Easter Parade and Drumming

The older I get the more I find myself wondering why I became a drummer. Drums were my third instrument maybe even my fourth if I include rejection of the clarinet, that metal tube with the stick that made me gag like a doctor’s probe which I abandoned in high school for a trumpet, my second instrument after the piano which I practise daily: music of our high-flown European heritage; not the jazz, the bebop with its hipster zoot suits and pork pie hats and lingo that percolated throughgout the jitter bugging America I was thrown into, that infectious swinging rhythmic setting that permiates the psyches of Jack Kerouac’s characters wandering the streets and roads of 1940’s America owning nothing but the haunting stimulus of its rhythmic drive. A music that I have come to believe is nearly the age of the drum set itself, jazz the unique achievement of American culture shaped and driven by the rhythmic, sometimes chaotic pulse of drums, a music, which classical music cellist Yo Yo Ma at the Lincoln Center during this year’s birthday bash praises as a music that even today inspires composers of the classical European tradition.

This one of my many attempts to understand what possessed me to devote most of my teenage years and early youth to drumming was provoked by my finally viewing, the entire 1948 movie,Easter Parade, set in sumptuous upper class 1912 surroundings, curiously the same 1948 new year celebrated by Kerouac’ s destitute characters half way through On The Road. One of Easter Parade’s many frivolous dance scenes caught my attention, probably because I am a drummer; Fred Astaire extended his tap dance by transferring his shoe tap rhythms to his hands with a pair of sticks. His drum-like solo was intricately polished with ruff-like embellishments(tiny rolls), added I think to triplet (3 beat phrases). These varied rhythms especially with grace note ruffs are difficult to execute and take years of practise to perform as precisely as he was doing; so I asked my wife , a dancer, if she thought dancer Astaire was really the one performing these intricate drumming sounds. I had learned and practised these Astaire-displayed ruffs that decorated his melodic drum-stick rhythms whether or not I believed that drumming seriously equalled singing, piano, sax or guitar playing. For despite the prevailing anyone can play drums attitude, sometimes apparent in performances by guys in tee shirts flailing at an expanding circle of “tubs” and cymbals, something drove me to practise the 26 snare drum rudiments: varied rolls and ruffs, paradiddles, flams, radimacues; triplet eighth, sixteenth, thirty-second, and even sixty-fourth note patters, accented, dotted and slurred; and to hold the drum sticks as precisely as seemed necessary to execute those patterns.

So in retrospect I am learning that my study of drumming, not percussion, had itself taught me that there was more to drumming than arbitrarily hitting things and that my impulse to become a drummer and to learn that instrument’s technical niceties more than equalled the study of keyboard, conducting or even singing, because for me the study of drums was the study of rhythm and all its mathematical intricacies: music’s essence.