GETTING TO KNOW: GARY FRANCE

Gary France performs professionally in the widest range of musical genres including jazz, commercial, world and classical music’s. Gary was recruited from the USA to Australia in 1986 by Richard Gill as the inaugural Lecturer in Drumset and Percussion at the Western Australian Conservatorium of Music. Prominent positions include: Head of Music – Edith Cowan University, Associate Professor of Percussion and Head of ANU School of Music, Features Editor of DRUMscene / PERCUSscene Magazine, Board of Directors Percussive Arts Society International, President and founder of the Australia Chapter of PAS and Board member SPEAK Percussion.  Gary is no stranger to The Street having performed in several productions such as Nigredo Hotel, Repercussions, QED and soon The Illad. Gary France is the founder and director of The Groove Warehouse, an innovative institution that merges music educational practice with entrepreneurship.

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THE STREET TALKED WITH GARY FRANCE BEFORE THE OPENING OF THE ILIAD.

WHY PERCUSSION?

I began drums and percussion studies as an 8 year old performing in a garage band with my brother on guitar. My teacher was principal percussionist of the Syracuse Symphony orchestra and a great drum kit player. It is natural in the USA for students to learn the entire range of drums and percussion.

YOU HAVE ESTABLISHED GROOVE WAREHOUSE AS ALL THINGS DRUMS. PLEASE TELL US MORE ABOUT IT AND YOUR REASON FOR ESTABLISHING IT.

With the profound changes to the ANU School of Music in 2013 I found myself at a cross roads. I was committed to continuing my direction of percussion education through music performance for people of all ages in our community. I especially find fulfilment through my interaction with music teachers and their students. I invested in the Canberra community by building our own purpose built facility that now offers the widest range of drum and percussion access in Australia including marching percussion, Caribbean Steel Drum Band, Indonesian Gamelan, world drumming, classical percussion, commercial drum kit and so much more for people of all ages and abilities.

Most remarkable, to me, has been the growth of adult learners. Over 50% of our students are adults looking to enrich their understanding of rhythm and music through drums and percussion while challenging their minds.  For most adult students, learning to play drums is much akin to learning to ride a bicycle or surf again which requires coordination and spatial awareness through the senses of sight, touch and sound.

An innovative aspect of the Groove Warehouse is the inclusion of a Pro Drum and Percussion retail store that underpins our facility allowing for financial stability as well as the ability to provide tuition scholarships, patronage of local arts organisations and freedom from reliance on government funding for public concerts and workshops.

 WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR APPROACH TO COMPOSING MUSIC FOR THE ILIAD OUT LOUD?

For this production I scored the sounds of the earth “wood, metal, skins and more”. I also imported over 15 hand-made Chinese Gongs each tuned to a specific mood or feel to create the atmosphere of tension through the human condition of war, desolation, triumph, grief and sorrow. On stage people will hear for the first time a specially crafted set of 36 chromatically Cow Bells I commissioned from West Australian artisan Chris Murdoch in 1994. I am also performing on a battery of metal sound effects depicting sword on sword battle scenes. The Gods are represented on a 5 octave concert grand Marimba (wood) taking center stage complete with a Water Phone, numerous bronze Temple Singing Bowls and a 2 octave chromatically tuned set of antique cymbals (Crotales). War scenes are underscored with a wide battery of skinned instruments including concert Bass Drums, African Dun Duns, Middle East Frame Drums and more. The overall effect of this collection is a giant Trojan wall of Gongs and percussion rising up to Mount Olympus where the Gods weave their tale of war.

YOU HAVE BEEN WORKING CLOSELY WITH THE DIRECTOR AND CREATIVE TEAM TO CREATE AN AURAL LANDSCAPE FOR THE PRODUCTION. CAN YOU TALK US THROUGH THE COLLABORATIVE PROCESS.

Each day we explore the text working out the best opportunities to underscore the theatrical environment while supporting the actors. First I listen as the actors read the text while annotating the script. Next we perform books (small sections of the total work) together and then discuss and explore alternate soundscapes if necessary.  The percussion set is ever evolving with subtle shifts in location and instrument layout. I am always aware of balance and the need to support this epic poem.

WHAT CONSIDERATIONS HAVE BEEN IMPORTANT IN THE CHOICE OF TIMBRE, STYLE AND INSTRUMENTATION TO SUPPORT WORDS AND THE LIGHTING OF THE SET?

The text is in a hexambic, six syllable flow. While there is time of connection most moments are a synergy of sound and text resulting in a cohesive ebb and flow.

ARE YOU SUPERSTITIOUS? IS THERE A PROCESS THAT YOU ALWAYS LIKE TO GO THROUGH BEFORE STEPPING OUT ON STAGE?

No, I am not superstitious. Preparation is the best cure for developing confidence. There is no short cut for practice, over the last 50 or so years I have definitely practiced my 10,000 hours!

 WHO ARE FIVE OF YOUR FAVOURITE PERCUSSIONISTS IN AUSTRALIA?

I have numerous friends and colleagues all over the world that I admire. Australia has a rich complement of versatile artists I respect and admire, including the members of Synergy Percussion, Speak Percussion, Michael Askill, David Jones, Daniel Susnjar, Peter Neville and the wonderful students at ANAM (Australian National Academy of Music), Tim White and the students at WAAPA and so many more!

WHAT’S INSPIRING YOU CREATIVELY AT THE MOMENT?

I am currently working on a project “The Cal Tjader Latin Jazz Explosion” with Perth drummer and composer Daniel Susnjar. This project includes arrangements by Canberra musician Niels Rosandahl. Jazz vibraphonist Cal Tjader is best known as the father of Latin jazz. My project involves a CD recording and Australian national tour in 2018.

WHAT ARE YOU READING AND WATCHING CURRENTLY?

THE ILIAD

http://www.groovewarehouse.com.au

 

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