My job as a drummer is to help people realize their art. I am part of the music, part of the ensemble; my role is to support, and ideally enhance, the creative endeavours of others. This is my job as a teacher and editor too. I’ve wondered whether maybe I seek out opportunities to enable other people, but I don’t honestly believe I’m that altruistic. Probably I’m just better at responding and following than inspiring or leading. And when I do take charge, I don’t like to do so alone. I am often happiest as part of a conversation, a team, a dialogue. I have some intensely personal creative outlets too – writing limericks, haiku and prose like this blog post. But I spend most of my life being a ‘drummer’.

I like to contribute equally to a musical conversation. This opportunity is afforded me rarely, but in the Eruptörs everyone’s ideas are valued as part of the creative process. We also split royalties evenly. My preference for this modus operandi informs many of my day-to-day interactions. If I feel I am being overlooked or ignored, my solution is to play louder and faster and to be more distracting and annoying to others.

Drumming is uniquely suited to my introversion, and to what Anthony F Gregorc would term my Abstract Sequential (AS) mind-style™. Like many musicians and academics, I am probably somewhere on the autistic spectrum. (My dad slipped into a casual conversation a few years ago his diagnosis that I have Asperger’s Syndrome; he wished he’d only known about this in the eighties. I should probably follow up with him about that.) Drumming allows me to assert myself forcefully and non-verbally and to be essential to the outcome of a complex interaction while remaining safely out of the spotlight, hiding from other people and responsibilities.

In 95% of theatre productions, no one can see me at all, and in the operational hierarchy the only people permitted to discuss a show directly with the drummer are other members of the band; everyone else has to provide feedback via the musical director. In a rock band, although I am pretty obvious to audiences, they are (meant to be) mostly captivated by the antics of the front-person. I love playing jazz, for the intensity of the conversation between players. Free improvisation ticks that box too – I feel uniquely alive when ideas flow freely and are mutually respected and nurtured. I try to bring the same attitude to my teaching.

Drumming lets me work alone – practising provides a beautiful cocoon that shields me from the cacophony of the world. Writing and editing do this as well. I crave the solitude of my work – trying hard to improve, answerable to my own ideals (which, as a cultural psychologist, I acknowledge are not really my own; they just often feel like they are). Conversely, I yearn for recognition, although I tend to keep my need for praise pretty quiet, then harbor fierce resentment when I don’t receive it.

Being a drummer is akin to being an editor – I make important decisions about how a product looks or sounds, but to the casual observer or listener it’s the songwriter, singer or author who calls the shots. As a drummer I get to influence tempos and dynamics, but if the singer can’t get the words out fast enough or is running out of breath on the long notes, I defer to them and adjust. When editing and teaching, I similarly give what I can, based on experience and expertise, but ultimately the success is collaborative, and mostly attributed to another.

Drumming is also like writing – I hide behind drums as I do behind prose, and I am comfortable playing and saying things that I would horribly fumble if I attempted to articulate them aloud. On the printed page I can say what I need, then upload or publish it and run for cover without (maybe ever) having to interact face-to-face. Both the drums and the written word provide a barrier between the world and my soul. Or, more likely, they offer a direct connection between them, whereas my social ineptitude and anxiety serve to bar access to the real me. So that’s it: drumming, in all its forms, provides a window on to my very soul.




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