by N. Scott Robinson
The achievements of Glen Velez have significantly advanced the art of percussion in several ways. Beginning in the late-1970s, his single-handed development of a global approach to modern frame drumming in the USA involved the mastery of diverse hand drumming techniques from South Indian, Central Asian, Arab, Persian, Brazilian, and Italian musics. He synthesized those techniques with his background in Western classical percussion, devising a unified technical vocabulary that he used in handheld, lap style, and freehand frame drumming. His teachers included Fred Hinger, Ramnad Raghavan, Hanna Mirhige, Dom um Romão, Erasto Vasconcelos, Zevulon Avshalomov, Alessandra Belloni, Trichy Sankaran, Michel Merhej Baklouk, Ephat Mujuru, T.H. Subashchandran, Ed Harrison, and Kepa Junkera.
He then elevated instruments such as the Arab riq, Irish bodhrán, Brazilian pandeiro, Nubian tar, Moroccan bendir, and Azerbaijani ghaval, among others, to refined solo instruments in a variety of musical contexts. For many of his chosen instruments, this was the first time they have ever been used as refined and expressive solo concert percussion instruments in contemporary American music. So influential has Glen Velez’s work been that the esteemed American composer John Cage had composed a work specifically for him in 1989 titled “Composed Improvisation No. 3 for One-sided Drums With or Without Jangles.”
“Ramnad Raghavan was giving me South Indian drumming lessons,” Velex recalled. “We didn’t talk about what, in a practical sense, would I do with this material besides just play it over and over again? With the Arab tambourine, there was not really much discussion about that except that I would go to the belly dance classes and play along with Hanna Mirhige when he would play. He would ask me to go sometimes and hang out with him. But it never got to the point where I was really seriously thinking about immersing myself in that scene. From the instrument’s standpoint, I was interested in that instrument and what you could do with it, sonically. And, in a sense, taking it out of the context of what it traditionally was played in—the kanjira, riqq, pandeiro, tamburello, bodhrán, and all those drums. At first, they were isolated. I was playing kanjira, and I didn’t think about playing a kanjira thing on the riqq; I wouldn’t have even thought of that. Because the riqq you play a certain way, and a kanjira you play a certain way.
“The key component of changing that was starting to play with improvisers in the area. This was through Charlie Morrow, he was strategically very important in the stage of all this for me because we were playing together [in the Horizontal Vertical Band], and we just became friends. We would start to improvise, and he had set up little communities of improvisers. That was a very good situation for me because there were no judgments going on. No one was saying, ‘Hey isn’t that kanjira, and you’re playing South Indian style but you’re doing it on a North African tar drum, that’s not right!’ Those kind of judgments. So there was just a lot of freedom. You have all this information—all this technical information about the way to play these drums—and here’s a situation where you can use any of that body of information in any way that you want to. It’s a discovery thing, always; that situation was all about discovery.”
Velez is distinguished from his contemporaries in a number of ways. His personal approach to frame drumming, rhythm, composition, pedagogy, and improvisation helped to spawn four unique schools of frame drumming in the USA. In addition to his own approach, Velez was inspirational in the later development of different approaches to frame drumming by John Bergamo, B. Michael Williams, and Jamey Haddad. Each of these four American frame drumming schools have students that carry on the methodology and style of their teachers helping to spread contemporary frame drumming to thousands of percussionists. His impact in frame drumming extends globally as numerous other stylists, such as David Kuckhermann, among many others, have based their developments on studies with Glen.
Velez has also impacted percussion pedagogy and the percussion manufacturing industry in a number of ways. He was instrumental in the development of internationally-based frame drum festivals and associations such as European Frame Drummers Meeting in Spain, Tamburi Mundi in Germany, Greek Frame Drums Meeting, Frame Drums Italia, the North American Frame Drum Association, Inc., the Japan Frame Drum Association, and the National Percussion and Frame Drum Association in Taiwan. His involvement with companies such as Remo, Cooperman, and Anklang Musikwelt have led to a number of mass-produced and handmade frame drum, shaker, and brush designs, helping to make a wider variety of frame drums more available to percussionists in many parts of the Americas, Europe, and Asia.
As a researcher, he has uncovered important aspects of frame drum history such as the prevalence of female frame drum performers in the ancient world and dating the appearance of various performance grips and jingles on frame drums (as detailed in my recent interview “Performing the Past, Present and Beyond: Glen Velez and Researching Frame Drum History” in Percussive Notes 51, no. 4 (July 2013): 30–34). Some aspects of Velez’s research were taken up by Layne Redmond, one of his earliest students and collaborators, who in turn impacted the women’s drumming movement by disseminating Velez’s ideas about the connection of women to frame drumming.
