We've all seen diagrams of the brain, the familiar frontal lobes, the cerebral cortex, the medulla oblongata, and so on. There's right brain for blowing bubbles in a meadow, there's left brain for doing your tax return, there's the place that's supposed to control your urge to kill, the place that makes you know when to double down on a pair of fours in blackjack, and the place that comes to life when you hear a champagne cork pop.
I just love that popping sound, not necessarily because it means something good to drink; I just like the sound. I like the rhythm of train wheels, too, and the buzz of the beans in the coffee grinder. I play the drums in a couple of symphony orchestras here in Florida (Tampa Bay Symphony and the South Shore Symphony Orchestra, both of which have concerts upcoming), and I guess that means the percussion zone of my brain has crowded out other, more useful zones, like the one about doubling down.
A clarinet was in the closet at home when I was ten, so I started on that. But I soon yearned to play the drums. Expressing a desire to change instruments, however, would have shown weakness of mind. Also, Girls Didn't Play Drums, and the ones who did had to endure constant questions as to whether they really were a girl or not. If you were a true girl, you played the flute or clarinet.
In college marching band I played saxophone but made friends with burnout drummers and, when the season was over, became one of them. Under their pot-smoke-impregnated wings, I learned that halfhearted drum playing earns you a spot in the toilet of public opinion, while playing drums with concern and heart earns you nothing. But while you're doing it, you feel like you're on the summit of Everest.
And that's the key: to go into any arena and look for the thing that inspires you most.
Playing percussion, I learned you don't just hit it; you play with taste, you listen to the ensemble, and you acknowledge your place in the back row as coolest of the cool.
A trumpet player once said to me, "You must have nerves of steel to play the cymbals." And it's true. You know the old saying, "If you're going to make a mistake, make a big one"? Well, you get your chance if you're on cymbals. Unlike the violin, where you can look at nine other people playing the same thing and go, "Oh, yeah, I'm lost right now, but I'll come in when they do," there's nobody else poised to strike those two heavy spun brass plates, whether fortissimo or quad-piano. You've got to be ready, and do it.
Over time, I've felt more and more driven to simply show up and serve the music.
What inspires you?
[Photo of stick tray by ES.]
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