Freeway Music — Columbia, SC’s Premier Music School

Keep Moving Forward, Part 3

by Amanda Pollak

There is a difference between a musician and someone who plays an instrument.

A musician makes it look easy. A musician becomes his instrument; you hear his soul bleed through the notes. You know her without ever having met her.

Everyone else is just making noise.

I have watched drummers play and I have watched people who play the drums. How I gravely underestimated the fortitude the former requires.

Yes, I’m aware of how dramatic I’m being, but only because preparing for my first gig has brought about a profound reflective state that I’ve yet to encounter before. Up until now, and with a few exceptions, I mostly digested new material when it was convenient for me–after the gym, after a nap, before going out for the evening. With over 50 songs to learn in a matter of weeks my peaceful approach has abruptly morphed into what feels like a subway system at rush hour, with my brain as the subway car and each song a disgruntled person clamoring for more space. Everybody in, doors closing, no room for anyone else.

By now you may have figured out that I made it into the band. The audition was way less stressful than I anticipated–for the first time I felt as though I was an equal as opposed to a little kid swinging her feet on a too-big chair at the adult’s table. I played well, although not perfectly, but I was reassured that my attitude was the most important instrument I could bring. My sense of accomplishment quickly subsided, however, when I was handed the set list with the understanding that I’d have it down by our first gig in a few weeks. Gulp.

In case any of my band mates read this, let me be clear: I am thrilled, honored, and utterly elated to even be in this position. As I’ve written before, this opportunity is quite literally an answer to prayer, and I welcome the challenge as an integral component of my percussive journey.

I suppose I didn’t anticipate this side of things, however. There’s a mechanical, detached approach I’ve adopted in order to commit as many songs into working memory as possible. Know the tempo, figure out when I come in, make note of rests and fills, try my best to capture the feel of the songs and never mind if it’s not 100% accurate, most people won’t realize anyway. Some songs come easier than others–and the ones that don’t have the ability to frustrate me on a level I find difficult to articulate. Certain fills, hits, pauses and entrances just trip me up, over and over and over, and each time I play along and miss a cue YET AGAIN, it’s as though I can feel my blood pressure climbing higher and higher. I hear Tony telling me to count it out, be certain, chart it–and I want to scream It’s not working! I can’t figure this beat out!

Eventually, I arrive at a place of resigned submission. Sometimes I ask others to listen and interpret, and other times I surprise myself with my capacity to replicate what I hear. But this is exhausting. This is not sexy and loose and wild like the performances I idolize. This is drudgery, not art. It is a checklist, a day at the office, a chore to be endured.

And it is vital. It is necessary. Because my goal is to be a drummer, not simply someone who plays the drums.

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