or something
like that showed up and now there’s
hundreds of thousands of kids in
Venezuela and thousands of kids in the
United States and kids all over the
world now studying music for free at an
intense level and those kids for over
forty years now have a feeling that they
have something to contribute and so
these people have become doctors and
architects and you name it it’s almost
like it’s better than any any welfare
assistance you could give to people like
you’re saying if you just get give
people give give somebody a fishnet for
a day give teach a man to fish and they
eat for a lifetime you’re kind of giving
them an opportunity that gives them
something to strive for and tend to they
end up being a more successful person
who doesn’t need assistance in the
future it sounds like it’s important
that that will feel like they have
something to contribute to the world and
that they are needed and when somebody
comes to the orchestra or let’s just say
to the ensemble because we’re not going
to be John were specific here most we do
rap hip-hop then you create a
composition music making and we do
whatever is honors the kids come up with
and jazz and
they need in the hump I don’t care if
they play one no I don’t care if they
are the triangle player but if they’re
not there it matters and they need to
feel that and if they can feel that that
sense of self-worth starts changing now
does it matter if your car is broken
down or if your house is not in great
condition you know we need you in the
ensemble you’re important and you’re
missed and if you’re not there you’re
gonna get a phone call and someone’s
gonna say hey we’ve missed you today
you know we need you here tomorrow and
that kind of person will walk a long way
we have sort of kids walking to school
just to make it to those ensembles so I
bet I bet how does okay so mm-hmm real
quick question how does one get involved
not so much from a teacher’s point of
view but from a someone who may be on
the less unfortunate side how would
someone like that get involved and go
about doing the program is this an
online thing is this somewhere that they
can go within their community and how do
they look all of that up well this is
these programs happen in person so there
are in person ensembles professional
musicians are hired as teaching artists
or active paid musicians that are
performing and writing and recording and
all that kind of thing these happen at
typically schools that have high levels
of need so title one elementary schools
had one middle high schools for example
schools that are at some point below or
above the poverty poverty level so at
the school that soundscapes were the
program that I manage is that yeah I
think about 80 percent of the kids are
living at or below poverty level okay
and so any of the kids at that school
are eligible to join the program by
lottery and that’s how a lot of the
programs throughout the United States
are and this is during school hours at
this is typically after-school although
it can it can range depending on the
program models national
and internationally internationally its
school structures are different so right
you know depending on how your small set
up it could go either way in the United
States a lot of the crime and gang
activity that are happening between the
hours of 3:00 and 6:00 when parents are
not home and school is out so by taking
up that time and using it in a fun way
that makes you want to come there with
your friends then it makes it easy to
want to join something some of the
programs are also integrated during the
school day and after school as well this
reminds me of a lot of the arguments in
support of school athletics I mean it’s
it’s perfect because it it does the same
thing and it gives students of a
different mindset an opportunity to do
something you know maybe they don’t want
to play football or soccer or whatever
is access and having an access barrier
which exists in our society because of
our nation’s history of racism and
segregation and just we have issues in
our country right and we have to
acknowledge those issues acknowledge
what it means to grow up in communities
that have access to things and also
acknowledge that there are still
communities that exist now that do not
have access to things that others have
and so equity is really important
equality is not what we need we need
equity if we all got the same thing then
some people would have a whole lot extra
of one thing and others would have very
little of another thing so we need to
kind of balance out levels which means
different groups of people different
communities different need different
kinds of things so that’s the concept of
social equity and that’s why we’re
making music education accessible to
different communities ok
and so with soundscape started
independently of El Sistema yes so el
system is not a chain
it’s not a franchise but it’s a
supporter of its a philosopher gram that
sees fit okay so El Sistema is a
philosophy in the system okay it’s a
philosophy and that philosophy spreading
