After launching ExpatDrummer.com, Brad Broomfield was the name that came up the most to feature in an interview. In a little more than a decade Brad has played in some of the top music festivals in the world, toured with Blast!, and is now Principal Percussion/Timpani of the Jordanian National Orchestra. We talked about his past experiences, education, and his road to moving to Amman.
Could you give us a little bit of your background?
I was born in Atlanta, Georgia and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana - a true son of the south. My high school band director was a world-renowned, Hall of Fame rudimental snare drummer named Mary Hurley. I owe my hands to him. I obtained my bachelor’s in Music Performance at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, studying with Jeff Prosperie and Troy Breaux. From there I went on to get my Masters in Music Performance at Temple, studying with Alan Abel, Chris Deviney and Don Liuzzi.
What music festivals have you done?
During my undergrad I participated in the Brevard Music Festival, during grad school I spent a summer as a member of the National Repertory Orchestra (NRO), and I also toured Central America with YOA Orchestra of the Americas. One summer, instead of doing a music festival that I was accepted into, I moved to New York to study privately with Chris Lamb of the New York Philharmonic.
What did you do after graduating from Temple?
A few months after graduating I joined the touring show Blast! as Featured Percussionist/Snare Drum Soloist. After finishing the tour I sort of got back to my roots and went to a village in Ghana to study traditional ewe music and culture that I had been invested in for years prior. When that was done I returned to Philly and started teaching music through an "El Sistema" inspired program that serviced at-risk urban youth, all the while really digging deep into several music traditions through apprenticeships. After touring with YOA in Central America I went directly to Salvador, Brazil with my good friend, Gabriel Globus-Hoenkch, to research sacred and secular music traditions and culture with the idea of using it with youth back in my home community. That's how our project "Drumming for Social Change" came into existence. After returning home I was accepted as a fellow into YOA's Global Leaders Program where I spent a year studying and occasionally traveling to learn on the ground how to use music as a vehicle for social change in communities of high need.
Was world music something that you were always interested in?
Yes! Even during my time at Temple I was studying Indian tabla, Arab music and West African percussion. Mrs. Abel affectionately cautioned me (while I was at their home drinking milk waiting for my lesson), "Oooh, well don't tell Poppy [Mr. Abel]. I know what he'll think!" Ha! But it was something that I was always highly invested in since high school. It was never ever candy.
How did you find out about the position in Jordan?
Short answer: Facebook! Long answer: In the summer of 2014 I was flying home from an invitation to perform at the China International Percussion Festival and I spent a few days in Bangkok. I met up with Kyle Acuncius, Principal Timpani of the Thailand Philharmonic, and I asked him about how he ended up in Thailand. He mentioned that he had heard about some international gigs through friends, including his current job and another in Jordan. He then told me a lady named Megan Arns was the most recent percussionist there.
When I got back home I friended her on Facebook. A few months later while up late one night, Megan posted that the gig in Jordan was hiring. I happened to see it and emailed her in that very moment! I submitted material that I already had prepared and was offered the position within like a week, if I remember correctly - effectively making it the fastest thing that's ever happened in the Middle East (ha!). It all happened rather quickly, but Megan was super helpful with the entire process before and after I was offered the job. Thanks, Mark Zuckerberg.
What exactly is your job title?
I have two jobs in Jordan that are in tandem: Principal Timpanist/Percussionist of the Jordanian National Orchestra as well as being the Instructor of Western and Arab Percussion at the National Conservatory of Music.
What is the orchestra like?
The orchestra has about 55 or so members, and they come from countries all over, like Germany, Syria, Lebanon, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iraq, Ukraine, and of course Jordan. We play about 1-2 concerts a month. The repertoire on a single concert will typically have some western classical works, like a Beethoven symphony, as well works from the Arab music repertory... And some times fusions! It's interesting though, in Jordan, Western Classical Music is technically World Music!
What does your job at the Conservatory entail?
The conservatory is an accredited, degree-granting institution. I have approximately 25 students from ages 5-55, studying as percussion majors, minors, and "diminished" (lame joke term for all students not enrolled in the degree program. I'll stop). I teach the full gamut of classical percussion as well as drumset and Middle Eastern percussion. I even have students coming from countries like Lebanon and Kuwait that might not have a traditional western conservatory. They might spend between 6-9 months studying with me and earning a certificate or degree.
What is life like in Amman?
Moving from Philly to Amman, I had to completely change my mindset. I had to learn to pace myself, as I found that I had more time to practice. When I was in Philadelphia I was constantly gigging and running around. When I got to Amman, I found that I had more time to for myself. The orchestra only rehearses 2 days a week, so it gives me plenty of stress free time to really take in the experience of being here while being able to dig into personal projects. I like eating local, which is delicious and cheap, and visiting historical sites. Concerning pacing: to take a quote from my mom, it can seem like many people in Amman are "going nowhere... fast!"
Do you need to speak Arabic to live in Amman?
Nope! There are plenty of people who speak English, so it's not a big problem. I am taking it upon myself to learn Arabic, though. At first I started on my own, but now I take language classes to aid in my teaching and personal music studies.
How have you adjusted to living in Jordan?
I feel like living here has brought out the "old soul" in me that I've always been, but couldn't completely express while living at a faster pace in bigger cities - the whole "stop and smell the roses" thing... Except it's shawarma, not flowers! But seriously, some of the most fulfilling work I do in Jordan is my work with the community and a project I recently started called Rhythms With Refugees. I think when you are living abroad (or anywhere, for that matter) you should make an effort to be a curious member of society. Basically, I'm playing with what it means to have a certain amount of power and influence while being, relatively speaking, a big fish in a small pond and how I can use that leverage to serve my community. If I just did my job and went home everyday I would feel lonely. But my interest in this region began long before I moved here, so I really love waking up every day and essentially being a full-time student of life, religion, and culture through the perspective of a different people.
What advice would you give to someone thinking about working in another country?
I say go for it! Moving to another country is a great way to meet amazing new people, learn about yourself, and experience life through a new perspective. If you consider it beyond the "work" aspect I think you'll find that the gains typically outweigh the losses. And with January 20th fast approaching, I'd say now's a better time than ever to give the international scene a second glance!
Chris Tusa, 1/17/2017