Seven years ago (about this time of year), my stepson came home from school and told us the middle school counselors had been in his class that afternoon. He’s decided that when he went into 6th grade the next fall he wanted to be in band. That’s cool. I was in band. I loved being in band. Sudden wonderful memories of hard work and triumph went through my mind. I’m a little excited for him. “What do you want to play?” I ask. There’s literally no ideal response (and you know exactly what I mean if you’ve ever been [or had] a beginning musician in the home).
Instruments quickly flash through my head and of course he comes out with, “Drums.” NOOOOOOO! NO NO NO NO NOOOOOOO! I’m thinking to myself. I look at my husband and can see he’s thinking exactly the same thing. Are you kidding me? This cannot be happening. With 4 kids still at home at the time, we certainly couldn’t say we had a quiet peaceful home, but drums? Seriously?!? This cannot turn out well. Someone is going to get choked. By whom? We don’t know. We can definitely foresee it happening, though.
Being the support parents we are, we didn’t miss a beat and our boy’s proclamation was met with excitement and encouragement. Within the next couple days, there was a parade at a local festival where we all watched our local high school band play. The group is known for excellence around the state (frequently being invited to play for the governor and important dignitaries) and traveling within and outside the borders of America upon request and for enrichment opportunities. That afternoon, the request was made to pop into the music store where we settled on two pair of drum sticks and that’s when it began.
The rest of that weekend was full of headaches and biting our tongues. We didn’t want to squelch our boy’s excitement, but we were certainly praying that he would lose the twinkle in his eye for this cursed instrument… and soon!
No such luck. Summer passed much like that day… noise and headaches. The boy had no idea what he was doing. Having a music background (not with percussion specifically, though), I suggested we explore the idea of making music with a practice pad (rather than having him bang on literally everything in sight… and of course all hours of the day). We got a practice pad for him and things were better (in terms of a little less noise). It was still… noise… nonetheless. We went on YouTube to see some beginner drumming tutorials, which helped a lot! He spent virtually every waking hour with that practice pad and YouTube videos. In his mind, he was already a musician. In fact, he was already conjuring up wild ideas of being a rock star– an idea which developed over time.
Once the school year began, band was his main focus. Thankfully, he’s bright and academics come fairly easily for him, so the time he spent on developing skill with percussion did not have a negative impact on his learning in his content area instruction. That first week of school, though, we were hit with it… the request for… ugh… lessons.
Now, when I was a young one, I was a very talented musician. That happened as a result of determination and hard work. My parents couldn’t have afforded such training, but I wanted to be good. I wanted to be the best… the section leader, so I worked hard everyday and I was the best. I was section leader! How is it that my kid now needs expensive lessons? Ugh!
Considering my husband and his ex-wife share custody of said child, we are not the sole decision-makers with matters related to him. Being a single parent with a lower income, we were surprised that she was pushing so hard for these lessons, which would be $150/mo! We are steadily employed (he’s an aerospace programmer and I’m a teacher) and earn enough income to do what we need– hardly any wants, but we have what we need. The lessons were a luxury item. Five children in all and nobody had ever (nor have they since) had a $150/mo payment due. For one year, one child did dance at $40/mo. Another year, two kiddos did dance and that was $70/mo. For a few years, three kids did soccer at $60 for the 7 or 8 week season. There’s nothing in the parenting plan that talks about additional lessons, classes, etc…, but my husband, being 1) accommodating, 2) awesome, and 3) loving and wanting to bless his kids, agreed to the lessons. I was not on board, but the decision was made and on top of the $1260 he was already paying her in child support, we tacked on another $75 for lessons. Awesome.
The first couple months, we did not see any of this extra attention paying off in our boy’s ability in playing the drums. It was loud and did not sound like music at all. After about 6 months of weekly lessons, though, he was making some good progress. He could accurately read most of his music and was hitting the head in just the right spot– the accidental rim shots were getting to be fewer and further in between. I wouldn’t say that was worth $150/mo (or even the $75, which was our part), but things were getting better.
Here’s a little background on my husband… and you’ll see quickly where I’m going with this! My incredible husband signed up for the Navy before he ever graduated from high school. He wanted a better future than childhood for himself and for his own family one say, so he signed on and a week after he turned 18 (which was the day he graduated from high school), he went off to boot camp. He spent 24 years serving our country. Rules. Order. Cleanliness. Logic. Chain-of-command. And of course, haircuts.
Oh man! We went through the ‘hair phase’ with our older boy (5 years older than our little drummer boy). This time of life absolutely drove my husband INSANE. The constant flipping was maddening! If you’ve had teenage boys, you’ve likely also gone through the ‘hair phase’ and know exactly what I’m talking about. The funny thing about it was that it stood out to us like a freaking blood-gushing, 10x swollen, disgusting, puss oozing, thumb (sore was just not adequate to describe it). To the boy, though, he had no idea he was even doing it (probably because he spent all day surrounded by other teenage boys going through the aforementioned ‘hair phase.’ We spent a good solid year with both subtle encouragement and overt insistence about this whole out-of-control hair thing. When that older boy finally came to his senses (probably about his junior year in high school), the clouds parted and the angels above joined in a heavenly chorus… HALELEUJAH! So handsome.
