I am a drummer. It’s not my day job, it’s not my hobby – it’s my way of life. By trade, I work as a Vice President for one of the largest banks on the planet. By spirit, I am a drummer. Why? Well, it started when I was given my first “Country Western” beginners drum set for Christmas at the age of 5. I have to assume my parents were either gluttons for punishment or they just wanted me to beat on something besides the furniture. Because I was born with the blessed curse of constant rhythm in my head. So, I drum. Always.
I describe drumming as a “blessed curse” because it’s both a natural gift I was blessed with and a curse, well, for a couple reasons. For one thing, no one wants to hear you practice – period. For another, the constant finger and toe-tapping can be annoying to other people, to say the least. If I’m in a meeting, in a vehicle, on an elevator, in the shower, I’m drumming. Whether in my head, air-drumming, tapping on a desk to a new or familiar rhythm, or actually sitting at my kit – I am always drumming. I can’t stop it and no longer even care to try.
I’m neither a remarkable player nor quite as gifted as my professional heroes, but I’ve had the opportunity to make music through drums with many other gifted musicians, some famous, some not so famous. It doesn’t matter to me who I play with or how it’s orchestrated as the spirit of music doesn’t care about fame or fortune. While my preference is just to play smaller venues of either jazz or rock-style music with friends, I’ve said “yes” to a variety of gigs, some more odd than others.
In early 2012, I received a phone call from a friend asking if I’d be willing to play drums in the “pit band” for an upcoming summer musical called Grease. I remember thinking that I’d seen the movie Grease probably a hundred times on television since the early 80’s and knew the music pretty well. How hard could it be? I would soon find out...
It turned out I couldn’t just show up and perform like I would an ordinary gig. Not only did I need to know the music and perform it well, I needed to be able to perform it in sync with people who would be singing and dancing to specially-choreographed moves on a stage – none of which I would be able to see, mind you, because I was going to be in an actual pit below that stage. Once that sunk in, I quickly realized all of that would require me being able to actually READ music – something I hadn’t done in over twenty years, going back to high school marching band! The more I dug into this work the closer I got to calling up my friend and making up some excuse for not being able to play with them at all. Then my conscious got the best of me and I decided to just buckle up and do it.
Fast forward six years to present day and I’m now preparing for my fifth summer musical with MTVarts – The Addams Family Musical. Each of the musicals I’ve performed for have been a rewarding experience, but I was extra happy to have the opportunity to play behind a team doing a musical version of one of my favorite childhood shows. Now, I reluctantly admit that I have a tendency to over-prepare when it comes to certain things, and many times feel as though I’m still not prepared enough, regardless of the job. Part of how I prepare is making sure I have all the right equipment for the job and looking for any material I can find to best help me practice. After scouring Google and YouTube for anything related to The Addams Family Musical, I quickly learned how many different people have performed this show, from Broadway to local theatre groups and everything in between. I was very impressed by the work people had put into their version of the show, but even more so by all the great drummers that had performed with the orchestras behind them.
When I received the percussion and drums score for the musical, I started reviewing specific videos of how different drummers performed their parts. One of the things I noticed right away was that almost all of the drummers had found a way to play most of the percussion and drum parts simultaneously. As I took notes, I also took stock of how my drumkit was configured and how many percussion instruments I should add to it in order to come close to what these other musicians had pulled off to properly support their show. For instance, how was I going to play a triangle – an instrument that usually requires one hand to hold the suspended triangle and another hand to hold the striker (metal stick) – and hold two drum sticks for playing my trap set at the same time?
Another quick internet search revealed that some genius, fellow drummer out there had designed, built and sold a product that held a triangle in such a way that allowed you to properly “strike” a triangle with a drum stick, still getting that nice, familiar chime. After exchanging a few emails, I learned this fellow drummer (also named Miller, no relation) had performed The Addams Family Musical on Broadway! The information he passed onto me, along with the purchase of his extremely cool product (aptly called “The Miller Machine”), was genuinely priceless, and his ingenuity and craftsmanship gave me some new inspiration.
I decided that if someone was willing to take the time to create a product to help other drummers perform their increasingly difficult acrobatic duties, I might as well try building a drum kit specifically for the show, as I really didn’t own enough pieces to accomplish my musical goals for the show anyway. Luckily, I wasn’t starting from scratch, as I had a few vintage pieces of an old Gretsch drum kit that I had acquired over the years just laying around in my basement collecting dust – just waiting to be brought back to life. Within a couple months of searching eBay, pawn shops and actual music stores, the extra-large packages started showing up on our doorstep. Needless to say, my wife soon began to take notice.
One day a rather large box arrived with two big marching snare drums inside, one of which I planned to convert (check out the videos below) to a floor tom as the final piece of what was becoming my new Addams Family drum kit. That evening, while unpacking my new acquisitions, I finally explained to my family the full breadth of my project and the work I was about to perform on one of these drums. No stranger to theatrics herself, my wife's interest was peaked... she’s really the primary reason I’m involved with the theatre to begin with, so it didn’t take too much convincing to get her support. Not only did I have my wife's full support, but she said she’d like to document the process - so began the videos below, documenting my crazy drum-building antics.
While the final documentaries are still being processed, I can report that the project has been a success. I now have a complete drum kit comprised mostly of vintage drums, with some inspiring new touches (thanks to the Miller Machine), all painted in a flat black lacquer that would make even Morticia proud. The real success, however, is simply having the opportunity to once again volunteer with a group of inspiring people – those souls, present and past, who have made my experiences with theatre and the arts not only a rewarding one, but one that provides my drumming spirit the outlet it constantly craves.
Video One: ADDAMS FAMILY - DRUMS PROMO
Video Two: CONVERTING MARCHING SNARE TO FLOOR TOM