organically throughout the world once
people started knowing what it was there
were about four programs that started in
the United States around 2008-2009
soundscapes where I work was one of
those programs and now there are a
hundred and ten member programs of El
Sistema USA which means which means they
meet certain criteria and then there are
160 total programs that identify as El
Sistema inspired in the United States
and there are even more programs
globally there there are programs on
every continent except Antarctica
because you know it’s really can okay
yeah okay so it’s a philosophy so nobody
went out and said I’m gonna start a
program here I’m gonna sir I’m like no
I’m gonna plant these these things these
seeds nobody went out and did that
yeah I the ideas spread through through
word of mouth through you know videos
like my video and there was a 60 minutes
special that was really critical a lot
of people were inspired by that and also
a national conferences I was in Detroit
two weeks ago during the I guess polar
vortex craziness yeah I managed to come
back with a nose which is nice it was
negative 30 there oh yeah and you don’t
need a draw you don’t even know is to
drum no it’s one of the only things you
do anyway so that’s how that’s how the
concept spread so it would be any any
kind of music program that is intensive
that has that is socially equitable that
is ensemble driven those are a couple
examples of criteria for ell
as an El Sistema program you can have an
El Sistema guitar ensemble you could
have a whole bunch of guitars you could
have a rock band mmm well you need to be
intense you need to be you know doing it
like 10 12 hours a week you need to make
sure that people that didn’t have access
to guitars before or transportation to
get to the lesson could get there you
know I could go on and and that’s and
that’s what you guys so now at
soundscapes that’s what you guys are
implementing there that’s right yep so
we’ve we’ve spent probably close to five
million dollars over about ten years and
reached nearly a thousand individual
students but most of them for multiple
years per student so about 400 kids per
year okay
access the program that’s right I’m just
soaking in all of this I’m yeah like the
role of El Sistema is still it’s hard to
grasp like did you hear about El Sistema
first and then seek out soundscapes
or were did you find soundscapes and
then just decide like we should I heard
about this thing called El Sistema we
should meet the standards of this just
because it’s seems like the right thing
to do okay a benefit to like if you do
meet the criteria of El Sistema
what are the benefits that you then
receive I mean I understand it’s a
philosophy but I feel like there’s got
it like do they do any sort of do they
help with funding do they do political
like do they do things to help in your
political system have more funding for
the Arts in schools what how does it all
fit together I’m still chair no that’s a
lot of questions first of all when I
talk we’re not talking about the orange
of talking about music I’m using
different music is in real-time music is
happening now every moment while other
people are playing with you and
everybody’s having to read
and listen at the exact same time it’s
different than it’s different than
I mean if everyone was painting the same
painting at the same time and nobody
knew what they were gonna paint before
they started like that would maybe be an
example but it’s it’s it’s different
music so we’re trying to differentiate
music from the arts alright
music it’s the only thing that we know
of like I get you we being like the
scientific knowledge the general
scientific knowledge that engages both
hemispheres of the brain at the same
time so there’s fMRI scans of the brain
lighting up both hemispheres at the same
time was all like replying music yes
okay so music is unique and interesting
and special neurologically so that’s one
reason why music is what we’re trying to
focus on let’s see my origin – El
came because I was I was playing in a
professional rock band we were being
shopped to major labels in 2007 2008
2009 during the financial crash bad
all the labels went out of like their a
and other guys all that cut artist
development budgets gone like it was it
was it was like really disappointing
because we were well positioned to to
move forward in the traditional way that
music labels were operating at the time
and just the rug got pulled from
underneath of them so while that was
happening while my my rock band was
continuing to work with our management
out of New York City and Connecticut to
advocate for the group
I was playing gigs in town teaching at
like three places and I got contacted to
teach bucket band header at a program
and also like bucket band was that okay
cool yeah I’ll check it out we’ll see
how it goes and that ended up being El
Sistema program bucket band like bucket
drunk like what you see on the street
DC when there’s a guy beating on
five-gallon buckets and yeah over 25
