My youth was spent with two pieces of wood in my hands. If you ask anyone who knew me during my school years what they remember about me, they’ll most likely remember that I always had a pair of drumsticks in my back pocket. As kids my age were dreaming of major league stardom, I was dreaming of playing drums with Stan Kenton’s big jazz band.
My obsessive passion began when the veterans of the American Legion placed my first pair of wooden sticks in my little hands at age 10. I had no idea what was happening, but these inanimate objects came to life and quickly became a defining part of my personality. Drumsticks became a part of my body as much as my fingers and toes. Like a child carrying their favorite teddy bear, my sticks became an inseparable extension of me. Wherever I was, so were my sticks.
My percussive life started in my local drum & bugle corps, but my addiction quickly spread to any form of music. At a young age, I became a fan of big band jazz. I idolized Buddy Rich and wore out each end every one of his records. I played in every band in my high school … concert, marching, jazz … I loved it all. I realize now that I drove my neighbors nuts with the beating of drums that came from my garage.
I applied for admission to VanderCook College of Music because that’s where Doug Lindt attended school. Doug was my drum corps percussion instructor and I wanted to be like him. I was accepted into VanderCook and began working on my degree in music education. I didn’t really want to teach, but VanderCook was in Chicago where there were always opportunities to hear and play a variety of forms of music and the school had a great jazz band. At 18, I headed to Logan Square in Chicago and joined the Cavaliers Drum & Bugle Corps and spent a year touring and competing in what is now known as “Marching Music’s Major League,” Drum Corps International.
I am grateful that I never took up the habit of smoking. Someone once told me that trying to quit was the hardest challenge of their life. I remember the moment I put my drums away and realized it was time to change my dreams and passion. It was the hardest thing I ever had to do. I was married, we had a young son and a daughter on the way. I was spending my weekends playing in bands and Arlene helped me realize my life was with my family and my career.
I spent a few hours cleaning my drums, reminiscing about the music I had played. I packed them into their cases and put them in storage and moved on.
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This morning, I am exhilarated and awoke feeling like a teenager again. A few weeks ago, a close friend and incredible musician, Bill Guertin, called and asked if I’d like to play in a band he was putting together for a local event. Before thinking, I said yes and rushed into the basement to check out the condition of my drums. Last night was our first rehearsal and I magically transformed into a teenager, sitting on a drum stool, driving the band with my rhythm.
My grandson Caleb accompanied me, and it was so interesting seeing the look on his face when the music came alive and he was seeing his grandfather in a way he could have never imagined.
Find your passions in life.
I had a relative once tell me that I wasted my youth pursing a passion that accomplished nothing. He could not have been more wrong. It wasn’t the physical act of playing the drums that made me who I am, but dedicating my life to the pursuit of excellence enhanced my life and still serves me today. Playing music taught me to work with others and be part of a team. It taught me that hard work and dedication are required to accomplish difficult things. I learned that achievement does not come easy, but is possible by setting goals and staying the course. Because of music, today I am a writer. I believe my books and columns are really the same as my music. I write with the same creative passion as I did while playing the drums. I can go on and on about how music has served and enhanced my life, but I think you get the picture.
My grandson, Caleb, is as passionate about baseball as I was at his age about drumming. I enjoy seeing the love in his eyes when he grips his bat. Helping children find their passion is important. My other grandson, Noah, has yet to find his passion but I suspect it will be in the creative arts. Once they find their passion, the best thing we can do as adults is support and encourage them to have fun and pursue it with vigor.
Caleb may never be a major-leaguer but pursuing excellence in any way makes him better in every way.
And isn’t that true for us all?