Baton Beats is PMZ’s weekly percussion workshop, led by music leader Rob Tilsley.  Throughout 2023, Rob was joined by University of Plymouth music student, Millie McCabe, as part of PMZ and the Uni’s ‘Knowledge Exchange‘ programme.  Here is the second of four blogs shared by Millie, sharing her experience of working with PMZ.

In my previous Blog post, I touched on the social side of Baton Beats, which is a strong part of the weekly group. The other important part would be the music that all the participants are able to get involved in. Unlike what some may assume, the music learnt during baton beat sessions is highly complex and features an incredibly wide range of complicated rhythms.

Most of the music being learn by the group works like a puzzle, In which all the pieces are there in the form of lines of music led by different instrument sections, when learnt they slot together to create the puzzle, or piece of music. An example of this would be some people playing bells, other playing African drums, cowbells, accessible instruments that are played using digital software setups, Boomwhackers and even our voices. All these instruments will have a different rhythm to play with complexity levels varying throughout instruments and parts to allow everyone to receive enough challenge in the learning stages. Learning the parts is only a small piece of putting the puzzle together, the real challenge comes with playing all the parts at the same time.

Many of the current Rhythms are kpanlogo rhythms which originated in the 1960’s from Ghana as a recreational dance and music form. The style features highly syncopated rhythms layered on top of each other, alongside moments of rhythmic augmentation. Which for many musicians, without physical music could be hard to keep up with, but due to the pace, interaction, and nature of these sessions it works well to learn the phrases aurally. This also means that participants who are not able to read traditional music are still able to be vital parts of music creation.

Everyone in the room connects and learns music very differently so Rob who leads the session always makes sure to keep it clear and work to the strengths of each participant. Many session-goers lock into the rhythm and the music being made and they are enjoying it through many different mediums of communication. Sometimes the excitement of locking in and playing these rhythms correctly together can be shared verbally, but the physical reactions are the most enjoyable during these focused moments.

Examples of this include looking up and seeing members jumping up and down or dancing in their seats along to the music to themselves, however some participants share these moments across the room to each other, coming up with dances or movements to fill the rests within the pieces. A specific moment I have shared with another musician in the group was during a Kpanlogo rhythm where we played on 3 of the 4 beats, and on the beat that we did not play we would make eye contact and throw our hands in the air and smile at each other before we continued. Not only did this interaction share with each other and the room that the music and company of all was being enjoyed but it also helped that member to count the beat that they were not playing allowing them to lock into the rhythms.