Looking For The Next Little Drummer Boy or Girl

AT FIRST YOU THINK YOU HEAR IT, but maybe it’s an auditory illusion, an aural mirage born of anticipation. Now though; for certain. There it is, the distance sounds of a marching band drumline. At first, standing along the parade route, you hear it and then you feel, then they come into view. It’s a powerful thing, at least to an aspiring young drummer who’s been banging on pots with wooden spoons since his first Christmas parade.

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Words can’t express, so I’ve included a video, if you’re so inclined, to one of the finest drumlines in the nation, the Cadets drumcorp. Notice the near perfect precision, the dynamics, the textures. This is the product of hours of individual and team practice and discipline.

yea.org

yea.org

Among my favorite childhood memories is going with my family to downtown Tulsa for the Christmas parade, hearing the distance drum cadence of that first marching band as they approached. 

Not too many years later I got to be in a drumline in that wonderful parade and on marching fields and parade routes from Tulsa to Washington D.C. across Canada and Europe. And, to this day, half a century later, I still love to sit at a drum set and play. I am so grateful to my parents for making all that possible and for band directors, percussion teachers, mentors and role models for cultivating the seeds. 

I have two sons. I am happy to say that they are both fine drummers. Watching them learn to play and develop their own style was so fun. And, they are still playing today.

Much has been written about the research done on the value of music and music education to a broader education application. Study after study confirms the impact on student grades, discipline and even school attendance. Let’s not forget the impact of music therapies of all kinds: physical, emotional, mental and certainly spiritual.

I am saddened and concerned knowing that school music programs are being cut or eliminated because of dire financial straits in our educational system, but also by misguided motives and priorities and politics. 

I am also concerned that our churches, once a fertile ground for budding musicians to have an opportunity to grow and develop have structured worship music more like a concert, with young aspiring musicians relegated to the role of spectator.

So, where are the seedbeds, opportunities, the classrooms, the labs, the practice rooms, the studios, the stages for the next generation of musicians? Maybe it will still happen in quiet, individual ways and on YouTube. Maybe for many they will never know the wonder of getting their first instrument for fifth grade band and discovering the richness of music.

Scripture says that old men will dream dreams. Well, I’ve been dreaming. I’ve managed to gather some resources, not a lot, but some, and I want to use these resources to help the next little drummer girl or drummer boy get their start, by helping them get the instrument they need and maybe a few lessons to get them off to a good start.

I’m not interested in just buying drums and sticks so some kid can drive his mother to insanity. The percussive arts aren’t for everyone, yet in a way they are. All music takes a lot of practice and commitment. Of course, not all will play like the Cadets Drumline, or Jack DeJohnette, or John Bonham, or Eric Harland, but they can, with practice and hard work, find joy and a sense of accomplishment, and make a difference.

So, maybe you can help me find the next one. Do you know of someone, maybe in the 8 to 14 or so age range, who has shown musical interest, who would have some level of encouragement from home, but may not have the resources to get the equipment or expertise to get started?

Feel free to reach out to me. My email is hey.pops.hey@gmail.com

Maybe you’re someone who would want to join in and help a young drummer get a start. Maybe you have a snare drum, a decent drum set, or a few cymbals stacked up, gathering dust in a corner, that you would want to donate. Let me know.

You can have a parade without horses or floats, or “Miss Whatever” perched on the back of a convertible. You don’t even have to have a Santa Claus at the tail end. But, there’s no way to have a parade without a drumline (and I mean that in a big, broad metaphorical sense).

Put your fingers on the inside of your wrist. If you can’t feel the pulse of your internal rhythm section—your parade has passed. The cadence is that important.

The beat goes on, the beat goes on
Drums keep pounding a rhythm to the brain
La de da de de, la de da de da
— Sonny & Cher

Bang The Drum

Q: What do Mr. Tambourine Man and Mrs. Robinson have in common? 

A: The same drummer played on both recordings—a phenom named Hal Blaine.

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Check out this PARTIAL list of recordings where Hal was the drummer. Did I mention this is a partial list? The actual number of recorded songs where Hal was the drummer exceeds 4,000. Can we all agree, this is what prolific looks like? 

Be True to Your School, The Beach Boys
The Boxer, Simon & Garfunkel
Bridge Over Troubled Waters, Simon & Garfunkel
California Dreamin’, The Mamas & The Papas
Can’t Help Falling In Love, Elvis Presley
Dedicated to the One I Love, The Mamas & The Papas
God Only Knows, The Beach Boys
Good Vibrations, The Beach Boys
Help Me Rhonda, The Beach Boys
Homeward Bound, Simon & Garfunkel
I Got You Babe, Sonny & Cher
MacArthur Park, Jimmy Webb (Richard Harris version)
Monday Monday, The Mamas & The Papas
Never My Love, The Association
Rhythm of the Rain, The Cascades
These Boots Are Made for Walkin’, Nancy Sinatra
Up, Up and Away, Jimmy Webb (The 5th Dimension)
Wichita Lineman, Jimmy Webb (Glen Campbell)
Wouldn’t It Be Nice, The Beach Boys

As I was playing my own drum set the other day, I became aware that my favorite patterns, rhythms and fills are those I learned from listening to songs like these, and thus I tend to and have always tended to play like Hal Blaine—a drummer most non-drummers have probably never heard of. Hal had a significant impact on a significant point of view for me.

