If you place your hands flat on a table in front of you and tap out this sequence on the tabletop – right-left-right-right – you will have played a paradiddle. Then you can continue with tapping – left-right-left-left. Actually you can do this over and over getting faster and faster, and those tapping sounds you hear are pretty cool.
That is lesson one on learning to play drums.
You realize, of course, that the most insignificant events can ease you into unexpected choices, and each choice creates a completely separate path that your life will travel on. Maybe now I will have created a new cadre of drummers because of the simple paradiddle. Okay, maybe not.
I put in my apprenticeship in playing drums. I played the snare drum in junior high (that is what we called it then – not middle school) and high school and went on to study music in college. My drumming evolved into playing with jazz groups and even into the Navy where I ended up at the Navy School of Music where I started as a student then somehow became a theory instructor. The Navy assigned me with various Navy Jazz Bands and somewhere along the way I ended up playing with Les Brown.
That sounds so cool. If you are over fifty or sixty years old, that sounds really cool – because Les Brown and his Band of Renown was pretty damn famous.
Okay, I’ll fess up. Actually I was invited to sit in with that band when we were both performing at a Bob Hope USO benefit in Anaheim stadium.
I stopped playing many years ago. I realized that I was pretty good, but not that good. And I wanted a daytime job that actually paid real money.
So what happens when you make a decision that takes you tumbling on a completely different path in your life? Have all those previous years of experience gone to waste?
Of course not. We must capitalize on our history whatever it is – just as I did when my young son was almost in tears one day.
It was the summer between junior and senior high school and Terrence had received drum music he had to memorize before reporting to high school band practice. Yes, without twisting his arm or anything he elected to play drums in the school band at an early age. This new music he received was confusing and complex and he was completely overwhelmed. It was drum cadences.
Okay, now I need to explain something else. When you see a marching band in a parade, if you will pay attention, the drum line (that’s what we call the string of drummers) will continue playing when the rest of the band finishes their song. What they are playing are cadences – a rhythmic theme that provides something that the band can keep marching to. High school cadences are pretty complex because well – they think they are tough and their cadences are more intricate than the puny cadences of other high schools.
Terrence was scared. He looked at the music and surmised that there was no way he was good enough for the high school band and the whole world was crumbling around him.
Now you can see where my previous life path enters. I calmly looked at his new music and stated that it looked cool and that I figured he could whip this out in no time. So I worked with him teaching him to take it slowly one measure at a time. I played it with him slowly and we worked out the sticking (which hand plays what) – and within a week he was whipping through it. He hesitantly entered his freshman year in band and by his sophomore year he was section leader of the drum line.
Sometimes dads do things for dumb reasons which will result in something unexpected. Terrence was in the school marching band, concert band, and the jazz band. One day I entered his bedroom with a pair of drumsticks to show him something. I would like to say that I was going to patiently teach him something new which he could use to explore new realms in drumming. But that really isn’t true. It was more of a ‘look what I can do that you can’t do and I show you this so you will be amazed with me’ tactic.
All drummers can easily envision a drum set configuration.
There is the snare drum nestled between your legs, a tom or two just above the snare, the floor tom to your right, and then the various cymbals. This is a basic ‘trap set’. So when I sat on the bed next to Terrence and started using the sticks to play on my legs, he could easily envision which drum I was pretending to hit. What I was showing him was some fancy cross-sticking which is where the left drumstick crosses over the right stick to another drum and then the right stick crosses over the left. If done at high speed, it is very impressive with sticks flying all over the place and will produce a great sounding and impressive looking drum solo. As I hoped, Terrence sat there in awe.
A momentary kernel of stupidity on my part. I really didn’t consider the notion that I had just told Terrence that ‘he will never measure up to me’. I just exited his room too confident for my own good.
Was it a year later? I’m not sure. My wife and I attended an evening performance of the college jazz band that Terrence was part of. My eyes were, of course, critically glued to him. As the band performed I kept getting this proud but unsettling nudge of ‘damn, he’s good’. The band was pretty famous in its own right for performing highly technical music and producing superb musicians. They later ended up performing at the New York Lincoln Center and at the Montreaux Jazz Festival in Switzerland.
Of course we had the video camera glued on Terrence. Then they came to the last piece – the most ambitious and driving piece of music of the night. The band roared and Terrence looked calm and confident as he was locked in to the insane complexity of the song. Then suddenly the band stopped and the spotlight grabbed Terrence, and he started a soft drum solo that went on and on quickly building dynamically. As he neared the end of his solo suddenly his sticks were flying at an insane speed and I witnessed the exact thing that I played on my legs in his room that day – except faster and more precise, and I think with some stick-twirling thrown in there, than I could ever have imagined doing. Tears streamed down my face. I can’t explain it – it was if it was the culmination of everything. I wasn’t even aware of the crowd around me jumping to its feet in thunderous ovation. I just stood there crying. Even now my eyes tear up as I write this.
After the concert I approached Terrence. He brightly asked, “Did you see it?” I couldn’t answer. I could only hug him tightly.
What does it all mean? I don’t know. Like me, Terrence later chose to move away from music, although he had ventured into music composition as an avocation. He is a very spiritual person and has ended up as one of those computer gurus at a large corporation. He married Evelyn, the wonderful and kindest woman in the world and they have a beautiful son named Audei and he inherited his lovely step daughter Bessy.
The choices we make, and sometimes the insignificant choices, create new and unimagined paths for us. So many of us make poor choices and become trapped and that is what frightens us as parents. Terrence has carved his niche in the world with thoughtful choices. And I couldn’t be prouder. Will he, in a few years, be teaching Audei paradiddles? I can’t wait to see.