How Successful Do You Have To Be To Survive On Ticket Sales Alone?
After nearly two decades, Hands Percussion enjoys the kind of success many performers dream of. They have a strong following of loyal fans who snap up tickets, fill seats and whose applause rivals the thunderous beat of the drummers on stage. So how did this particular group get so good? And has Hands really reached that ideal place where it makes enough from performances to pay the bills? Founder and Artistic Director, Bernard Goh, answers ARTERI’s questions.
How has Hands Percussion changed over the past 19 years?
We have grown braver and bolder. We are not afraid to make a statement or to be different. We are more confident and creative about venturing into genres beyond percussion and drums, so in our concerts you are likely to see us using new instruments, and experimenting with music influenced by various cultures.
Our drummers have wider experiences and knowledge that they’ve gained from local and international musicians. This exposure came both from performing overseas or when outside artists come specially to teach our members.
“We are not afraid to make a statement or to be different.” – photo by Ban Teng Ruen
Those are some big changes. Is there anything that has stayed consistent?
No! Well, the basics, of course, like teamwork, discipline, commitment, openness, continuous growth, health for the body, mind and soul – these are all still very important to the team.
Our dedication to making a positive impact on our community also stays unchanged. We always do our best to give back to society so we continue to look for new teaching challenges, new schools, with kids from different backgrounds and with different attitudes. Through percussion music we would like to share the joy and excitement in what we do.
“Our dedication to making a positive impact on the community remains unchanged.” – Photo by Ban Teng Ruen
In February, 2014, we started this cultural programme: “Embracing the Arts Hand in Hand with HANDS”, in conjunction with our concert “The Next – Restage” at Istana Budaya. The basic idea was that ‘BIG HANDS’ (adults) would pay RM5,000 to sponsor 40 ‘LITTLE HANDS’ (kids) to participate in the programme. The money paid for tickets, tour guides, transportation costs and meals. The children were also taken to several of KL’s attractions. They visited to the Royal Selangor Visitor Centre, the Islamic Arts Museum and the National Visual Arts Gallery before attending the concert.
What was the response?
The feedback was so encouraging that we did something similar in September 2015 for Taiwan’s Ju Percussion Group’s concerts at Plenary Hall, KL Convention Centre. And this year, with our upcoming concert, “INSPIRING 1000”, we hope to raise funds for 1000 children to attend Drumming Nation. Here the kids will see performances by local artists as well as guest performers from Indonesia, Burkina Faso, Germany and the USA.
What is it about Hands Percussion that appeals to audiences?
There is a universal appeal in drumming and percussion, a certain adrenaline rush and an automatic fascination when there are high energy performances. It goes straight to the heart and soul of a person. It drives us with energy and we hope that energy travels to our audiences.
So with so much support and appeal, are you one of those lucky companies that can survive off of ticket sales alone?
No, unfortunately we can’t. It is often assumed that we are financially secure but performances usually incur high production costs and ticket sales barely cover this, if we’re lucky. We have survived these 19 years by working extremely hard. Our 11 full-time drummers coach in 27 schools in the Klang Valley, Terengganu, Ipoh and Sandakan. Corporate engagements are our mainstays but in challenging economic times entertainment is one of the first things to be excluded.
Despite the struggles, HANDS feels that exposure is important for the growth and improvement of the drummers therefore whenever possible, we travel to play at international festivals – to learn and study – to experience what other performing art groups are doing. Participating in international festivals sparks ideas which encourages us to experiment and create new material. We also emphasize the need to educate and share our knowledge, that’s why we teach in schools and conduct workshops whenever possible. It helps us to see all sides of a coin, to become better performers by becoming better teachers.
I have incredible faith in my team, and I know they work extremely hard. They deserve great learning opportunities, and these are hard to come by.
Bernard Goh, Founder and Artistic Director of Hands Percussion
About Hands Percussion
Hands Percussion has been part of the Malaysian performing arts scene since 1997. Their spellbinding performances have received rave reviews both at home and the world over. Their highly creative performances draw on Malaysia’s varied, rich and colourful cultures. The result? Contemporary theatrical drumming infused with Shigu drums, diverse South-east Asian musical instruments and percussion instruments from around the world, elevating and putting a unique spin onto this art form.