Well, this little drummer boy decided that his life path included being a rock star– not even sort of joking– he began talking about touring in Japan (of all places- lol) by the middle of 7th grade. He hit us with, “What kinds of things do I need to do to be able to one day tour Japan as a drummer with a rock band?” Dead serious. He wanted to know and he wanted to do all of it… immediately. I wanted to say… go for it, but you’re going to need to get a job if you want more than one private lesson a week! I held my tongue. (Oh getting a job… that’s proven to be a fun one to deal with parenting from two different households.) Part of his plan was, of course, looking ‘the part,’ hence, the whole hair thing. Omgosh! I couldn’t believe we were going through this again!
Yep! He was PRESENT for all of the chiding and offers to join Dad for father/son time and trips to the barber shop. He would hear none of it. Ever. Not even once. WHYYYYYY!!!???!!! This one was even worse than the first! Is that the parents’ curse with every younger child? (I know that’s certainly been the case with our youngest.)
So… the drummer… started to make a name for himself around school. As much as I was opposed to these dang lessons, they certainly began to do what they were designed for… help him improve. The kid was getting pretty darn good. Even though he was quiet and reserved, lacking charisma, and all the stuff that goes along with that.By 8th grade, the personality transformation was just unbelievable. When we went to his concerts, he was a completely different kid. It was awesome. He had a clear following. A friend of mine (who’s child is a year younger than our boy) was also in the percussion section and she shared with me, “I have to tell you how much Zach admires your boy. He talks about him all of the time and wants to be as good as him someday. Do you have him doing lessos? We’re thinking about maybe doing that for Zach.” Omgosh! Someone asking me about the lessons! I shared with her and the next week, we got a thank you from both that friend (and the percussion teacher for the referral).
As a freshman, our boy performed two numbers at the regional finals- a duet and a member of a large group ensemble. He did very well and was ranked #1 in both categories, which brought him the reward of a trip to the state finals. How those things work is they only name the top 3 performers and he was not in the top 3. As a freshman, though, even being ranked in the state (let alone #1 in the region) is a huge achievement. Duet https://youtu.be/bhUvmQe_HXA Ensemble https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cs7Om_kT0fQ
And he got a haircut for the occasion! Yayuhhhh!
As a sophomore, he was brave and (with the help of his percussion teacher) chose a piece as a soloist to present at the regional competition (as well as be part of the large group ensemble). The solo piece is absolutely one of the most technically difficult pieces you could imagine. Not only traditional drum pieces, but also brake drums and other non-traditional drums. https://youtu.be/rc43xulbGqI He placed first in this solo (as well as first in the group ensemble https://youtu.be/LsplxHUF_v0)! Off to State again!
By this point, we’ve got a boy about to turn 16 and he’s thinking he’s wanting to get a car and start driving, so we’re thinking… GET A JOB! Here’s an idea… you’ve got this percussion thing down pretty darn well… how about giving lessons. 1) Work? and 2) I have people I need to SnapChat all day long. Needless to say, ‘get a job’ didn’t work out. We asked if he still wanted to continue with taking lessons or if he thought he could stop, he couldn’t fathom giving it up. By this time, we’re used to the cost, so it wasn’t even that… just… he’s absolutely incredibly talented and could easliy teach kids just starting out. Nope. Not ready. Okay, fine.
Drummer boy continues lessons working an incredibly challenging piece for regional competition all year. We hear bits and pieces almost everyday, but never really the whole thing more than a couple times. We go to the regional competition and listen to his large group ensemble. They play beautifully! Whoa! The boy is incredible. I’ve said that. I know this. I was not prepared for the flood of tears of gratitude and pride that flowed down my cheeks about 5 bars into the piece. What in the WORLD?!? He’s smashing and even splashing water into the air. The ending. I mean… you seriously will not believe this piece! Nobody got hurt with the flying shrapnel. WOW! WOWWWWWWUHHH! The boy is ranked #1 regionally with his solo as well as qualifying for state in the ensemble! My goodness. Lord, You are to be praised! Every gift comes from You!
Two months pass to continue to perfect and prepare for state. He is focused like a runner who’s trained and ready to put that training to the test in her first marathon. I know I can do this, but this is the big one. Can I?
State. April 29, 2016. Ellensburg, WA
Large group ensemble performs beautifully. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCaHas5zMDBD8e9Q6SAEIk1w
Soloists will perform the following day. Our boy is spun up as tight as a spool of thread (but even more so… his parents). Yes… we all asked our (almost 17-year-old) boy half a dozen times if he needed to use the restroom. He did not. The moments tick on by and the line of musicians advances every 7 or 8 minutes. Finally, first in queue. He… KNOWS this material. He lives and breathes it. He has worked. The time is now… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HgifPpgJwIw It is absolutely beautiful.
When he finished the piece, that was victory enough. He was invited to state, he killed the piece, and it was finished. (and what happened at the end of that piece, you may wonder? prining shears and chopsticks. That’s actually written into the music.)
Within a couple of hours, we heard that out of 35 musicians invited in this category, he was ranked top 3. The rankings were not given in any particularl order (other than by school alphabetically). Actual placing would be given that evening at a 6:30pm ceremony. Of course, this is the night of his junior prom– home is an hour and a half away. Weeks before, he had made the decision that after performing, he would go home and to prom and not attend the awards ceremony. He knew his teacher would be staying for it and would pass on the news as soon as he knew anything. The wait!
It took two days, but he did finally hear back that he was 3rd in the state. THIRD! Out of all of the kids who were brave and voluntarily put themselves out there to be judged. Hundreds and hundreds of kids, he was top 35, then top 3, and finally third. Absolutely incredible.
This boy still has dreams of being a professional musician. He’s broadened the scope a little- rockstar still being the ultimate and at the top of the list. Also in consideration is music teacher. I cannot wait to see what is next for this incredible boy.