“As I would spend time looking through visual art history books,” Velez said, “it quickly became apparent that there was lots of information from the ancient world—Greece, Rome, Egypt, and other parts of the Middle East and Asia. This especially interested me, since I didn’t realize until then how popular this instrument was in the ancient past. This timeline of the history of the instrument became very important to me while I continued my tambourine studies, and I started to feel more and more connected to the instrument, not only as a way of expressing myself musically, but also with a feeling of identification with the millennia old traditions of playing the frame drum. I could see from the old depictions that the way I was learning to hold the drum in the South Indian and Arab traditions looked just like the pictures. This feeling of being able to imagine the sounds the ancient drummers were producing and being part of a legacy of frame drumming, I found exhilarating and that really energized me to find more of these magical, externally visual, and internally aural gems. The recent emergence of frame drum research and prominent players in a meta-frame drum style incorporating lots of influences is a dramatic development in the history of these drums. I think their potential for making satisfying music and contributing to the musical landscape is unique and will inevitably continue to expand.”
The influence of Glen Velez is so broad that it can be seen in the increasing number of published frame drum compositions and pedagogical materials by percussionists such as myself, B. Michael Williams, Yousif Sheronick, John Bergamo, Shane Shanahan, Nora Thiele, Andrea Piccioni, and Murat Coşkun, among many others. World percussion studies that include frame drumming are now available as part of many American percussion programs such as those at Winthrop University, University of Kentucky, California Institute of the Arts, Berklee College of Music, Towson University, Goucher College, The Hartt School, The Julliard School, Manhattan School of Music, Eastman School of Music, The New School at Mannes College, Oberlin College, University of Tennessee at Martin, Northern Illinois University, and San Diego Mesa College, among many others.
Velez’s work has been recognized in the form of multiple Grammy Awards and nominations, most notably for his recordings with the Paul Winter Consort, a KoSA Lifetime Achievement Award, a Tamburi Mundi Honorary Achievement Award, and 12 various peer awards from Down Beat and Drum! magazines. His recorded output includes 300 published performances on audio recordings, 20 video recordings and film soundtracks, 33 commissioned compositions, 10 instructional books of his frame drum and shaker methodology, 32 interviews and articles, and he is mentioned in a number of music books, theses, encyclopedias, and dissertations.
After initial studies at the Manhattan School of Music, Glen began his career as a percussionist in the 1st Armored Division Band in the U.S. Army from 1968–70. He toured and recorded with Steve Reich & Musicians from 1973–93, Parnassus New Music Ensemble from 1975–80, Paul Winter Consort from 1983–98, Mokave from 1988–98, and Trio Globo from 1989–present. Velez has led a variety of his own ensembles since 1983 and produced 18 solo recordings. He has recorded and performed with an exceptional variety of diverse musicians including Pat Metheny, Richard Stoltzman, Eddie Daniels, Rabih Abou-Khalil, Lyle Mays, Larry Karush, Eugene Friesen, Mike Richmond, Malcolm Dalglish, Trapezoid, Suzanne Vega, Zakir Hussain, Airto Moreira, Peter Kater, Marc Cohn, Patty Larkin, Jonas Hellborg, Ned Rothenberg, Nóiríin Ní Riain, Reinhard Flatischler, Badal Roy, Arthur Lipner, Trilok Gurtu, and Chitravina N. Ravikiran, among so many others. He has appeared at some of the world’s most prestigious percussion and music festivals such as World Drum Festival (Canada), PercPan (Brazil), PASIC (USA), Modern Drummer Festival Weekend (USA), North Sea Jazz Festival (Netherlands), Festival International de Jazz de Montréal (Canada), Bali World Music Festival (Indonesia), Varna Festival (Bulgaria), Expo ’93 (South Korea), Rudolstadt World Music Festival (Germany), Japan Percussion Festival, Synergy Festival (Australia), Ramallah Festival (Palestine), Jerusalem Festival (Israel), Taipei Chinese Percussion Festival (Taiwan), Meeting Internazionale del Tamburello (Italy), Puerto Rico Percussion Festival, Patras Festival (Greece), Rhythm Sticks Festival (England), and Uhuru Festival (Switzerland), among many others.
His work has brought him into contact with lots of different cultures, kinds of music, instruments, and drummers; has that had an impact on his continuing to adopt material from various places?
“Oh, yes, a big impact!” Velez says. “Doing these world drum festivals that were set up by John Wyre, I’m around Abraham Adzenyah, Trichy Sankaran, these various musicians that are amazing players! Ninety-nine percent of what they’re doing is their traditional stuff. So to be around it, feel the power of it, and to feel the energy that it generates, that’s continuing inspiration. You absorb the qualities that you really admire that you want to emulate; in that way you get inspiration. I like it because it gives me more stimuli to create new things.”
