Reynolds Reno ASNE Reynolds HSJ Institute at the University of Nevada-Reno Reno, NV
Issue Date: Thursday, July 19, 2012 Issue: Volume 6, Issue 1 Last Update: Saturday, July 21, 2012
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At-a-glance

Eight-year-old Ellie is surrounded by her mother Amanda, father Jason, and brothers Trevor (6), Colton (11) and Jared (13). - Gordon Lang
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There’s a new rock star in town and her name is Ellie.

A novice percussionist, Ellie already has several hundred fans, spanning all ages and musical tastes.

Ellie is the eight-year-old girl Jean-Sebastien Dallaire plucked from the audience during BAM Percussion’s Artown performance at Wingfield Park last Monday – and she stole the show.

For the first two thirds of the show, Ellie was sitting with her parents and four brothers, laughing at the sight gags of the drumming clown act and shouting out responses with the rest of the crowd. Then Dallaire waded out into his audience and chose his target.

Up to that moment, Ellie said, she had never been on stage — not in a school play, talent show, recital, anything. She had no drumming experience either. Just a year of piano, a willing attitude and good instincts.

And a sense of humor.

A sense of humor is a requisite for any fan of BAM Percussion. Members Dallaire, Denis Richard and Krystina Marcoux have fun with sticks and barrels and anything they can bang together to make noise —in the style of “Stomp” or Blue Man Group — but they spend even more time using physical humor, mime and general clowning around to make their audience laugh.

Think Three Stooges with drumsticks, minus the words.

And yet these three percussion-playing jokers are hardly silent. They grunt, they shriek, they moan, they wail, but their only intelligible phrase is “OK.” And somehow they tell stories that children understand.

In fact, Ellie figured out the game so quickly that she was able to play along with Dallaire and Richard while Marcoux hid under the barrel that served as Ellie’s drum. For her good humor and good sense of rhythm, the two men made her an honorary member of the ensemble, dressing her in the same long-sleeved blue pullover that they wore, with one difference: Ellie’s top was inflatable.

Dallaire and Richard then puffed Ellie up into a performer of even larger stature. They also gave her a spiky foam headdress to wear.

The ultimate test of Ellie’s sportsmanship came when she replaced Marcoux under the hollow barrel. Fortunately, the three drummers released her before destroying her hearing.

Though they paid nothing to get in, the all-ages crowd, mostly families, was quite appreciative. The ensemble, likewise, had a hoot playing with a responsive crowd.

In an interview after the show, Dallaire admitted that sometimes, like this night, he doesn’t feel like performing. When he gets on stage, though, that all changes.

“When the audience gets into it, we get charged up,” he said.

This kind of professionalism comes from years of practice, and long months of grueling road shows. Dallaire has been performing with BAM for 13 years, and Richard for 11. They remember rough years when they spent four months at a time on the road, performing over a hundred shows. Dallaire calls these the “Vietnam shows,” as though they were going “in-country” for a four-month tour of duty.

Those days are history now. BAM flew out to Reno from their hometown outside Montreal just for Monday’s show and a second show Tuesday in Napa Valley.

Marcoux said that the troupe has performed on tours of Europe and Asia. Because they perform without language, their shows “have no border.”

Personally, as a fan of drummers and percussion, I would have loved to have heard even more of the BAMming, but BAM knows its audience. They perform mostly for schools and families, and kids love physical comedy that tells a story.

“The act has evolved over the years,” Dallaire said. “For the first four to five years, we were all drums. Just three sets of drumming.”

As time went on, Dallaire studied clowning and mime. “I’ve had to,” he said. “You do what works. You try things out. If they don’t work, you do something else.”

Were I a parent with kids in the audience, I might be a little concerned that Marcoux, often assuming the role of the whining brat infant, is routinely rewarded every time she throws a tantrum — perhaps being given whatever prop (bowling pin, foam sword, whathaveyou) that Dallaire has in his hand.

But that’s a petty quibble. It’s darn good old-fashioned fun, and it’s typical of other circus acts I’ve seen that originate in Quebec. They just don’t seem to fuss about political correctness as much as we do in the States.

Certainly Ellie’s parents weren’t concerned. Though they live outside of town, they make a point of coming to Artown events every chance they can. Now, because they live so far from their neighbors, they’re even talking about building their own outdoor percussion set for the kids.

So is Ellie a natural performer? Until Monday night, her parents’ only clue was her singing around the house. They say she knows the They Might Be Giants’ “No!” CD backwards and forwards. Interestingly, it was younger brother Trevor who sang a bit of “Fibber Island” for me. Maybe he’ll be the star next year if BAM Percussion comes back.

Dallaire says they would like to. They were amazed by the range and depth of the Artown calendar, as well as the warm, appreciative crowd.

If you want to appreciate them more, check them out at bampercussion.com.


Back to the articles list
 
  • BAM Percussion members Denis Richard, Jean-Sebastian Dallaire and Krystina Marcoux make loud physical comedy that tells a story without words.
    By Gordon Lang
  • Newbie drummmer Ellie (8) keeps time with Dallaire and Richard as she beats on a drum containing Marcoux.
    By Gordon Lang

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