Stay with me here: In drum lessons, I learned that the typical pattern in pop and rock drumming is to play the snare drum with your left hand on beats 2 and 4, along with the your left foot on the hi-hat. My cousin Beth Ann, who is a few years older than me, had a solid collection of 45 rpm records. One day, while visiting her house, I heard a song called “Be My Baby” by The Ronettes, coming from her bedroom. “WHAT IS HAL BLAINE DOING?” I thought to myself, (even though I didn’t know at the time that Hal was the drummer). He was playing a hard snare drum shot on the 4th beat ONLY! Can you do that? Can you, so to speak “march to the beat of your own drum?”

It changed my point of view instantly. The next time our little rock band played at a school “mixer”, not only did I not play the snare drum on 2 and 4 consistently, I actually played on the “and” of 4 occasionally. I felt like a rebel with a cause.

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While Hal had an influence my drumming, these songs influenced my psyche. There, I said it out loud. So, for all those traveling evangelists who warned frightened parents about the impact of the rock n roll; yes! yes it does. You were right. I am a much happier senior adult today because of the influence of rock music. Listening to the oldies that were the big hits when I came of age confirms it. I have no idea what “House of the Rising Sun” is really about, but I am transported to a wonderful place every time I hear it.

Fortunately for me, I was exposed to a wide spectrum of music. So not only do I stop whatever I’m doing and listen when I hear The Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, I also love to hear John Phillip Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever”, and “Leaning On the Everlasting Arms”.

Here’s the thing about stepping into dogma, like saying the snare must be played on beats 2 and 4; or “christian” music is the only music God loves, you miss the wonder of MORE.

Today, we are all asked to take a side, to choose a pigeon hole to be pigeon holed into. Choose your news source: MSNBC or FOX News. Choose your party. Pick a side. Repeat the creed. Sign the pledge. Line up. Know the “Truth”.

But what if maybe, from time to time, we actually stopped to think, to listen, to not start every discussion with OUR point of view. What if, every now and then, even if we believe unwaveringly that everyone should play on 2 and 4, we let someone else bang their dang drum on EVERY SINGLE BEAT! (Really who wants to hear a song where everyone is playing the same beat anyway.)

I just finished a wonderful little book by Madeleine L'Engle called “Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art”. I would like to share a quote from the book. And, I would like to humbly ask you to do something: as you read this quote, think first how it might apply to you (because, I’ll admit, our first thoughts on reading something like this is to think of all the people who need to hear a message like this, and miss that fact that maybe we need to hear it too).

“We all tend to make zealous judgments and thereby close ourselves off from revelation. If we feel that we already know something in its totality, then we fail to keep our ears and eyes open to that which may expand or even change that which we so zealously think we know.”

The other day I heard someone use the term “political climate” to describe the warring worldviews of the day. I though to myself, “Maybe climate change wouldn’t be a bad thing to wish for.”

Back to Mrs. Robinson and Mr. Tambourine Man for a minute—

I don’t know what kind of place she was in, but check out the first verse of Paul Simon’s lyric:

We'd like to know a little bit about you for our files
We'd like to help you learn to help yourself
Look around you all you see are sympathetic eyes
Stroll around the grounds until you feel at home
— First verse of “Mrs. Robinson”

Now suppose as she’s strolling around the grounds she meets Mr. Tambourine Man. They strike up a conversation. We hear him say as they leave one another:

Let me forget about today
Until tomorrow
— last line of last verse of Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man”

And maybe, just maybe, as he is walking away she would say to him (because she heard someone say it to her):

And here's to you, Mr. Tambourine Man,
Jesus loves you more than you will know
Wo wo wo
God bless you, please, Mr. Tambourine Man,
Heaven holds a place for those who pray
Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey
—somewhat edited chorus from “Mrs. Robinson”

#MarchingToMyOwnBeat #Peacemaking

Rum Pa Pum Pum

I thought I wanted to be an athlete. Baseball would have been my first choice. I loved listening to the St. Louis Cardinals on the radio and going to watch their farm team, the Tulsa Oilers. Alas, it was not to be. I was tall enough but lacked any kind of mass, muscle or other. Maybe basketball could be my game!? Sorry, no. Turns out the Jenks elementary team only had ten uniforms and there were at least eleven guys with more talent or parents who could pressure the coach.

