DA GONG IN ACTION
One of my favorite seasons in recent memory (because recent memory is all I have left) was the Rahsaan Roland Kirk season, presented in 2008-09. Partly this was due to the incredible talent we had lined up, including Ron Westray on trombone (more on him to come) and Alex Coke on flute, saxophone, and garden hose. The garden hose deserves a post of its own, but today’s is about…Da Gong.
Da Gong stood less than three feet tall, but had a more commanding presence onstage than the rest of us put together. That’s because when you put a large gong in front of a room full of elementary school students, they can’t help but fixate on three questions: 1) Will they hit it?; 2) WHEN will they hit it?; and 3) Can I hit it?
We played the gong once or twice in the show, but its big moment came at the end, when we invited kids up to perform in a free-form number we called Rahsaanarama that featured slide whistles, egg shakers, a three-foot rubber snake, the aforementioned garden hose, and whatever else we could lay our hands on that day. The whole mess (or unholy mess, some would say) built to a climactic point, whereupon I walked into the audience, chose a kid at random, handed them a large rubber mallet, and brought them up to end it all in a way that could only be accomplished by…Da Gong.
That ‘at random’ part is not completely true. I wanted a kid who could hit the gong impressively, not shy away at the last minute. So I started by picking athletic-looking, gregarious kids. But for some reason, they seemed to frequently fall short when it came time to put the mallet to the metal. Maybe it was suddenly being in front of 300 screaming kids, maybe it was the rubber snake…anyway, they didn’t deliver as consistently as you might have guessed.
So I started picking smaller kids, the ones who looked shy and were timid about volunteering. That’s when I discovered the Law of Inverse Percussion Volume: the smaller the kid, the louder the crash. Especially the girls–some of these young ladies had a swing more concentrated than Tiger Woods. You’d think they had a gong at home to practice on.
The Grand Prize Winner of the season, however, was not a girl. He was a young Asian kid with glasses who approached the stage with considerable trepidation. I handed him the mallet and gave the usual instructions–“When I point to you, hit it in the middle as hard as you can”–with no expectation of what would come next. At the Big Moment, he reared back with the mallet as far as he could reach, and let loose with a swing worthy of Willie McCovey. And the result was something I hadn’t even considered physically possible: Da Gong was lifted a foot into mid-air before crashing unceremoniously onto its back.
Remember that gongs operate on the principle of reverberation, where most of what you hear is not the crash itself but the subsequent ring. But a gong laying on its back on a linoleum floor does not ring, so all you’re left with is the aural sensation of the crash at the moment of impact. And this particular crash was similar to what you would hear if you dropped a refrigerator off a twelve-story building—and you were inside it.
It was LOUD.
I don’t remember much after that, because the band was laughing too hard to play and the kid was standing facing the cheering audience with arms upraised like Rocky Balboa. But I do remember gingerly picking up Da Gong and reassuring everyone (mostly myself) that everything was OK and Da Gong would live to gong another day.
Which is more than I could say for Da Stand.