His legacy has impacted modern percussion performance and pedagogy in a way that is likely to continue well into the future as his methodology and performance practices are well-spread among hosts of percussionists and institutions across Europe, parts of Asia, and the Americas. The Velez “Handance” method involves intricate use of odd-meter rhythm cycles during which a performer steps in place, performs on an instrument, and chants in multiple rhythmic cycles at different tempi simultaneously. Velez is the only frame drummer to have continuously presented at a wide variety of professional music conferences from 1983 to the present including those of the Percussive Arts Society, American-Orff-Schulwerk Association, National Association for Music Education, and American Music Therapy Association.
A Mexican-American originally from Texas, Velez lived and worked in New York City since 1971 and now resides in Montclair, New Jersey. He continues to record, perform, compose, and teach across much of the Americas, Europe, and Asia, as his legacy will no doubt continue with the growth of contemporary American frame drumming.
Velez certainly deserves and is qualified for the honor of the 2014 Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame award. In support of my nomination, those who submitted letters included Dr. B. Michael Williams, Jamey Haddad, Dr. Russell Hartenberger, Gordon Gottlieb, Tim Genis, Bob Becker, Patrick Cooperman, Dr. Ed Bilous, Dr. Trichy Sankaran, Valerie Dee Naranjo, and Remo Belli. Dr. Kenyon Williams, former Chair of the PAS World Percussion Committee and the committee itself, also helped initiate the idea of nominating Glen Velez.
Glen once told me during an early lesson to “make what you’re doing clear to the listener.” To countless percussionists, a global audience, and a legion of peers, Glen Velez has made it clear that he is one of the world’s greatest percussionists, possessed with an original creative voice in music and a giving heart as a teacher. His life-changing philosophy and gentle yet deep spirit are a blessing to us all.
Arns, Megan. “Glen Velez and Friends.” Percussive Notes, 52, no. 5 (September 2014): 22–23.
Blank-Edelman, David N. “Glen Velez: A Unified Approach to the Frame Drum.” RhythmMusic Magazine 3, no. 8 (1994), 38–43.
________. “Glen Velez: From South India to Azerbaijan, Velez Finds a Unified Approach to the Frame Drum.” Percussion Source 1, no. 1 (1995), 10–12.
Bond, Judy et al. “Meet Glen Velez,” in Share the Music, 88–89. New York: McGraw-Hill Education, 1995.
Brooks, Iris. “Global Beat: World Drum Festival.” Ear: Magazine of New Music 2, no. 3 (November 1986), 8.
________. “Meet the Composer: Glen Velez.” Ear: Magazine of New Music 12, no. 6 (1987), 16–19.
________. “Around the World: Glen Velez.” Modern Drummer 11, no. 9 (September 1988), 76–79.
________. “Glen Velez: Hands Dancing.” Jazziz 8 (August 1995), 60, 61, 63, 65, 67.
________. “Colors & Scents: Glen Velez Draws Inspiration From the World Around Him.” Drum! 6, no. 1 (1997), 75–78.
________. “Glen Velez: Embodies the Essence of Rhythm.” Drum! 10, no. 2 (March/April 2001), 67–68, 70, 72, 74, 76, 132.
Dorsey, Ed. “Ethnic Percussion: An Interview with Glen Velez.” Percussive Notes 25, no. 4 (Spring 1987): 56–60.
Dorsey, Ed with Iris Brooks and Antonio Gentile. “Glen Velez.” Percussioni 7, no. 60 (January 1996), 12–16.
Graham, Richard. “Glen Velez’s Tambourines.” Modern Percussionist 2, no. 1 (December/February 1985/1986), 48–50.
Griffith, Mark. “Glen Velez: The Modern Art of Ancient Tradition.” Percussive Notes 44, no. 1 (February 2006): 8–10.
Johnson, Tom. “The Real Tambourine Man.” The Village Voice 26 (11 March 1981), 70.
________. The Voice of New Music: New York City, 1972-1982: A Collection of Articles Originally Published in The Village Voice, 469–472. Eindholen: Apollohuis, 1989.
Li Castro, Emiliano and Fabrizio Dadò. “I tamburi a cornice di Glen Velez.” Percussioni 2, no. 6 (February 1991), 36–39.
Liss, Dan. “Music: Framing a New Sound.” Aquarius 4, no. 12, (1997), 14.
________. “New Perspectives in Rhythms: An Interview with Glen Velez.” New Age Voice 4, no. 7 (August 1998), 16, 18.
Moscov, Josh. “Glen Velez: Exploring Where East Meets West.” Drum! 1, no. 6 (July/August 1992), 25–27.
