Aleksandra Šuklar on The Power of Rhythm Podcast

Join me on a journey where you will meet a young female drummer who has made it to the top league in music without having been born in the upper echelon.

Aleksandra Šuklar plays in high-performance music events like The World of Hans Zimmer. But you don’t make it to that level just by practicing a lot. 

So, how did she build her mindset to get to these really high-performance artists she is playing today with, and into this realm of music?

Having established herself as a versatile multi-percussionist and marimba artist, Aleksandra Šuklar´s playing is characterised by her excellent musicality, technique, temperament and sensitivity to any musical style; skills which all come together to form her own unique artistic approach.

„My parents thought it was a very good choice to play the violin. But somehow, as soon as I started, I noticed that I really didn’t resonate with that instrument. I was strongly driven by rhythm and pulse, and whenever I would hear some drumming, I just felt firmly that I should give it a try.

I think that it’s important to rediscover, rethink, and dedicate your time to something that is really bringing you joy and that is fun to do.“

– Aleksandra Šuklar

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Transcript of this Episode

REINHARD
You want to be the best you can possibly be, and you work hard for that. But you would like some inspiration from a role model that has gone this path. 

Now, let me take you today on a journey where you meet a young female drummer who has made it to the top league in music without having been born in the upper echelon. She is my guest today. Welcome Aleksandra Šuklar. 

ALEKSANDRA
Hello Reinhard. It’s a pleasure to meet you here and thank you so much for inviting me to your podcast.

REINHARD
This episode actually is the result of surprise collaboration. Filmmaker, from Hollywood actually, Robert Dornhelm, was about in the process of making Panta Rhei, a huge show for the Klang Wolke Linz, and he decided he wanted to have a drum ship with a huge drum -of like eight meters diameter- and so, all of a sudden, Aleksandra and I were sitting in this boat. What I remember from this time is an incredible ability from Alexandra to memorize the rhythm she just had heard, her sensitivity, and her sheer power. 

So, what do you remember from this time, Aleksandra? 

ALEKSANDRA
That was a really interesting and inspiring project because it made us do things that we maybe normally don’t do. Also, it was very surprising to come and visit your place with all these amazing drums that were then part of Klang Wolke, and do this creative process there, that ended up being performed at that event. 

REINHARD
Let’s give our listeners a little taste of what we did there.

Excerpt from the drum ship performance on Panta Rhei Klang Wolke Linz 2021 sounds.

REINHARD
It certainly was fun playing together, and I’m so happy we did this because now, by getting into your life story, I think it’s really something that people, especially young drummers male and female can use as a help. You were born in Serbia, and you played the violin when you were a kid, right? 

ALEXANDRA
Yes 

REINHARD
So, how did you come from this to percussion? What was the first step to go from violin to percussion?

ALEKSANDRA
Well firstly, I come from a musical family, and everybody in my family is a classical musician. My older sister is a violinist so I somehow followed her steps when I was five years old and my parents also thought it was actually a very good choice to play the violin. But somehow, as soon as I started, I noticed that I really don’t resonate with that instrument, and I felt that I’ve been strongly driven by rhythm and pulse, and whenever I would hear some drumming, either on the street or concert performance, I just felt strongly that I should maybe give it a try. I convinced my parents when I was 11 just if they could please inscribe me to percussion lessons and that’s how it all started. 

REINHARD
I think this is the first thing people can learn. You didn’t just think like “I already started violin, let me continue like this.” But you said “No, my inner voice tells me maybe not. I’m feeling the call of the drums.” So you followed the call of the drums.

What were the first drums that you got to play?

ALEKSANDRA
Well, I started classically trained. So I remember that in the first case I wanted to be a drummer like to play only drum set because I wanted to go away from all these melodic worlds. I wanted just to groove. So after playing the snare drum, I started playing drums, but after two years of playing let’s say drums, I realized there is this whole other world of percussion which includes also marimba and vibraphone, tympani, and multi-percussion setups. So then the drums had stayed at the back and I focused more on those instruments that also called me somehow.

REINHARD
All this we’re talking about happened in Novi Sad, right? 

ALEKSANDRA
No. I was born in Novi Sad and at the age of six we moved to Slovenia, and that’s where I started my percussion education at the age of 11. 

REINHARD
Okay. You mentioned already that your father is a musician, but he is not just a musician. He’s a composer as well and then you are there on the marimba playing his composition “The corridors.” Now I’m very curious to know how it is to play your own father’s composition. How was your collaboration? 

ALEKSANDRA
I really love this concerto and this is the new version of this marimba concerto because originally it has been composed for World Marimba Competition which took place in 2005 in Ljubljana, in Slovenia, and at that time it was performed with a symphonic orchestra. Then some years later, I think maybe 10 or a bit more, he made this new version for marimba and string orchestra which I had the chance to premiere. I remember exactly when I was just playing percussion for two or three years and listening to this same concerto in the big hall played by much more advanced players than I was at that time. So it’s very inspiring for me also that I got the chance also to play myself. 

