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If Drums Were Lost
As a drum teacher, a student recently asked me what I would be like without drums. It took me a minute or two to come up with an answer that explained why I was losing what I was doing for income/hobby and more importantly what it meant to music. It’s hard to imagine life without the rhythms we hear in public. There is no such thing as rock ‘n’ roll, blues, funk, disco, reggae or jazz, because they all have rhythm. It’s hard to imagine what the world would be like without drums…
First, let’s go back to an era when music didn’t have drums. Author James Blades Percussion and their historywrote:
“With the adoption of Christianity by the Roman Empire, percussion was banned as indecent and immoral; drums and cymbals are especially noted as proof of the devil’s majesty“.
B.C., the drums were banished from the music scene and wrote their own history for the next eighteen hundred years. In time, the drum found its place on the battlefield as a means of intimidating the enemy and inspiring the spirit of an attacking army. New Orleans’ post-slavery and wartime drums were turned into “snare” and introduced to jazz by one man. And the drum set was born. What a chance encounter. What would our modern music be like if these special moments never happened? The drum never appeared on the battlefield or in the streets of New Orleans, and if it stopped, would we still be the same society that we are?
I think the whole world would be different. No drum corps at football matches, no marching bands, no drumming with pencils on your school desk! I doubt it, but I don’t think rock and roll would be the same without guitars, bass, piano, and drums to inspire vocals. Would the Beatles still be taking the world by storm without Ringo Groove? I highly doubt it. Would “Wipe Out” have been this great with only guitars – no. Or would In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida be such a hit without the drums? Yes. Muppets without animals – so unimaginable! Before Rock and Roll there was Jazz, Blues, Dixieland, Bebop, Swing, Country Western to name a few. They all had drums and were the beginning of Rock as we know it.
If you’re into soundtracks like I am, you’re usually sprinkled with drums and percussion to set the mood. Watching a movie without beats can be a completely different experience.
For me, it will completely change my life. My first memory of being interested in drums was in elementary school. I was probably in 3rd or 4th grade and during assembly the drummer of the school band (him Her name was Rhonda) did the usual “kit” fill and I was hooked. When I was offered band class in 6th grade, I wanted to play drums, but it was full of drummers, so I chose baritone instead. After graduating, I had the opportunity to try out a friend’s drum kit and eventually buy it from him. Within 2 years I was lucky enough to start playing in art groups and never looked back. I’ve played country, reggae, rock and many original projects with a drum kit, both on stage and in the recording studio. About 10 years into my career, I bought a conga after seeing a Toto concert with Lenny Castro on percussion. It was amazing to hear and see the power of the drummer/percussionist combination. I had to get into this part of the rhythm and find out more. I read Mickey Hart’s books Drumming on the Edge of Magic and Drum Planet which sent me on a journey to find the other side of drumming. Befriending a Senegalese drum master who taught me how to play, build and teach djembe drums led me to many other cultures and many other types of percussion instruments.
I was a very busy studio drummer in the Okanagan for a while, playing with some of the best bands of the day. I went through a trial tour to BC and Alberta and learned the “pay it forward” part of the business; There’s a whole book worth writing just about that! When my wife and I moved to a small town, there weren’t many drummers. A few bands already had a drum kit. So I switched gears and mostly played auxiliary percussion (congas, bongos, timbales, etc.). I was also drawn to several local theater productions, which was a great way to improve my reading skills.
Now I play in a weekend rock band and teach drum sets and hand drums to groups. I also build and repair almost anything related to drums and percussion, and plan to continue marketing some of the percussion instruments I’ve built over my 40-year career.
But life without drums? I can’t answer that because drums are part of my personal life. Music has a powerful effect on me when it’s enjoyed by people playing with other musicians and dancing. This is my meditation, my therapy. When I was a kid, I probably ended up in a sanitarium for knocking and banging on nearby objects and making weird percussive noises from whatever I was holding. At least I won’t be alone there. There will be a million other tappers and beaters like Ringo, Keith, the Animals.
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