I quit playing the drums a couple times – the first was around 9th grade. I was tired of lessons and practicing, didn’t have a very exciting musical outlet and frankly was more interested in skateboarding. I guess the break lasted about a year.
The second time was a more complex situation. I’d just completed my first year as a music major at DU and was disillusioned with school and overwhelmed by the work. Certainly I was struggling with laziness, had some of the little fish, big pond thing going, but there were also frustrated expectations and some bad experiences.
My girlfriend at the time was moving to Portland so I decided to follow. Another complex situation. I worked odd jobs, went to CD and book stores and spent time with her. During that year I didn’t play drums and considered selling my set.
To circle back to my time at DU, one of the main reasons I felt overwhelmed was because of my sudden exposure to SO MANY phenomenal drummers. I felt like there was no place for me. If I had a band, I would’ve hired one of them over me any day!
After leaving Portland I moved back to Denver and ended up playing again through some connections with musicians I had from DU. There were 2 main reasons I decided to start playing again and they are the inspiration behind this blog post.
First, I saw that there were more opportunities to play than there were drummers. They couldn’t be everywhere at once so I’d get chances to play by default if nothing else!!
Second, and much more importantly, I realized that I was the only one who could be me. I was the only one who could fully realize MY artistic voice and at some point, others would need or want the perspective that only I could bring. All I had to do was keep trying and hopefully someday I’d be in that position. Obviously there was no guarantee, except that if I didn’t try, it was guaranteed NOT to happen.
These were powerful, inspiring ideas for me that have helped buoy me along ever since.
Boy, dilemma . . . pick one!!!!
Well, this post was inspired by the film version of Phantom of the Opera which I re-watched this past weekend.
In my upbringing in a devout Christian community, I was left with the impression that one tribe of the Old Testament Jews – the Levites – were in charge of keeping the temple of worship and the religious traditions. One of their specialties was music. They were trained for years and not permitted to play publicly until well into their adult lives. The other tribes took care of them providing food, water, protection, etc. The idea that this existed makes me feel like I was born in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Currently our society seems to hold a low regard for the arts as a legitimate adult vocation. There isn’t really a system in place or “career track”. For teachers, absolutely. Performers, not so much.
To me, The Phantom of the Opera is a wonderful portrayal of the internal struggle the artist has between music and day-to-day life. The main character, Christine, is pulled between the Phantom (Gerard Butler from 300 singing!!!) who represents art, and the other dude, Raul I think, representing domestic life. It’s quite pronounced as Christine is faced with an ultimatum: she must choose one or the other. No hobbyist or weekend warrior here.
I have personally felt this struggle ever since it was time to decide what to study in college. I don’t think I’ve ever felt completely at ease with choosing music as my job. One of the reasons I love being in Los Angeles is it seems ok to be an artist there – there’s a lot of work and a lot of people doing it. There’s more space in that community to be an artist. I get why people move to music cities.
But where does that leave all the rest of the communities throughout the country and the musicians in them?
Music is an amazing medium of communication. It can be like having a heart-to-heart conversation with a bunch of people all at once. What if our culture had more of this? What if there were more opportunities for people to become excellent musicians and live music was a part of our local, day-to-day lives? I wish my kids and students could experience that.
Perhaps electronic music can help change this? That’s a whole ‘nother topic, though!!
I must’ve been about 21 years old. I’d had very little sleep, wasn’t eating well and was taking every musical opportunity that came my way – jazz gigs, experimental music, rock and latin gigs, musicals, jam sessions, etc.
The gig was playing jazz at Paris on the Platte in Denver. The crowd was younger (high school/college age) and focused on drinking coffee, intellectual conversation and being counter-culture. I was in a fog. I don’t even remember who the other musicians were.
I do remember my head snapping up and waking out of a dream to realize that I had nodded off and I was still on stage playing the DRUMS! I quickly looked around but none of the other musicians were looking at me and no one in the crowd flinched. After my heart stopped pounding I realized no one was listening. Like, no one.
And no one cared.
I began to wonder why I was there.
It was a clarifying moment.
I was scared and disappointed that night because I thought I was there to play music that would help bring everyone together and transport us all to that “other dimension” which music can and I thought I had destroyed that chance. Turns out I was just hired to do background music haha!! And really it was an opportunity to practice my craft and gain life experience. I was putting in time toward those “10,000 hours” so that in the future I could be ready to help facilitate those special musical experiences when they did happen. Seeing the situation for what it was and getting ahold of WHY I was there really helped.
There’s always the chance that someone’s listening, though 😉
My brother forwarded this video to me today.
Regardless of your end goal, playing an instrument is a huge plus. I’ve heard discussion around this before but the research done showing the effects of how playing an instrument is different from other activities is what really got me!!
‘Nough said – watch the video!!
My first “gig” with Matt Morris was a studio session in Denver at Macy Sound Studios. He was recording 2 more songs to go on his debut album for Tennman Records, Justin Timberlake’s record label. No Pressure.
We set up the drums, I warmed up, played too much (excitement and nerves) and then we sat down to talk about the ideas Matt had about the song. I knew right off the bat it was going to be harder than I thought. After about an hour of trying to actually play something appropriate I knew we were wasting our time. I wasn’t going to get it. Matt was very patient and we continued to try for quite awhile after that, but we didn’t even get close. I thought I was fired from the gig – like, not gonna work with Matt anymore period.
The main problem was that in over 25 years of drumming, I had worked very little with the metronome. When you’re recording, either the metronome or another part of the recording is always playing. As a result every little deviation from time is heard and there were TONS of them in my takes. I either had to focus on the metronome OR on being creative. I hadn’t developed the skill of playing creatively with the click.
Today, for whatever reason, I was thinking about what it means to have the head and the heart connected. All this means is, to take the analogy of speech, do you mean what you say? Many of us say the right things without really meaning them. Many of us say the wrong things and knowingly go against our hearts. In these cases, our heads and hearts are not connected and our ability to communicate is hindered. People can tell; you can tell.
In music, we connect with what’s in the heart of the artist. If the artist has hangups, snags, blocks in their mind while they are playing, the heart will not transmit. In my case, I hadn’t developed the skill of playing with the metronome and my mind was blocking my ability to connect with my heart.
Btw, I realize there’s plenty of vague terminology here, but I hope the gist of it comes across despite semantic shortcomings and philosophical differences. You know what I’m saying?! Haha!