REINHARD
So our audience wants to see what you did there. This is The Corridors, from your father.

The Corridors by Slavko Šuklar sounds. 

Now Aleksandra. Do you know what year that happened? 

ALEKSANDRA
Do you mean when did I perform it? This performance I think was 2017. I’m not sure.

REINHARD
Okay. 
Coming from Serbia, have you ever engaged or been interested in Balkan music? 

ALEKSANDRA
Yes. I have been strongly influenced by Balkan rhythms and of course music from the region that I come from, because I’ve been studying actually with Nebojša Jovan Živković, who is one of the most interpreted composers for percussion from Serbia, and I’m very happy that I had the chance to work with him during my studies, to study with him, and really incorporate this music in my playing.

REINHARD
Now let’s go to the time where you came to Vienna and you studied really intensely. I see people very interested in every day’s practice. How did you maintain that regular practice?

ALEKSANDRA
During my studies, I did really practice a lot staying at the university every day whole day from morning till late evening.
My practice routine would normally consist of around one-hour technical exercises for snare drums, for example, and then I would switch to the pieces that I had to work on. And those were normally pieces either for solo marimba, solo vibraphone, or solo multi-percussion. So the rest of the day I would dedicate my time to that. This snare drum technique practice routine was quite constant in everyday practice. Then I would also practice the four mallets technique that I use while playing on mallet instruments.

REINHARD
That’s the musical side but you don’t make it to The World of Hans Zimmerand we’ll talk about this a little later- just by practicing a lot. How did you build your mindset to get to these really high-performance artists you’re playing today with, and into this realm of music?

ALEKSANDRA
Well, I was just doing what I was doing. I was just being dedicated to my instruments and my passion. I don’t know if it’s by coincidence or by chance, or by the connection of certain opportunities, recommendations, situations, and the moments where you have to prove yourself and show your skills. 

Let’s say that that was more of my path to get there, but yeah, I was just really doing the thing that I thought it was right to do. 

REINHARD
Well, what I hear is that it wasn’t your intention to go to the top. You had your passion and the passion was guiding you to wherever you went right now, right? 

ALEKSANDRA
Yeah, exactly. 

REINHARD
They call you and me multi-percussionists. What does that mean? You played a lot of marimbas and then multi-percussion. What is multi-percussion? 

ALEKSANDRA
Well, at least in this classical percussion world, it’s when we have simply compositions written for a certain group of instruments that can be combined in many different ways according to how the composer has wished it to be. I played, for example, percussion concerto which the setup for this was so big that I needed at least 50 square meters of space in order to be able to perform this and to practice it even so. Multi-percussion is simply a build-up of many different percussion instruments which can be mixed melodically, rhythmically, with membranophone, and with all kinds of percussion instruments, literally. 

REINHARD
We have a short piece where you play incredible on the marimba, on the gongs, then on the tom-toms, running around. It’s called Veni Veni Emmanuel. I think that’s a good moment to watch what Aleksandra looks like as a multi-percussionist.

Veni Veni Emmanuel by J. MacMillan sounds

To get to this level of playing you have to go a path, and this podcast here is also about real talk, I mean, real-life talk. So my question to you would be: have you had moments where you were completely desperate and say “I can’t do this anymore”? And how did you get out of it, and what did you learn from it?

ALEKSANDRA
Oh yeah. It can happen let’s say more often than you think. My biggest struggle with percussion instruments is carrying them and building these setups because it requires so much energy, so much physical work, so much preparation before you even start practicing. To me it took sometimes five hours to build setup, even I was building it two days before, when it’s a bit more logistically complicated. It never was that strong with me that I would say that I really can’t do it. I know that it was always a result of either being overworked or over-stressed or something connected to it.

So it’s something that it’s not connected to my essential passion which is percussion. These are the side factors that influence you, but the passion that was always truly mine, which was the percussion and groove, I always wanted it again. I mean, when you come out of some blurry phase, there is always this spark that was simply being alive within me, and of course, we are all people, we cannot be always 100, 150% motivated. I think that’s normal because life is not about being always on 100%. In those moments it’s just important that you really take care of yourself, take care of how you feel, and do not forget about your passion that, if it was there before, it should be still there somehow with you.

REINHARD
I totally agree. Life is a curve all the time. It would be horrible if it’s just a hundred percent like this. Let me ask the other question. Was there a moment that you recall where you said, “yes, it’s really going the right direction”? 

ALEKSANDRA
I have a special moment like, for example, as I mentioned already these percussion instruments and carrying them and building these setups, and then when it comes the moment of concert and then I see this huge setup standing on the stage I just say, “my god, this looks so great.” I mean, I look at it and I’m already so inspired by it. Then I say, “oh my god, this is just so cool that I play percussion.” So yeah, it’s always a dialogue between carrying the instruments and then this amazing positive push when it’s there, that you really feel and see it. 