kids at the same time mmm that’s cool
buckets is a great entry level into
music because it doesn’t cost anything I
mean a bucket is like less than five
dollars mm-hmm and if you break it you
didn’t break a $500 guitar or you know
you can get another bucket like
practically speaking you can teach a lot
of kids really quickly with buckets and
make a class right you can teach tons of
different musical concepts with buckets
and you can teach kids to treat a bucket
as an instrument and that it is
important and that there’s a way to take
care of this thing there’s a way to play
it you can teach a lot of musicianship
and once they get past the rite of
passage of a bucket you can give them a
real instrument in those concepts will
transfer hmm so that’s how I got into
teaching at soundscapes and I kept
growing within South caves so the bucket
band was a soundscapes program yeah the
bucket band is is the entry level into
music for kids into soundscapes okay
anyway so that’s how I got into the
program and then I I mean I typically
thought of making a music career as I’m
gonna make records I’m gonna make music
videos I’m gonna tour which are the
things that I did before I got into El
Sistema right and that was oh there’s a
social value of music like music has
social value as a utility to society the
development of us as a people in the
United States like it is important it is
useful to us not just as a form of
entertainment or pleasure or enjoyment
no actually like help us develop our
country yeah absolutely I mean that’s
the benefit of it and the entertainment
value of it what not that but I mean I I
know with a lot of the students that I
teach from the get-go whether there’s a
five-year-old little girl or a 13 year
old boy who comes in and they have
social skills that aren’t the best they
may be a little bit you know
clammed up or a little bit quiet what
not like that as you go through teaching
them the language of music and
understanding I hear from all kinds of
parents that it’s amazing how through
the language of music and through
ensemble or whether it’s you know the
idea of learning just the instrument
itself parents always come up to me and
tell me how much their child has changed
over that period of time whether it’s
six months a year or many years and how
that’s helped them develop these social
skills and how to talk within the
community and kind of bring them out of
their shell and it’s it’s not only just
obviously an entertainment value but
there’s a there’s a lot more to it in
terms of learning an instrument and what
that does for a person absolutely and
you know all of us are trying to build
our careers listeners that are
interested or that are either hobbyists
or people that are professional
musicians that have that gig and get
paid I mean we got to make careers we
got them get paid we got to be able to
make a living
yes way and it is important that we we
think of these things it’s important
that we think of music for all that it’s
capable of rather than thinking I need
to only make records and only tour and
you know the thing that’s the least how
doesn’t it before I think of them as
coexisting like I wouldn’t want to only
teach or only be in else demo music I
have to also be playing and performing
and you know doing the doing the thing
but I got a coexist for me now now that
I know what I know and I hope others can
think about that philosophy a little bit
and think about the effect that you can
have on the society of our country not
just about what song you’re working on
that’s incredibly rare day musician
doesn’t have the same broader goals in
mind that you you have and it is
it’s almost just a mindset thing like I
mean I I teach and perform and I don’t
think that I have had that I mean I want
it to be something positive but I
haven’t had that clear of a goal I don’t
think is to think like I’m I’m not just
teaching this kid music I am I’m helping
the kids general life and I’m helping
Society it’s just like a makes you feel
better if anything it just makes you
feel better about what you’re doing
you don’t have to really necessarily
change anything it’s just like knowing
that all this this thing that I’m so
passionate about is that much better
than it already was definitely I mean
I’ll give you one example of a specific
skill through music auditory discretion
so auditory discretion is when you are
listening to one person and there’s
other stuff going on in the background
so Northwestern University’s auditory
Neuroscience Institute
Nina Krause runs that program and she
has done Studies on auditory discretion
and found that musicians have a really
fantastic aptitude for our auditory
discretion so that’s because when you’re
playing guitar and you’re listening to
the drummer you have to also be
listening to the bass player there’s a
lot of different thing there’s a lot of
different channels just like I’m a
mixing board that you have to be able to
listen and differentiate but there’s
also the audience in the background
there’s also some stupid TV that’s on at
