Bruno Gagnon almost learned the hard way that guerilla-style drumming in China isn’t looked upon favourably.
Without permission, the Sardis secondary teacher set up the school’s drumline on The Bund, Shanghai’s waterfront, and not even three beats in, whistles were blowing and angry security guards waving their arms, rushing the high school band.
“We literally played three notes before we were escorted back to our bus,” said Gagnon, just days after returning from the 10-day trip.
It wasn’t their first brush with communist law.
From March 12-22, 22 members of Sardis secondary’s drumline traveled to Beijing and Shanghai with Gagnon and retired school principal Bob Long to perform in a variety of locales. They played in front of the Great Wall, the Bird’s Nest, Temple of Heaven, Shanghai University, as well as an elementary and middle school.
And while they were able to play a full set at both the Bird’s Nest and Temple of Heaven, they were still shoed away by security informing them they were not allowed to play there.
“We broke a couple of rules,” said Gagnon of the band’s no notice, “drop and play” style. “You’re just not allowed to play anywhere you want.”
And yet, he wouldn’t change it for a second.
As soon as the drumline started parading the areas, beating on their drums, they were well received by large crowds of mostly smiling, happy people. At the Temple of Heaven, considered to be Beijing’s most holiest of temples, they played amongst locals performing tai chi and random ballroom dances.
“It was a lot of older people, and they loved it,” said Gagnon.
And the teenaged performers learned the value of Canada’s freedom.
On several occasions, Gagnon used their experiences as learning tools. When they were disbanded by security, he pointed out that wouldn’t happen in Canada. When they were at a middle school, playing in front of perfectly formed rows of silent students who wouldn’t applaud unless commanded to do so by authorities, he noted that doesn’t happen in Canada. When at Shanghai University, amongst students diligently learning their courses, not daring to step out of line, he compared the differences to Canada’s system.
“Here you can protest anything, cabbage if you want, but there you can’t protest anything,” said Gagnon.
“When we got whistled off the Bund, I tried to put it into context – that doesn’t happen in Canada, you don’t get thrown in jail for performing.”
So what’s next for the young band?
“I don’t know,” said Gagnon. “For this trip, there was a surprise around every corner. It’s going to be pretty hard to top this one.”
And yet, they’re going to try, already eyeing up the 2012 summer Olympics in London.