By: Jen Russon
It’s better to buy experiences than things – or so goes the argument on appreciating life more, and living in the moment.
At the Mach Music Studio in Coral Springs, students can learn to play the conga drum in 15 minutes or less; in all, they’ll spend two hours learning the history and method behind this ancient instrument.
Cuban-born musician Manny Aguiar begins his class with a tale involving Dizzie Gillespie, who, as it turns out, is famous for more than his trumpet. He then helps students master a single page of sheet music that serves as a kind of back bone for conga playing. After that, he encourages them to join him in a full on jam session.
“People are surprised to find that the rhythm pattern they learn in my class goes with everything,” said Aguiar, who owns the Whispering Woods office building where the conga lessons take place.
The former general contractor maintains a well-insulated studio suite on Wiles Road – an ideal place to listen to the jazz, rock, and Latin songs that accompany students’ conga playing. In addition to multiple drums, students can take a break and play around on a keyboard, too.
A product of the Berklee College of Music, Aguiar’s love of all instruments is clear. He has written a book on the Tumbao rhythm, a simple left hand/right hand pattern of beating on the conga drum that he believes anyone – no matter their age or musical background – can learn in under an hour.
The 54-year-old grandfather and Coral Springs resident said that, for him, playing the conga and running the Mach Music Studio is the ultimate way to relax. In the construction business for 38 years before retiring and devoting his life to music, Aguiar said this is a return to what he originally wanted to be when he grew up. He studied drums and percussion at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas with jazz giant, Frank Gagliardi, learning Conga with a contemporary of Liberace’s.
Students who come to the Mach Music Studio have shared the opinion that conga lessons are fun, but not necessarily easy.
Julie Conroy, a New Jersey-based snowbird who winters in Coral Springs, said that once she slipped her rings in her pocket, it was easier and more comfortable to play.
“It is so very different hearing and moving to the rhythm of a song, versus being the rhythm,” said Conroy. “It takes a surprising amount of concentration. If your thoughts wander, you lose the beat.”
An event planner, she hasn’t touched an instrument since her marching band days in high school and said it was nice to have some of the more basic things she’d been taught come rushing back.
Aguiar admits experience playing an instrument not only helps, but improves one’s confidence, rhythm and proficiency in whatever it is they play.
At one lesson this month, a middle school student who had never played the conga, but studies piano, accompanied Aguiar in a jam session with her playing the keyboard. They ran through Girl from Ipanema, and a few more jazzy pieces.
They stopped, however, for the grand finale in Aguiar’s curriculum – all of his conga lessons end with dancing along to “Oh When The Saints Come Marching In”.
To learn the complex history of the conga drum along with Aguiar’s simple approach to playing it, you can register for a class here. The cost is $26 per person.
Lessons are open to anyone age 8 and up on Monday, Thursday, and Saturday from 8:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. or Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
The Mach Music Studio is located at 7501 Wiles Road, Suite 102 A.
Jen Russon is a freelance writer and English Language Arts teacher. She has published two novels to Amazon Kindle and lives in Coral Springs with her family.