REINHARD
To my audience, let’s not forget that we’re talking to a young female musician who actually plays for a lot of music in Hollywood, including Netflix, Disney, Warner Brothers, and of course to a guy who does not need any introduction, Hans Zimmer. And how Zimmer said about Aleksandra, and I quote: “Aleksandra is such a phenomenal musician embracing the tradition and revolutionizing our future, I’ll never write another piece for percussion without having her add her creative grace and fire to it.” 

Wow, that’s pretty much a statement, I would say. So how did you meet Hans Zimmer

ALEKSANDRA
Well, I got invited to be part of World of Hans Zimmer, which is the project curated by Hans Zimmer himself. After I send my videos, my biography, photos, everything that I had to send, I got the chance to meet him in the project World of Hans Zimmer, and after that, he invited me also to be part of his touring show Hans Zimmer Life. This is how we met and I have been collaborating with him since 2018.

REINHARD
What I found is that in this group you’re playing in World of Hans Zimmer there’s also a guy called Luis Ribeiro, from Sao Paulo, Brazil. He is a great percussionist and he lives in Vienna too, right?

ALEKSANDRA
Yes, there are a couple. He also lives in Vienna, but there are a couple more musicians that also live in Vienna that are also part of that tour. 

REINHARD
What’s so amazing, is that this is not so well known, and I just discovered that all through our collaboration. Luis Ribeiro… I want to get to know him too because he’s a great performer also and he comes from Sao Paulo, where I go every year two times.

ALEKSANDRA
Yes, he’s an amazing percussionist and if you guys haven’t met yet, I think you should definitely meet. 

REINHARD
Right! Any advice for people who want to reach a certain point? A lot of musicians are right now struggling because they have not reached where you are, being taken on a tour by Zimmer, but they’re trying to get little gigs, and then their venues are closed because of corona… 

So some inspiration or encouragement for those people from your side?

ALEKSANDRA
Well, these are very specific and very difficult times, especially for performing artists. It’s very hard to stay motivated in these times. It’s very hard to find some goal when things are simply not happening.

I, for example, did an arrangement during the lockdown. It took me a lot of time to gather all the instruments, get the equipment that I needed for recording, make this arrangement, produce it, work on the mix, and make a video for it. So I made a task that was leading me and I found again the passion for doing it. That was somehow keeping me excited and was bringing me a lot of joy and excitement during the lockdowns, especially. 

So I think that, if possible, just find something that is fun because at least while everything is closed, maybe you’re not obliged to play what you must do. So now you can do something that you really want to do. I think that it’s also important to rediscover, rethink, and dedicate your time to something that is really bringing you joy and that is fun to do. 

REINHARD
It’s great advice actually. It says, do not focus on fear and on “oh god, the world is going down.” But take your passion and let the drama inspire you. Let’s be playful, have fun, enjoy and nourish ourselves. 

Now, you did a video in secret from a composition of Hans Zimmer and you will release it in November. Tell us a little bit about that, please.

ALEKSANDRA
Yes. It’s the arrangement that I just talked about. I made an arrangement of the track Mombassa by Hans Zimmer, which you can hear in the movie Inception. So I had the chance to play this amazing soundtrack with the band on Hans Zimmer Live and that inspired me so much that I said, “I have to make this arrangement only for percussion.” And it took time. It took a lot of preparation to make it real, but here it is. There is also a video coming out on November 5th, and it will be available on all streaming platforms also.

REINHARD
Here is a little teaser of that.

Arrangement by Aleksandra for solo percussion of Mombasa by Hans Zimmer sounds

Wonderful, great! 

It’s so inspiring for me also to see a female percussionist, because when I started way way back, there were very few, if not at all any, female percussionists. Maybe Evelyn Glennie, but not many others. And it’s kind of changing now. The power I remember from your playing made me really happy…your passion…

So something to the female drummers…Was it an advantage, a disadvantage or didn’t it matter at all being female on this musical path? 

ALEKSANDRA
I never had any discomfort. I didn’t feel anything in either direction, negative or positive. I was just feeling normal and happy with what I’m doing and everything seems to work okay. 

REINHARD
Yes. Must have to do with your kind of natural being. You’re a very honest person, I really appreciate this. You’re a great musician, and I was really honored to play with you and that you are on the podcast here. Thank you so much! 

ALEKSANDRA
Likewise.

REINHARD
So, finally, let me actually ask you where can people find you on the net.

ALEKSANDRA
You can find me on my Instagram with my name and also the same name on YouTube channel and Facebook.

REINHARD
So please check Aleksandra out. She’s an amazing musician. Also, check the World of Hans Zimmer. It’s also an amazing project that will have a lot of performances coming up. 

I wish you all the best in your career, Aleksandra. Thank you so much and I wish our listeners all the best and I hope you really enjoyed our beautiful show here. More to come very soon and for now, have a great day and keep on groovin‘. 

Please leave a comment below, and let me know what you think!
I’m curious about your sharings, thoughts and feedback.

Thanks, Reinhard

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