Reimer, Terry. “Glen Velez.” Chicago Percussion & Rhythm 2, no. 2 (Winter 1999), 8–9, 18, 23.
Robinson, N. Scott. “Glen Velez: World Music Total.” Batera & Percussão 3, no. 28 (December 1999), 30–32.
________. “Glen Velez: A World of Sound in His Hands.” Modern Drummer 24, no. 4 (April 2000), 72–76, 78–80, 82, 84, 86.
________. “The New Percussionist in Jazz: Organological and Technical Expansion.” M.A. thesis, Kent State University, 2002.
________. “Performing the Past, Present & Beyond: Glen Velez & Researching Frame Drum History.” Percussive Notes 51, no. 4 (July 2013): 30–34.
Tolleson, Robin. “Glen Velez.” Down Beat 58 (November 1991), 14.
Velez, Glen. “The Tambourine in Ancient Western Asia.” Ear Magazine East 5, no. 5 (1980): 3.
________. “A Monograph on the Frame Drum, Ancestor of Our Modern Tambourine.” Ear Magazine East 7, no. 3/4 (1982): 8–9.
________. Handance Duets for Frame Drums. New York: Framedrum Music, 2001.
________. Handance Method with Cueing and Performance Guide: An Introduction to Frame Drumming. New York: Framedrum Music, 2002.
________. Bodhran Manual Vol. 1: Introduction—Frame Drumming “On The Knee Position”. New York: Framedrum Music, 2004.
________. Tar Drum Manual. New York: Framedrum Music, 2004.
________. Shakers Manual. New York: Framedrum Music, 2004.
________. MediterrAsian Tambourines: An Introduction. New York: Framedrum Music, 2004.
________. “‘Mediterrasian’ Tambourine.” Percussive Notes 44, no. 5 (October 2006): 34, 36–27.
________. Bodhran Manual Vol. 2: Snapping—Frame Drumming “On The Knee Position”. Montclair: Framedrum Music, 2013.
________. Bodhran Manual Vol. 3: Ki Ta Ta Ka’s—Frame Drumming “On The Knee Position”. Montclair: Framedrum Music, 2013.
________. Bodhran Manual Vol. 4: Snap-KiTa-Pa—Frame Drumming “On The Knee Position”. Montclair: Framedrum Music, 2013.
________. 13 Solos for Bodhran. Montclair: Framedrum Music, 2013.
Wentz, Brooke. “An Interview With Glen Velez.” Op Magazine V (1984), 42–43.
(All released under Glen Velez’s name)
Handance, CD, 1983, Nomad NMD 50301.
Internal Combustion, LP, 1985, CMP LC 6055 (differs from CD).
Internal Combustion, CD, 1985, CMP CD 23.
Seven Heaven, CD, 1987, CMP CD 30.
Assyrian Rose, CD 1989 CMP CD 42.
Doctrine of Signatures, CD, 1991, CMP CD 54.
Ramana, CD, 1991, Nomad NMD 50309.
Border States, CD, 1993, Interworld Music CD-21907.
Pan Eros, CD, 1993, CMP CD 63.
Rhythmcolor Exotica, CD, 1996, Ellipsis Arts CD 4140.
Rhythms of the Chakras, CD, 1998, Sounds True M006D.
Breathing Rhythms, CD, 2000, Sounds True MM00120D.
Glen Velez + Handance Collection One, CD, 2000 Besen Arts.
Elephant Hotel, CD, 2003, Daftof GVLC03.
Rhythms of Awakening, CD, 1995 & 2005, Sounds True M923D.
External Combustion (remixes), MP3, 2005, Schematic SCH032.
Rhythms of the Chakras Volume 2, CD, 2008, Sounds True M1283D.
Solo, CD, 2009, Daftof Records.
Breathing Rhythms Duo, CD, 2009, Daftof Records.
Reich, Steve. Steve Reich: A New Musical Language, DVD, Concord Media, 1971/1987.
Winter, Paul. Canyon Consort, VHS, A&M/Windham Hill, 1985.
________. Silver Solstice, DVD, Living Music, 2005.
Various Artists. World Drums, VHS, National Film Board of Canada, 1986.
________. Peter York’s Super Drumming Vol. 3, DVD, MVD Ent., 1988.
________. Modern Drummer Festival Weekend 1998 (Sunday), DVD, Warner Bros., 1998.
________. KoSA Eleven/Live 2006, DVD, Hudson Music, 2006.
Velez, Glen. Drumbeats, VHS, Remo, 1989.
________. The Fantastic World of Frame Drums, VHS, Interworld Music, 1990.
________. Handance Method 1, VHS, Interworld Music/Warner Bros., 1996.
________. Handance Method 2, VHS, Interworld Music/Warner Bros., 1996.