Repercussions

still feeling the rhythm of my old band classes

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Janae Breunig

Deep in Northwestern Wisconsin, you will find the tiny town of Webster. Just outside of Webster, out in the woods, there is a house. In the basement of this house (consuming a sizable chunk of floor space) is a five-piece set of drums, well-worn from hours of fevered thrashing. It’s covered by a dusty old sheet my parents probably got as a wedding gift.

If my parents didn’t constantly remind me that they’re down there, in their basement, I might just forget about my drum set all together. But how did they arrive at this location, to sit there, next to the unused, ’80s era exercise bike? Well, it was a wild ride, man.

My musical journey almost took a much different path. In the sixth grade, I played the saxophone for a few months in my school’s concert band. But I got sick of lugging that (HUGE) alto sax on and off the school bus and opted for a pair of drum sticks I could just toss into my Batman backpack (Michael Keaton era). That decision would later bite me in the ass when I found myself heaving around giant, percussive objects covered in all manner of sharp pointy parts.

I could have gone for the bass guitar and spent my time layin’ down the foundations to well-built Rock Mansions. Or heck, I could’ve picked up the regular guitar. My solos could have screamed through the midnight air like Mr. Jimi Hendrix reincarnated as a solid gold fighter jet. 

But no matter. I grew to love the drums. Indeed, I was my high school’s best drummer. Well, definitely top three. OK, there were three drummers in my little high school band, and I was definitely one of them.

As a collegiate big band jazz drummer, it was apparently my job to keep the rhythm section going a) slightly slower or b) considerably faster than the band’s conductor and the music’s composer intended. My job performance was absolutely fantastic. Off the charts. And off the beat.

In my senior year, I was diggin’ the drums so much I used a huge chunk of summer job money to buy the mythic drum set described up there in the first paragraph. But since I only had one friend who played an instrument, and all he wanted to do was cover XTC songs – on bass – I never joined a rock band. I made do rattling away all on my own.

Lucky for you, the story continues. By the spring semester of my freshman year in college, I was a student in UW-Eau Claire’s award winning Jazz program. Yep, I was in one of the program’s prestigious big bands. If memory serves, I played in Jazz Ensemble XXXVIII.  Now, the department may claim to have only, like, five big bands, but there’s no way I could have been good enough to play drums in one of UWEC’s top five jazz bands. That there’s crazy talk.

As a collegiate big band jazz drummer, it was apparently my job to keep the rhythm section going a) slightly slower or b) considerably faster than the band’s conductor and the music’s composer intended. My job performance was absolutely fantastic. Off the charts. And off the beat.

The casual listener may have foolishly assumed I possessed little if any sense of rhythm, bodily coordination, and/or hearing. Silly casual listener. I’m sure the true jazz enthusiast (and my bandmates) appreciated, nay, respected, nay, revered my bold experiments with the concept of “keeping time.” Time, after all, is just an illusion created by humans. The wild animal we call “jazz” has no concept of time.

Unfortunately for the world of modern music, I abandoned my jazz career after one semester and applied the healing salve of my creative juices to other artistic animals. I continued to slap my drums in the privacy of my bedroom (not a metaphor), but I eventually stopped altogether.

And now my drums are under an old sheet in my parent’s basement, waiting patiently to rock once more. If I’m not the one rocking them, maybe it’ll be one of my (no doubt) musically gifted children. Both of them gave it a try during a recent trip to Grandma’s House, and believe it or not, after only five minutes of drum-tastic fury, they’re almost as good as their father.

Whatever happens, I had a lot of fun in those various school bands, and I’m so glad to have played with all those great kids and teachers. With those drums, I learned a lot about teamwork, and I gathered up a lot of self-esteem. I can honestly say that music changed my life.

So a big thanks goes out to whomever invented drums. I hope they’re proud of me.

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