I Am 21 Years Old Today: I’ve Got A Story For You

Hi again and thanks for all the birthday wishes, I appreciate it. I don’t have too much planned for celebrations this year other than maybe cranking the iTunes library a little bit louder than usual and eating a few more peanut M&Ms at my desk.

Taylor Swift- Blank Space

Back when I was in elementary school around about 4th grade we had an assembly. At the assembly there was a couple of people with a whole bunch of music equipment. The purpose of the assembly was to get kids from my grade interested in the band program because this was, for whatever reason, when they wanted to start to teach kids a musical instrument. I signed up for the percussion section of the school band.

My brother had already been playing guitar for a while at this point and I can confidently say that I was present for each and every one of his performances (whether I wanted to or not). He played in various music ensembles for what I remember as the majority of my childhood under the direction of man named Bill Egan from the Bill Egan’s CD Workshop program. The bands would practice every week up in a room behind the South Shore Music corner store and after a few months they had a final sort of Battle of The Bands-type performance. This was great because we got to see what the other bands had been practicing over the past few months, some were better than others but it was fun to watch nonetheless.

I don’t think there are any recordings of it anywhere but at one of these performances a group of kids did a very STOMP-esque performance like this:

I remember being in awe the entire time and afterwards I knew I wanted to play drums.

I started taking private drums lessons not soon after and once the music program was offered at school I took advantage of it. I had fun but It was a lot for a kid in the 4th grade, I had to carry around this extremely heavy xylophone bag to an in-school band practice at 1 o’clock in the afternoon every Wednesday. Then I came back to class and would get to do all the work I missed in that hour for homework that night. This hour got moved to an after school event after a while from 3 to 4pm. Every Thursday night from 6-8pm I would bring my own snare drum to the high school to practice in the concert band again. At the same time, my private drum lessons down at South Shore Music were on Tuesday evenings at 5pm for a half hour before being moved to Wednesday and I think even Mondays at one point.

Once middle school came I was able to drum in the marching band and the jazz band so I did. In middle school we didn’t have a band seminar period yet so one of the art or music classes would be replaced with a band practice on a rotating schedule from C days to E days. Then I would go back to the classes I missed on the off days and pickup any work I missed and do it for homework. Jazz band practiced on Thursday nights at the middle school after the middle school concert band practiced. Every time there was a parade that the middle school marching band could march in we did.

I debated playing drums in high school for a little bit but ultimately I ended up doing it. I didn’t know if I would be able to swing taking high school classes and also handle all the stuff going on with band. The high school band schedule was even a little more hectic than before except now we had a band seminar period designated for the concert band practices so no one had to be pulled out of class. Every Thursday from 6-8pm we would don the marching band equipment yet again but this time practice a field show to play during halftime at all the home games for the Football season. I still don’t think I’ve been to a high school football game where I wasn’t also playing drums in the stands and in the field show. I spent a lot of time in the cold with my band friends. We would march in every parade often two or three miles at a time in full uniform with drum harnesses on.

I stopped playing in the jazz band because I was late for being early to a concert one night and I was told I couldn’t play. It was kind of upsetting at the time but I really wasn’t that into jazz band anyway and I had a full plate with everything else. I also stopped taking private drums lessons because I was so busy. I took drum lessons for about six years, with three teachers, and did four ensembles. Not soon after this I became part of a blues band with my friends called Blue RevivalWe played a few gigs here and there including opening for the high school talent show my sophomore year and did an interview on the radio once. Now jazz and blues was never really my thing, I didn’t mind playing it but this was right around the time I bought my first DSLR and was getting heavy into photography. My friend Bryan Counter played bass in the blues band at the time but I knew he would rather play drums. Since I wanted to take pictures I decided he could take my place, someone else would rotate to bass guitar and everything worked itself out.

From there I spent almost all of my free time in marching band or taking pictures. Marching band got kind of monotonous after a while. Every field show and every parade, every thursday practice for four years. By the time college rolled around I didn’t want to do marching band anymore but I did see to it that I completed all the band stuff I was doing in high school and ended up getting a scholarship.

That was almost three years ago now. I took a lot of time away from drums and did other things. For the most part it’s been nice to have the time away from drums and the often busy schedule I associate with the high school concert and marching bands. I think after a while it’s easy to get sick of playing the same things all the time and reading sheet music, especially when what had originally inspired me to play were things like STOMP and Blue Man Group which have a very different feel, a very different groove separate from the rigidity of concert band music. I think sometimes it was very boring because I somehow ended up playing triangle and crash cymbals in concerts on more than one occasion. Also not to mention when I was playing drums for the show choir pit band and we crashed the car on the way home in the rain. When I was asked back to play another year for the pit band I said no.

I never really played much of what I wanted to play on drums, it was always sheet music that I felt like I had to practice because I had a lesson or there was a performance coming up at school. Once I started college I was free to pursue music on my own terms which largely involved computer programs. It’s been a sort of pet project of mine to fiddle and experiment with music inside of computers in the last few years and unfortunately I think a lot of my drumming skill has atrophied because of it.

In the last week or two I’ve been trying to think of what I wanted for my birthday. It used to be so easy to point and say, “I want that thing right there. That’s what’s going to make me happy,” but lately it’s proven very difficult. I’ve already got a lot of the photography gear I wanted and while buying another camera is nice it’s not like it’s going to make me a better photographer. It’s not like my camera needs to be replaced, it works just fine. I noticed that for most of the things I buy I try to think of at least two reasons to justify the purchase. If I can’t think of two reasons then it’s not worth buying.

Since I’ve become an Adobe Certified Expert in Photoshop I’ve found myself branching out and wanting to be more skilled at a variety of things like 3D modeling and Electronics. In the midst of all that I thought of playing drums again. Drums are still my favorite instrument and I love listening to songs with lots of percussion and nice sizzley hi hats. This one time I wore my high school band sweatshirt to my friend’s dorm on campus once and all of my friends went,”You play drums?” and I thought how strange it was that I had finally found a group of people that knew me only as Alex-The Photographer and nothing else and how I should probably change that soon.

So for my 21st birthday I took about a hundred dollars and bought some drum supplies, a drum dial, and some dampening materials to help me tune and sculpt the sound of my drums. My attitude has changed a lot since I’ve been focused on photography. I feel like I’ve developed an almost surgical precision towards photography and I’m looking to bring this new perspective back towards drumming and back towards making music. When I started playing drums I didn’t even really listen to music apart from Avril Lavigne’s 2002 smash album Let Go and I was quoted by my first drum teacher as wanting to be “like Steve Vai” in my first drum lesson, which is dumb because Steve Vai doesn’t even play drums- he plays guitar.

I think I’ve matured enough to take another honest crack at playing drums, not start over, but do things the way I would do them now and do them right. A lot of people like to start their kids on music early and I’m grateful that I did start early but I think there’s a lot to drumming that was beyond my comprehension for a long time. I never really attempted to tune my drums or play with a metronome on a practice pad. I never tried to play along with any of my favorite songs because I didn’t listen to a lot of music when I was younger.

I don’t think I could really appreciate the art of it. It’s not because I didn’t like drums though, it’s not that at all. I sort of equate my situation to those times when you sit down and watch an old childhood movie and you suddenly find so many more things that you missed the first time around. It’s like that.

I’m excited to see what new things I can learn and just how far I can go with drums and music now.

Give something a second go today for me.

-Alex

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