the bar that you’re playing at which by
the way turn those TVs off yeah playing
about anything else going on in the
world I heard a musician to go on stage
and entertain your people turn the TV’s
off it’s brutal when you start you get
caught up watching the television while
you’re playing sometimes I’m like
playing and I’m I look across the bar
and there’s something comes up and I’m
like I start reading the headline
that’s funny oh noes to say about
headlines right now but anyway but your
well you’re able to do there is you’re
able to you hear one thing here’s
something else be mad at something else
TV whatever season somebody’s yelling at
you – and somebody’s yelling at you –
play Freebird Freebird have to ignore
them to you yeah yeah
and then also play music so you’re able
to have that auditory discretion skill
yeah and when you’re in class or you’re
at your job and you’re trying to listen
to somebody at a meeting or something
important and something crazy happens in
the background musicians are better at
staying focused and listening to that
one thing because their channels have
been clarified like we were talking
about EQ out my bad sound
well you guys are musicians you’re able
to tune out that bad sound easier then
somebody that is not a training musician
because you have developed auditory
discretion skills out that everybody
doesn’t have that but musicians have
that room as a refined skill yeah see I
almost liking like in a crowded bar and
you have 50 people there who are having
individual conversations with each other
and you being able to even though there
are 50 you know conversations going on
you can channel in on any one of those
conversations and listen to it even
though that there is this mass sound
that’s going on you can kind of
individualize each conversation exactly
that’s an example of a skill built
through ensemble playing intensely that
translate into life so that helps this
student like that student could be in El
Sistema program for only three years but
after that their brains are totally
changed for the better life and that
helps them in all different areas goal
they don’t have become a professional
musician to have to be successful for us
to think of them as successful they just
have to you know develop as people and
make progress and music can be other
people which is great yeah it’s um
students that I don’t need them to
become professional musicians I don’t
expect that if they want that that’s
great but really the goal is that they
enjoy it and it’s become something like
if anything they just appreciate the
music they hear more aside from the the
positive brain development things
definitely and we know a lot of the
benefits of music I mean it’s it’s well
known anybody that’s cutting music
programs is being willfully ignorant to
research because it’s it’s there it’s a
pile of research yeah it’s like bottom
it’s like willfully ignoring climate
change like there’s a ridiculous amount
of information there should be music
programs there’s benefits to them and
most importantly they there should be an
equitable process for access and that’s
the thing that I didn’t really
understand before I got into this work
is they’re pretty excited it’s oh no
it’s beautiful we’ll uh hopefully all of
our listeners you know can at least
check out el sistema and you know maybe
see if there’s any programs in their
local areas and if anything just be
aware that it’s that it’s out there and
the music is doing something positive
for a society yes el sistema usa.org
that’s the national organization that
supports all the independent el sistema
programs so you can go to El Sistema USA
– or we can check that out and if you’re
in Virginia soundscapes also und SC APs
that org is the L systemic program that
I run in Newport News Virginia and how
big is your facility we are we have a
partnership with the school system so
okay come in after school and we work
with the school day teachers and we kind
of transform their rooms for a couple
hours oh yeah yeah yeah
move desks around we bring in
whiteboards and music paper and like we
kind of turned them into music
classrooms and then we turn them back
into classrooms on the leaves and there
is a
curriculum that you follow yep we have a
custom rubric that we developed over
over the past five or six years that are
all of our different social and musical
standards and we play arrangements of
classical works ok Finlandia or
beethoven you know different oh dude joy
things like that we try to play you know
pieces as close to the actual
arrangement as possible and then you
said you also do things like hip hop and
whatnot like that as well create a
creative composition so we try to have
programming where kids can write their
own music okay with their own melodies
in their own beats that are socially
relevant to their lives mm-hmm
there’s a great story out of out of
Baltimore I think I have great great
friends there that do a lot of creative
composition music making I think I
remember a story about I’m writing a
piece of music about the transportation
