I didn't think much about drums until our family started attending a new church, back in the early '90s. Way off to one side of the stage was a Plexiglas cage, inside which was Scott.
Scott the Drummer seemed impossibly cool. He was some indeterminate age. (In retrospect, it seems obvious he was, like, twenty-three.) He played a white Pearl kit. The hats clicked. The kick thumped. The snare snapped. If he held the sticks just so, he got a woody sound out of the snare, and I couldn't figure out how. I sat up front all through Sunday services, just watching his hands fly.
My folks bought me a used snare drum. If I gave my all to that single drum, it seemed, then maybe there'd be a full kit in my future. I banged along with every song on the radio. The drum did not sound good. It had a dodgy snare chain mechanism, and the head was dented from prior use. Before long, I split the head right down the middle. The broken drum was never repaired. The kit never materialized. I accepted I was not a drummer.
Later, my parents started a church. They rented office space in a business park. Someone supplied a drum kit. I don't remember who played it during services. Did anyone? One day my father asked if I'd play during service. As the music spun up, I remembered that I only knew how to hit a snare drum. The kit seemed infinitely larger. I tapped out a feeble, alternating rhythm on the hats and snare; later, the organist's youngest son mocked me: "You didn't even play the kick! What kind of drummer are you?"
After that day, I started practicing. I'd let myself into the church building after hours and try to master the basics, or whatever I thought the basics were. After a few months of sneaking around, I felt competent enough to give it another go. I wasn't great, I remember that, but I could hold a simple beat. Ever critical, the organist's kid stared me down.
But I kept playing. In the years that followed, I played the drums in another church. I played in a couple of practice bands (we never played shows). I bought a kit of my own. My self-taught awkwardness still shows through the flaws in my technique: I use the wrong hands for the wrong drums; I've never figured out how to work the kick drum into a fill, so it falls silent as I riff on the toms and cymbals. I've only recently realized that the heel-down technique is why my foot cramps when playing the kick. My foot is great now! But my hands tighten up. Bad technique, or just age.
In our basement storage room, squeezed among board games and Christmas decorations, is a little Roland electronic kit. I don't play often; a couple times a week, and just for pleasure. I wear headphones so nobody has to hear me. I'm no Scott the Drummer. I'm somewhat competent at best. But I sure love to play.
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