Stoyan Yankoulov-Stundzhi: My first drum set was made of buckets

Whether I am playing a club gig for 10 people or on a huge stage for 20,000 fans, I treat it the same

I have had the fortune of working with great musicians from a very early age, of appearing on international stages, and perhaps that is what has shielded me from vanity, overconfidence and cheap flattery, percussionist Stoyan Yankoulov-Stundzhi says in an interview to Europost.

 

 

Allow me a non-music question - does playing percussion instruments have any effect on the human body, more specifically the hands, and does it require some kind of special routine to maintain the skill?

Above all, every musical instrument requires long hours of practice. It is the same with the human body, as you tune the instrument and warm up playing it, you also train the respective part of your body - the mouth when it comes to wind instruments and the hands and feet in the case of percussion instruments. The more you play, the more your body adapts, becomes more resilient and fit for such strain.

Is it true that you make your own drumsticks?

- Yes, at first my father made them, but then I learnt the tricks of the trade myself. I have my own workshop where I use a lathe to make them, and my father still helps me and is still better than me.

Where did the spark come from, what was your first inkling that music would be your path in life?

I think my parents deserve a huge amount of credit for this. They are both connected to music, in one way or another. My father used to play the accordion, while my mother worked as a music teacher. Of course, the biggest impact came from my experience with live music - whenever my father played at home, I felt an irresistible urge to accompany him. I would drum on all sorts of surfaces with my hands and feet, so long as they could produce a sound, and I would catch the rhythm right away. So my parents bought me a piano and it became my gate to harmony, making music, and art. Then came music school, the National Academy of Music, the Big Band of the Bulgarian National Radio, and here I am now, still learning, even though I have students of my own, because they are all my teachers as well. So the spark is still there.

What kind of everyday objects did you use as makeshift percussion instruments? What was your first drum set?

I have played, and sometimes still play, on various metal and other types of objects such as pot lids, metal fuel containers, cans, cogwheels, bells, etc. It all depends on the sound I am looking for. I made my own very first drum set as a student out of buckets - seriously.

What kind of percussion instruments do you have now?

I have assembled quite the collection over the years, and this is only normal, but there are times that I really need several sets. There have been numerous occasions where I have had to play three venues in one day and in order for me to get from one place to the next in time I needed to set up drums in all three spots in advance, or it would not have been physically possible to do all the performances. Presently, I use Yamaha drums. Nearly six years ago, I was invited by the head of Yamaha Europe Thomas Capellmann to become one of the brand's faces. It is an honour I have never even dared to dream about, and I am grateful for the chance.

What were you like as a kid?

Maybe you should ask my parents or my fellow students of that time, but I could not have been much different from what I am now. I mean, not in character or disposition. To me, music has always been in first place and it continues to be to this day. I did not have time for shenanigans, or the inclination, to be honest. When you are internally driven by the desire to grow and develop in a particular field and to learn everything there is to know about it, even as a child you realise that this is your destiny and you simply must follow it steadfastly.

What are the meetings, made possible by music, which you will never forget?

I graduated from the National School of Music in Sofia having studied percussion instruments under Prof. Dobri Paliev. He was one of those people that you never forget and remain forever grateful to. He gave me what any young man embarking on his young career needs - he discovered my talent, showed me the way and gave me the freedom to spread my wings. The other major influence on my life happened when I was at the music academy. I joined the Big Band of the Bulgarian National Radio conducted by the great Vili Kazasyan. I worked with this consummate professional, musician and leader for seven years and every single day was a new learning experience for me. I have had the fortune of working with great musicians from a very early age, of appearing on international stages, and perhaps that is what has shielded me from vanity, overconfidence and cheap flattery. Whether I am playing a club gig for 10 people or on a huge stage for 20,000 fans, I treat it the same. I try to do my work the best way I can and convey the music's message to the audience. The interactions with great figures and the shows on major stages have only served to make me realise that I still have a lot to learn. And vice versa, when I am on a smaller stage, I would never dare to ignore the audience, on the contrary - I respect it, I know that every person who has gone to the trouble of coming to listen to you is important and it is your duty to give it your all. I know that my role is to be honest with every listener, to play as if it was my last time. Fans sense that and appreciate you all the more for it.

Who are you outside of music, in terms of hobbies, interests? How do you spend your free time?

I usually combine work with pleasure so my hobbies are also related to music. I like doing some work on my instruments, constructing. Sometimes I have to spend more time on the computer, mastering a piece or working on the designs for promotional materials for a project. I do not have that much spare time so I am grateful to my family and my wife for somehow adapting to my rhythm and giving me the peace I need. I spend my free time with them.

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Stoyan Yankoulov, also known as Stundzhi, is one of Bulgaria's most popular and renowned drummers and percussionists. Yankoulov formed the duo Elitsa & Stoyan to represent Bulgaria in the 2007 Eurovision Song Contest in Helsinki, and once again they represented the country in the 2013 Eurovision Song Contest in Malmo. Born on 10 September 1966, he can play the piano, the goblet drum, the traditional Bulgarian drum, the jaw harp and the drums. He has been blessed with opportunities to work in all genres that a musician can dream of, including jazz, pop and ethno. Stundzhi is said to be able to produce an orchestra sound on his percussion instruments, as if more than one person was playing.

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