The Drum Brothers' annual Musical Dreamtime Journey puts their array of instruments to good use, providing a respite from holiday stress.
Michael Marsolek and Lawrence Duncan are members of the long-running world-music ensemble the Drum Brothers and have spent decades finding new musical tools from around the world.
At the Dreamtime shows, they set up a carpet and arrange about 50 musical gadgets around themselves. Duncan specializes in wind instruments like saxophones, flutes and recorders, while Duncan is the percussion expert, with drums, didgeridoos, chimes, bells and assorted noisemakers.
Seating is in the round, and the audience can bring pillows, blankets, or chairs. Marsolek said they embrace the idea of listening with eyes closed, with no applause during the performance or expectation about what it means to be an audience member. The shows are designed to give people a break and a breather from the holiday season's "hustle and bustle and to connect more with our natural rhythm this time of year, of wanting to slow down."
They typically to have their Missoula concert right on the solstice, with two concerts in the Flathead, in Bigfork and Whitefish.
"This is really a time of year where humanity in this hemisphere has been called inward throughout the years and the centuries," he said.
In this quieter concert context, he said they "can do things that are very quiet and explore sound and silence in a way that you absolutely can't in other settings." For instance, he has an instrument called a hang drum, similar to a steel drum except it's played by tapping the fingertips to create melodic patterns. "You just wouldn't be able to hear an instrument like that in other settings," he said. The same is true of his Australian bullroarer, an aboriginal instrument constructed from a small wooden paddle that the player swings above the head to create a low, oscillating pitch.
He said people typically haven't heard many of the sounds before, or at least not live. He gets questions after the shows about what exactly some of them are.
The concerts are improvised, although the two rehearse and talk about ideas in advance, including starting points and endings. The middle is free-form, including poetry and singing interspersed with the music. They've played together long enough that they have a deep rapport: If Marsolek starts playing a flute line off the top of his head, Duncan can match it.
The two have released one recording of the concerts, but they've recorded many of their for their own archival purposes. They're thinking of ways to make them available in the future.