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In this interview series we introduce you to the musicians of the Mystifiers.

This week we talked to drummer and band coach Robbert about his love for improvising, what kind of music inspires him and about the meaning and nonsense of labels.

Photo: Desiré van den Berg

What does a typical week in your life as a musician and coach look like?

Haha, that’s always different. There are no normal weeks. Monday is supposed to be my free day, but that never works out! I am currently in rehearsals for a dance performance with LeineRoebana which premieres in October, then I also work as a coach with the Mystifiers of course, on other days I teach courses at Buitenkunst. It is only since three years that I teach at Buitenkunst, but thirty years ago I was already there as a participant. Buitenkunst is where my love for making music actually started.

Tell me more about your love for making music and improvising.

Yes, I love improvising. I like it, because it leaves room for the unexpected. Currently I am also focused on harmony and to explore the possibilities within harmonies. That is also what I love about the Mystifiers. We are all doing the same: making music. And at the same time we are all such colorful characters, that you never know on beforehand what’s going to be the outcome of a session.

What is your musical background?

I studied jazz drums at the Conservatory. In some lessons, there were a lot of strict musical rules, and that really doesn’t work for me. I always search for playfulness within my work.

Apart from playfulness, what else do you search for in your work?

Sharing music together is what drives me. I find that with the Mystifiers. I also worked with theatre group Babel for example. The dividing lines between who has a disability and who has not, are not important anymore. There was a great theater play I attended where even the dividing lines between the audience and the actors were not clear. I love that. With the Mystifiers we also do that – it is not important what your background is. Of course, sometimes it is necessary to have a label. For example: when you have ADHD, it is important to take that into account while working together. But it doesn’t have to define you.

What is your first music memory?

It is a classical story. We had a washing machine with big tubs of washing detergent. I used these tubs as if it was a drum kit. It sounded amazing. That was my earliest memory of making music. I started to ask my mom if I could go and play the real drums. She managed to get a place in the local marching band for me. Unfortunately, I got injured, and I could not play anymore until I was 14. When I got better, I could finally get drum lessons. A boy in my school class and I started a band together. When I finished high school, I thought I wanted to study history, so I did that. But during that time, I figured out drumming was what I really loved to do. I was always drumming, and never reading my history books, haha.

“When songs and improvising meet each other: I am at my happiest”

Did you grow up with music in your home?

Yes! My father loved music, and played the piano. Mostly old-style jazz. He was inspired by the famous pianist Reinbert de Leeuw. When I was 15, we even played together in a harmony orchestra. He also played the tuba, and accordion. He was the kind of musician that picked up a random instrument and could play it within 30 minutes. Unfortunately, he got Parkinson and he recently passed away. Last year, at the last Christmas we spend together, I tried to talk about harmonies with him. He sat at the piano, but he could not explain things verbally anymore. Most of his verbal and cognitive links where gone. And then he started playing and improving himself. It was beautiful and touching to see that even when verbal communication was not possible anymore, musicality still was.

What kind of music inspires you most?

The combinations of really good songs and at the same time having the freedom to improvise. I love to make great songs, and I love to improvise, but when those two meet each other, I am at my happiest as a musician. Stylistically, I don’t really care. Well, not totally of course. At the moment I enjoy jazz and blues, but next year it could be metal as well. My background is alternative rock and improvises – I think that is my core in the end.

Most of the time, I am not interested in the highly produced music from the big labels and a billion hits on Spotify. I want to hear all of the voices, not only in politics, but in music as well. What do you hear on the corner of the street? That is what I find interesting. Music has so many different manifestations, we need to make room for all of them.


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