Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Bang on the Drum All Day!

With the passing of the Metallica concert, it had got me thinking about my own musical background.

Back in my formative years, I always wanted to be in band. I was a premeditated band nerd. However, my family wasn't exactly rolling in the dough to buy me a new instrument of my choice, so my options were limited.

I was weighing my choices. Some instruments, the school provided. They were the big, brass ones: tuba, baritone, french horn. My grandfather, a huge classical music aficionado, encouraged the french horn. "It's a beautiful instrument," he lamented. Beautiful instrument AND I could use the school horns. Everyone wins.

So, Heather begins to play the french horn. The school had extra horns, so they gave me one to take home to practice on. Mom's face fell when I lugged the big case through the front door. After a couple weeks of practice, my parents beseeched me to practice immediately after school, before they came home from work.

"It sounds like a moose in heat," my mother complained.

Undaunted, I continued through the year with the french horn. Our first year band experience culminating in a huge concert which featured every band, starting with middle school, and graduating all the way up to high school symphonic band. My parents took their place, among the throng of other parents who probably wished they were somewhere else, on the bleachers in front of the 6th grade band, my band.

There's a funny thing about french horns. Yes, they are a beautiful instrument, if the person knows how to play it. However, first year band nerds can't play their way out of a paper bag, the french horn is limited to the pah-pah, proceeding the oomp of the tuba while the rest of the band eeks out some semblance of a melody. My parents, sitting in the bleachers, noticed that was all I played.

Shortly after that concert, my parents found a used drum set for me. I approached my music teacher (who was somewhat of an ass) and asked if I could switch instruments. He never really liked me, and to this day, I don't know why. Anyway, he grudgingly said I could switch, but I had to learn the drumming fundamentals, on my own, during summer break. He would, in no way, help me catch up to the other drummers in the section.


So, during the summer, I taught myself how to play the drums. I taught myself traditional sticking, modern sticking, the rudiments of percussion. The level of difficulty increases because there was no internet at the time. None. Popular kids carried pagers, which looking back in retrospect, I realize was retarded.

I spent my summer sitting on my front porch...sticks, practice pad, and book. It got to the point that I would play on anything, with anything: butter knives on the dining room table being my second favorite (the knives had good bounce). It drove my mom bananas. It's the curse of living with a drummer...the constant tapping.

School began again, and I nervously walked to band. My teacher, still the consummate asshole, stood with his arms folded, wanting to see what I had learned. In less than fifteen minutes, I checked off an entire year of competencies, even putting me ahead of the ones who had started the previous year.


During the next couple of years, the teacher learned to respect me. He even began giving me lessons on how to play the trap. While there are girls in drumming, a girl behind a full trap set is still uncommon, especially back then. I took to it like a fish to water.

The summer before my junior year, my parents divorced, and my father moved us to live in Nebraska. By then, I was a full-fledged band nerd (but drummers were the cool ones), and I decided that I wanted to be a music teacher.

I had come from a band that won awards right and left. I had moved to a band that routinely tied for last place. It was awful. My first day of band, I damn near ran out of the room crying, it was so monumentally bad. To make matters even worse, the "1st chair drummer" had all the choice spots, leaving the rest of the section doing peripheral percussion...triangle, tamborine, cowbell, or whatever SNL made fun of at the time.

Later that year, the our section leader suffered an injury to his arm at a wrestling meet. At the time, we were preparing for our spring concert. A couple of the songs featured the trap. RayK, our music teacher, peered into the drum section and looked at the other three boys, "Which of you is going to play Todd's part?"

The other three male drummers in our section just looked at each other and shook their heads. They didn't know how to play a trap. I looked at the other girl in my group and she shook her head. I stood up, grabbed my drumsticks and took my seat behind the set. RayK's eyebrows shot up to his hairline.

"What are you doing?"
"I'm going to play."
"You know how to play that thing?"
(eye roll) "Yes"
"Play me something."
I scowled. "Just start the band and I will join in."

Meanwhile, the rest of the band had turned in their seats, eyeing me with doubt. Still the new girl, still the relative unknown. RayK shrugged and raised his baton.

At the end of the song, everyone turned in their seats, eyebrows raised. I just smiled sweetly.

After the spring concert, I was known as that "Little Girl Who Plays the Drums". People even pointed at me at the local gas station/supermarket. Farmers!

So now, I'm in my mid-thirties. I haven't touched a set of drumsticks since high school, but I still tap out cadences on occasion. The urge to play is still as fresh as it was back then. It wasn't until I watched Lars Ulrich play, that I realized just how much I missed it.

Which is why I'm considering buying a drum set. Everyone needs a hobby, and it's better than snorting blow.

So, if you hear banging coming from my house, pay no mind. At least it's not a french horn.


IDigSmartLadies said...

I've always loved the French horn. The horn, playing the part of Romeo in Tchaikovsky's "Romeo and Juliet", has long been one of the most haunting bits of music to me.

Nuke said...

Trust me, any friends house where I hear banging I let well enough alone. Some things are enjoyed best with a smaller audience.

I am sure you will get in shape quickly tho, interest in playing is usually a good start. I was made to play the organ (church not genital) as a kid and hated every minute. As a result, as a musician I was a fine technician.