Oh but fifth grade brings hope for everyone. That’s the year you can join the band. I have no doubt that right now there are excited, aspiring, budding musicians in schools all across the land choosing their instrument. For some, choosing the right instrument is a dilemma. Not for me. I knew that I would be a drummer. If you can have a calling at ten years old, I had one.

By junior high, there’s a separation of sorts. Tough guys play football, the rest are in the band. But drummers get a bit of a pass (or at least that’s the way I worked it out in my own mind). I learned from my grade school band director that “drummers are a necessary evil”. He would have had a band full of clarinet and trumpet players if he could have figured out how to march in a parade without a drum cadence.

The great thing about this healthy tension was that it gave us drummers a bit of a bad boy vibe (or at least that’s the way I worked it out in my own mind). Early in my drumming life, The Beatles brought their brand of rock and roll to America and my fate was sealed. I would soon be the next Ringo Starr. Now all I needed was a set of Ludwig drums (like Ringo’s) and a couple of guitar players and a bass player.

I’ll never forget the day, my dad picked me up from school and took me home to find that first set of drums. I’m sure there were many times my parents thought, “What have we done?” I practiced and practiced and practiced some more. Finally, I found those band mates and before long we were playing at school dances and “Teen Towns”, and life was good.

Here is a picture of the stage band at Jenks High School in 1968 or so. That’s me at my drum set I so dearly loved.

Jenks High School Stage Band. 1968.

Jenks High School Stage Band. 1968.

In retrospect, I am glad I didn’t have the wherewithal to play sports. No doubt it would have been fun. To be able to say that I played football for the mighty Jenks Trojans, undoubtedly the most dominating high school football tradition in the state, as I sat around recovering from knee replacement surgery.

But, I wouldn’t trade a state football championship for the experiences that being a percussionist have afforded—the opportunities, friendships and world travel all possible because of music. I wish I could look up some of those old band mates, directors, and teachers to reminisce a bit.

Fast forward to the present. Both of our sons are drummers, and so for many years we have had a drum set in our house, even though I sold my drums years ago. Just recently our youngest son married a musician and moved out and took his drums with him. I have missed him and his drums.

I had a thought: maybe I’ll put a little kit together, find some drums on eBay or Craigslist, keep my eye out for some used cymbals. So in a casual search of the double-u, double-u, double-u, I learned that Ludwig, just this year, came out with a brand new drum set that is a “vintage” replica of my first drum set, right down to an exact color match and lug design.

Then as luck would have it, I found a demo set of these amazing drums at a drum shop in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Now these beauties are set up in our home and I am having a great time living in the past from time to time.

If there are any old guitar players out there who know how to play Wipe Out and House Of The Rising Sun and Louie, Louie, give me a call. Maybe we’ll be ready to play a few proms next spring.

The Magic Of A Perfect Pair

Sometimes "writer's block" is real; and it sounds like this (cue video):

Sometimes, I have several ideas for a post and can't decide which one to develop. So, I try to weave the ideas together into one theme. This is an example. (If it seems like I'm straining to make the connection, you wouldn't be wrong.)

FIRTH: My favorite drumsticks are made by the Vic Firth Company. Vic's sticks have a great feel and are "tuned together". They market the sticks as "the perfect pair".

Over the weekend we saw Woody Allen's new film "Magic In The Moonlight" starring: Emma Stone and Colin Firth. They were a perfect pair in this film. If you like Woody's films, you should see this one.

THECOND: Speaking of drumsticks, drummers use one of two grips: traditional or matched. If you care about the details of these two, which I realize is highly unlikely, Wikipedia has great explanations.

I began playing drums in the 60s. I use a traditional grip. My two sons started playing many years later and both use matched grip. I might assume that as their father, I have not had as much influence on them as the rock drummers they watched play with matched grip. Then I could tremble, wondering what else they picked up from the "world" over the influence of the more traditional Significant Others.

Without a doubt, our cultures and the traditions of our tribes, run deep. And, as it goes with advancing years, I tend to think the old ways of doing and viewing things are the best. Whether it's how to hold your drumsticks, or how whether you prefer drumsticks over breasts (speaking of poultry of course), we tend to stand by our preferences.

THIRD: Colin Firth's character in Magic In The Moonlight is stubbornly set in his ways. Emma Stone's character works a bit of magic though, and his walls come tumbling down. Funny how that works. Perfect pairs morph through being tuned together--listening, paying attention, learning.

Emma Stone & Colin Firth

Emma Stone & Colin Firth

Recently I was at a meeting and a guy was doing a talk on "crucial communication". He gave an example of the importance of communication by reading an advertisement from CraigsList. It went something like this:

Motorcycle for sale. Like new. Only 500 miles. It is a great bike and I hate to have to sell it, but apparently I misunderstood when my wife said, "Do whatever the hell you want."