system there and how reliable it was and
then this song was shared with the city
right and it heightened awareness about
the public transportation that allowed
them to fix the public transportation
and then the kids were able to get
school on time that’s awesome so
socially relevant musical concepts are
really important because it’s what’s
going on in their lives they often say
it right when you know so yeah okay
genres specific – I mean orchestra is
great for so many reasons it’s also
important to acknowledge that genres
like rock or rap are respectable genres
yes okay so there would be all
instruments apply it depends on it
depends on the program nationwide there
are different there’s some mariachi
programs depending on where you are in
the country which is awesome that’s
that’s cool more jazz programs are
starting to pop up the original el
sistema program model was Orchestra
orchestra programs and so the programs
are Orchestra
we don’t have a lot of guitar going on
right now but that’s why it’s ours get
donated to us so you’ve just been
collecting them with the idea that we
will one day do something with them so
it’s only a matter of time and those
programs depending on where you are
within the country or the world they’re
dictated by the individual who’s running
the program uh yeah okay yeah the
program leader the local program leader
will be the one that is the artistic
director and decide the direction of the
ideally they are culturally relevant
right wherever they are in the world
right understandably so where where do
you get the funding to do what you’re
most of the fundraising comes from
individual donations we’re also we have
a partnership with the public school
systems there’s a lot of in-kind
services like transportation and
facilities and there’s also some
corporate social responsibility
initiatives that we access like banks or
other businesses that want to give back
to their communities they’re interested
in that there’s also some state tax
incentives for people to donate to
nonprofits that we take advantage of as
well reaching the Commission for the
Arts for example is an organization
organizations that support programs like
you know what we do we’re interesting
because we’re a music program with but
with social goals so we sometimes
classify as a social program like a
Social Work program other talents as
artistic program so we’re sort of we’re
because we’re at the intersection of
those two and sometimes access either
one of them or both and so how many
people go in to the school each is it
everyday that you guys go in yeah we’re
five days a week after school ten hours
and per week and how many people are
with you
we have a teaching artists team of about
10 and yeah they work anywhere from four
to ten hours per week at the at the site
awesome and is there a cap in terms of
student enrollment at that school
there’s sort of a natural cap because we
want to make our we don’t make our
classes too big right and it’s just a
matter of how many instruments we have
at the time the goal is to expand sounds
Gibbs has plans to expand within the
city that we’re in which is Newport News
I live in Norfolk Virginia but the
program is in Newport News Virginia okay
so yeah I mean they’re ideally there’s
not a cap because there’s way more kids
in poverty that are not being served and
the country then are being served so the
cap is really about what makes sense
within the school right right right yeah
we still want to be able to give the
into a little individual attention to
the kids that need it and being able to
you but you obviously don’t want to
spread yourself too thin right there
doesn’t have to be out of school doesn’t
have to be a partnership with the public
school system there are programs around
the country that operate at community
centers that are totally independent of
the school and by the way sounds gives
us a non-profit so it’s not a it’s not a
public school program it’s its own
program that has a partnership with the
school right oh we wanted to start an El
Sistema program you can do it go for it
give me a call you know make it happen
making guitar El Sistema program make a
make a wrap El Sistema program what you
can do it how do they get in contact
with you what’s the best way to contact
me our website that’s what we’re asking
you yeah you can contact me through my
work email I guess which is j-h AMM at
soundscapes org perfect that’s a good
way to that’s a good way to start yeah
yeah do you have a website of your own
with like your any of the music that
you’ve recorded or I do like that my
website is Joe ham comm AJ and yeah that
was my next question in terms of okay
beyond the El Sistema how about how
about you Joe what what do you do and I
know you would mention that you guys
were on the road to you know stardom
whatever happened to all of that and
what are you doing now and in your
performance and if we could tell us a
little bit about yourself
sure okay so I’ll guess I’ll backtrack a
little bit so the band that I was in was
