Drumming Class Heaven: The Divine Mr. Santos

Before the year ended, I got a call from a drumming class friend on the coast. She had noticed in the College of San Mateo catalog that a noted local professional musician has a latin percussion class he teaches. Because our Congolese master is no longer coming to our town, opportunities to drum locally are non existent. She invited me to join her in checking out the class before the semester was over. I told her I had seen the class in the catalog for years and wanted to take it, but hadn’t felt confident enough to even go to check it out.

After the New Year came and went, she called me again, and we agreed to call each other the next week and see if we could go check it out on the day of the first class. The day came, I called her, and she could not go, but she told me the time of the class, the building it was in on the campus, and the fact I’d need to pay for parking in the Visitor lot to a Parking Kiosk. I decided to go alone. I actually lost my car keys that day, had to get someone to drive me home to get a spare set, and I knew it was because a part of me was in reaction to me finally going to check out this class.

I arrived, found the Visitor parking lot, and went up to the Art/Theatre and Music building early. I had no idea what classroom it was, had tried to look it up on the website but hadn’t been able to. I prowled and circled around the 2 floors of the building, seeing no one, and fretting. Many of the classrooms in the music area had digital dials on them, and small windows which were covered or too high for me to peek into. Finally I saw a guy pulling a conga bag on wheels and followed him into the right classroom. There was John Santos with his fedora, chairs, an empty dry erase board, and a conga. I let him know I was not enrolled but wanting to check out his class. There were some LP loaner congas, and I luckily was allowed to borrow one.

At the end of the class he came up to me and asked me where I had previously played, and was I Carolyn Brandy’s student. This was a moment I had never imagined happening. Being recognized by a master right off the bat warmed me considerably.I’ve floundered and struggled, been lost for too many years.

Later, at home I managed to get online, enroll, and try to register for the class within the next week. I had computer problems and had to call the Registrar’s office, and then had to email the instructor for a code number which was confirmation I had permission to take the class. I sent Mr. Santos an email and he gave me the code. When I had the money, I finished the registration.

I love the class. There are women and men, young and old. Some are experienced, some are not. Mr. Santos loves his subject, and is an excellent teacher. He presents all three modalities of learning: visual, auditory and kinetic. He breaks things down, builds slowly, answers questions. One time he brought a guest drummer, a friend who has drummed for Santana for 40 years. He has an assistant who sends us the drum charts after each class. He has tips from 42 years of drumming and performing. He sings the rhythms,steps and plays them, writes what we are doing on the board. We get three whole hours a week with him and a break.
With Mr. Santos, the latin percussion world is just one big family of people and stories are told of everything from how drums are manufactured to every kind of detail about rhythm there is.

I’m almost grateful it took me so long to get there. I’m experienced enough to know what a treasure I’ve found which I can respect, love and savor. The second time I went to class I took my own drum in a drum bag, and it happened to be cold and windy. Mr. Santos and his assistant were at class when I arrived early. I was bundled up in my North Face coat and a wool hat, and he invited me into the class so I would not be cold. I’m not used to being noticed or treated well, simply for existing. I think I’m going to like getting used to it without EVER taking it for granted.

About Shirley

I started this blog to expand and explore my rhythm horizons as a hand drummer. That exploration includes touching on the rest of my life and inner world as authentically and truthfully as possible.
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