Saturday, April 10, 2010

Terrence and the Paradiddle

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.


  1. Absolutely, what a great story, and I'm so glad you shared it here! It reminded me of two experiences I had with my own daughter when she was a girl.

    When she was in the 6th grade talent show, she chose to play Edleweiss on her flute, while most of the other kids did the usual lipsynching to popular songs, or silly tricks, whatever. When Melody played her flute, there wasn't a sound in the room except for the sweet sounds of the flute. And I sat there with tears streaming down my face, tears of pride in her not just for her flute playing, but for her courage in attempting it in public for the first time. She went on to play the flute thru highschool, then it fell to the wayside, but I've never forgotten the feeling in those few minutes of time.

    When she was in highschool, one of her best friends was a guy that played piano, was even going to a local college to study under a master pianist. She'd been playing since her grandmother taught her in grade school thru when we moved in 1988, and did fairly well and enjoyed it. But when Scott would come over he would play for us, over and over at my request and receiving my praises, something happened in her to make her lose interest in her own joy at playing the piano. I think she forgot that she was playing for the fun of it, and let Scott's talent overshadow her to the point that she maybe lost confidence in herself. Whatever the reason, I think she's always regretted that she let whatever happened derail her. However, she's resurrected her interest and rusty memory in piano with her boys, and hopes to be able to at least spark a desire in them to learn.

  2. What a great story and what a great feeling when our children's talent surpasses our dreams. I think Terrence was lucky to have a great dad who delighted in his talent, even when it surpassed his own.

    What a great story. Thanks for sharing it with us.


  3. I am reminded of the time I was in Army Basic Training. I was walking guard duty on the perimeter of our company grounds when one of the training Sergeants came up and asked me if I wanted to go to West Point. I actually said, "No." One of the most prominent deciding points I can recall.

    Your excellent writing underscores an important theme I have found. Life is made up of "profound trivialities." You illustrate the concept very nicely. Little things add together to make our very lives.

    What if I had said, "Yes?" Hmmm.

  4. I reckon I would've misted up myself. Good drumming does that to me. I reckon you could've helped out North Dakota State's drum line no end.

    Marvelous story of a father passing something on to his son - and his son actually caring.

  5. I'm a sucker for father/son stories. Loved this one. Terrence may be holding the next little drummer boy in his lap in that very lovely photo.

  6. ahh, what a wonderful story to share. You've got us all sentimental and chocked up! Here's hoping your lovely little grandson gives you many more heartwarming memories. Caroline x

  7. Great story Jerry. I love how you can move a story from your youth to your grandson and never miss a beat. Must be the drummer in you!

  8. I was getting teary eyed too. What a great and proud moment when he played your peice.

    Very sweet post!

  9. Jerry--Great story. I love moments like that when the unexpected happens and really rocks one's perspective.

    Thanks for sharing!

  10. As usual, the world disappears when I am reading your stories...This was a really, really good one. Goosebumps generating, even.

    The drums are one of my all time favorite intruments. Wish I knew how to play, but I am pretty good when I'm paradiddling. ;)

  11. You absolutely gave me goosebumps with this story...when he started his solo....I'm so damn proud of him and I don't even know him!!

    Beautiful, endearing, lovely glad you shared!

  12. Beautiful story, beautifully written. The awe we feel when we watch our children function competently, fluidly, in a world that--let's face it--scared us to death for them when they were little and has only grown more complex and crazy, since...well, that's as close to heaven on earth as we can ever hope to get. We might not know it at the time, but it's why we have them: to be awestruck by life again and again.

  13. Great story Jerry! Nothing, absolutely nothing compares to being proud of the individuals our children have become! I celebrated with you and was so touched by your story.

  14. Hello anybody reading this. I am Terrence, son of Jerry and the drummer he spoke of in this blog post. Much of what dad said was true, although just a couple details seem to be hazy on ole' pop's thinking cap. I did the solo he taught me, but there were no fancy stick twirling. I was lucky enough to just get through it without sticks flying out of my hands! Also the college jazz band I was in played in Carnegie Hall in New York, not Lincoln Center (a little detail, but I do feel some pride in saying I did Carnegie).

    One other little detail dad may have forgotten, but I never did. When I was in jr high still learning the drums and starting to get that glimmer of talent my dad passed onto my genes he sat me down and was showing me the finer points of musicianship. The point of this lesson was to show me there is more to music than just playing the notes. He was trying to show me how to get into the music and become one with it. At the time the whole thing was way over my head and I thought dad was a little daft. Such is the mind of a up and coming teenager.

    Maybe I didn't "get it" back then, but the lesson stuck with me when it counted. In high school I started getting better. Much better. It was getting to the point where I needed to choose a path or method that would define me as a musician. Sure I could go the same path as just about every set drummer dreams and find every excuse to show off my speed and abilities via drum fills and solos. However what dad taught that one single time grew a seed in me to be the kind of drummer that becomes one with the ensemble instead of the one that stands out.

    Now the most important thing for me musically was to be one with the music I am doing. To understand the nuances of the other instruments and how my performance can enhance the entire song. To have an emotional connection to the music that puts you in a higher plane than just listening to notes and beats.

    Not only was I still a telented drummer who could do the fast tricks if I needed to, but now I was also the "go to" guy for other high school organizations. When the string orchestra needed a percussionist I was their first choice. Then the choral group was doing a pop singing show their students would come to be to be in their band. Even when it came time for the big musicals to start production that La Porte was known for back in those days I was the only person they came to as the pit drummer. Even in college my music instructor told me he liked my talent for feeling the ebb and flow of the ensemble (not to mention another jazz professor heard me play a song with just quarter notes tapping on a cymbal and mentioned to his colleague "now THAT's reall drumming").

    So yeah. Dad taught me a pretty neat trick to show off when I am doing a drum solo that may have impressed the girls back then. However the other lesson, the one on "zen and the art of the musician", carried a much, much deeper meaning to me. Thanks pops. Never forget you helped make the artist that I am today.


  15. The paradiddle is the best thing to learn these well with because
    it naturally executes them if you accent the first note of each
    side. If you look at just the right hand: The first accent
    (first stroke) is a down stroke (start high, end low) and the
    next is the double stroke which are both taps. That stroke is
    an up stroke.

    paradiddle book
    paradiddle exercises


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