called chasing arrows and we were
nominated for a Woodie award in 2008
mtvU Woodie award so Boston New York and
put us up in a fancy hotel and drove us
around and we were at the award show and
we didn’t win the award but we made a
lot of contacts and a lot of great
stories and good people and those
contacts led us to being able to be
shocked to all these major labels and
during that while though the labels were
kind of crashing out and an AR was going
I was being illuminated and arm was
being illuminated
we were told to just continue to grind
keep writing keep performing labels want
to see activity play as much as you can
so we were playing three hour shows like
I guess three to three to eight a month
or so we were trying to play as much as
we possibly could right most of the
places that we could play to have that
level of activity were places that were
like bars and restaurants in the area so
that’s how we did it and then you know
people went their separate ways
eventually and you know people went to
school and Families developed and stuff
like that which happens to a lot of a
lot of groups it just couldn’t hang
the timing kind of couldn’t couldn’t
keep hanging so after that finished I
wait before you go on what was the music
you were I mean you say it’s a rock band
boat like what were you playing uh we’re
about that music in that okay yeah it
was it was pop rock but okay yeah like
really song driven music lyric driven
music yeah at the time you can kind of
compare it to Foo Fighters matchbox 20
kind of stuff cool there wasn’t a whole
lot of electronic elements like a
computerized kind of stuff it was like
like very much like a rock and roll band
yeah yeah you can hear some you can see
some music videos and some live videos
and all that kind of stuff on my website
if you’re interested
chasing arrows yes but at joann.com we
can see all that yeah I have it all I
have it all organized they’re excellent
let’s see after that ended I didn’t find
another band to join immediately so I
kind of went back to jazz roots and I
started making jazz bands and making
events where I could play jazz on a
regular basis and just getting involved
in my community sort of playing more
because I hadn’t played jazz as much at
that time and recently I’ve been filling
in for a couple different groups and
playing with a few different original
music projects so I have a couple that
I’m considering working with I haven’t
found the next like band that I want to
like you know fully put myself into yet
yeah so I’m ready for that I’m waiting
for that I have to just find the right
fit but I’m kind of being a chameleon
right now kind of playing and oh you
know multiple different groups depending
on what’s going on so yeah yeah they’d
chameleon the other day yeah I’m ready
to dive into another rock band yeah I
miss it I love giant guitar stacks and
that huge giant sound yeah I love it
feels good yeah Anna rock music
so much fun to play it is yeah there’s
no feeling like it that’s for sure being
up on stage and rocking out and well I
also like putting bands together that
are not like really traditional like
trombone and drumset and guitar like
okay interesting and throw a vocal yeah
you know sort of like New York City’s
subway style yep meets regular
songwriting how do you classify that
what genre is that I don’t know no way
of knowing just it is what it is man
people together that typically wouldn’t
play together and just seeing what comes
out of that I’m really interested in
doing that and maybe you know being on
the tiny desk concert the NPR tiny desk
I really enjoy that
yeah I’ve applied for that tiny just
video I did yeah when did you do that
aim that was during Kyra’s contact oh
you made oh yeah I didn’t know we even
applied today yeah oh yeah that’s great
anyway they doesn’t know tiny NPR’s tiny
desk series is great you can find tons
of awesome music on that set the
audition video requires you to make a
video and have a tiny desk in your video
yes like the one criteria yep yeah and
it’s cool to see how many ways people
can be creative with the tiny desk yeah
when people play it some people will
smash it
some people stand on it some people will
just have it in their you know desks are
sometimes very tiny yep what a little
pizza table from the middle of a pizza
so the pizza doesn’t get smashed yeah
it literally took the tiny it took the
tiny very literally yeah yeah so anyway
I’m I’m in it for life man I’m in music
for life I love this instrument I love
the drumset and I love playing in bands
my best friends have come from people
that I’ve played with the first bass
player I ever played with was in my
wedding party and you know we’re still
great friends
he’s still playing in punk rock bands in
Richmond and crushing it and yeah man
I’m I’m in it for life I’m gonna be an
old man playing drums awesome band what
some of you be like damn that guy’s old
but boy can he play walkman to get to
the throne set alright let’s do this
yeah yep yep so I don’t know man
I’m open to different styles of music as
long as I feel good and I feel like I
identify with it and really love making
original music I love sharing our story
whatever it might be you know imagine if
Stevie Wonder never played his music you
know we wouldn’t have Stevie Wonder
imagine all these people that we love
you know that are huge influences to us
we needed to hear what they had to say
and just like that was the case for them
you know we need to hear what each of
you guys have to say in musicians and
everybody listening I want to know what
your story is I want to know what’s on
your mind
you know yeah there’s a whole bunch of
untapped talent out there and I’m sure
there’s a lot of people who just need to
be inspired you know bring out that
inner musician within them and all of a
sudden you know you may find yourself
being with next Stevie Wonder or whoever
it is and you know never even knew that
you had it in you so yeah you don’t need
to get to a point musically where your
ready to be that you can be that now
when my first record but when I started
playing drums I didn’t know anything
about what I was doing but I met two
guys that were based learning guitar
player I was like I wanna be the drummer
that sounds great let’s do it bluegrass
got a drum set and invited them over and
we just started playing and figuring it
out and we made a record well we made an
EP like four months later with a tascam
four track tape recorder and two sm58 in
my basement and it is hilarious
and I also loved it because like I could
laterz instrument man but we were able
to write songs and their silly and
ridiculous they were about our teachers
and eighth grade and one of the songs
like called miss chin
one of our teachers that had a huge chin
this man about this guy that sold juice
on TV infomercial and we just worked
silly songs we were eighth graders you
know and then we sold both out of our
lockers for $2 each there you go it was
our first record we actually had a
disclaimer in the record I said warning
we cannot sing you don’t want to buy
this but you might not want to listen to
it too much okay we sold like a hundred
of them out of our lockers sweet that’s
that was our introduction to music
business and songwriting and landing and
all of that and from there we just kind
of kept trying so if you’re listening
and you think you’re not ready yet
you’re ready now yeah no time like the
go for it you don’t need us you don’t
need a school of rock to make a band why
my dad drove me around my parents drove
me to my friends houses or drove friends
to my houses my first one of my first
shows into that house party my dad drove
us because we couldn’t drive yeah with
all of our gear and then picked us up
like later in the night so you don’t
even need a teacher you don’t need a
school you don’t need any of that you
just need to do it dry yeah you need a
passion try have passion and be willing
to fail and be okay with failing yeah
that’s like you were saying before you
know some of these underprivileged kids
they’ll walk miles just to show up for a
for a concert because they’re needed
it’s you know they play a part in the
bigger picture and that’s I need to get
there I need to be where where I’m
supposed to be and if that means walking
all walk if I have to and performing as
a dicking man like I can only go so long
where I won’t be
you know it’s funny my wife Paige she’ll
be like you need to play a show play
drama with you’re getting cranky like
she can she can tell when it’s been too
long when I haven’t practiced or haven’t
played a lot yeah she’s she’s awesomely
supportive keeping me going and
recognizing when I need a little push or
you know that kind of thing so it’s so
helpful when you spouse does that for
you yeah you’re doing it in sparkling
self-interest but yeah you know if you
are being cranky and it’s good for them
I guess you alright
get it out of your system and then you
can relax and no I’m the same way
I mean her support is huge I mean it’s
enabled me to continue to go I mean when
we have a room in our house dedicated to
I mean it’s music does not ended because
you know because I have a wife who’s got
any better this is being bigger it
seemed more as a little more often like
it’s great yeah it’s it can it can it
can be like that or it cannot be like
that or it can crush your musical dreams
you know whatever depends on how you do
it you know you know it’s a creative
opportunity you got to write it yourself
so I’m glad you’re in a good situation
in the mood I’m inspired by the whole
the whole idea the social impact that
we’re having with their music and that’s
great well I really appreciate you guys
having me on to talk about all Systema
stuff and drumming and I really love
talking about the intersection of
drumming and our playing which i think
is interesting and I’d love to join you
guys sometime in the future
absolutely yeah it’s cool
conversation just excellent well Aaron
and Joe thank you appreciate it
yeah oh ham everybody yeah thank you
thank you

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