I realized about a decade ago that everything happens in phases.
This may come across as old news to some — “the only constant is that everything changes”, as the saying goes — but that fact seems to hit me at particular times that stand out as a clear shift in something.
I was at various times one thing or another (single; a graphic designer; a basement apartment tenant) and in their own time, those things all change (I’m a boyfriend, a fiance, a husband, an expecting father, a dad; I’m employed, unemployed, employed, then quit to be with my growing family, a stay-at-home dad then gradually also a part-time staffer, an LCBO contractor and then fully hired employee; a tenant of better apartments, a home owner…)
Within those phases are other phases. As kids do, my daughter went through changes quickly in her earlier years. Limited to some words one week but the next week, her vocabulary had expanded. She wasn’t doing one cute thing any more but was doing a totally new one. She had a cold and was keeping everyone up at night with coughing and calling for us again and again. Until the cold had passed and she was healthy and we were all sleeping comfortably again.
The most recent of those particularly noticeable (yet simultaneously mundane) phase shifts is I’m no longer drumming daily.
To back up for some background: I’ve been drumming since I was in junior school, albeit with big stretches of owning drums but not active with them over the decades (home owners have weird issues with their basement tenants pounding on drums and crashing on cymbals), or of reluctantly admitting to myself that I didn’t know when I’d ever get somewhere I’d be able to play them again (fellow apartment building tenants have the same bizarre hangups) and not having any at all.
Even when we finally got a house (initiate new phase) and had sincere plans to get me some drums in the basement, that didn’t end up happening.
And whoo, man, after decades of not having any drums, did I miss playing them.
Then my wife and parents did the wholly unexpected and, for my 50th birthday last year, they secretly went in on a set of electronic drums for me. A friend who happens to be the drummer for the wildly underrated band See Spot Run snuck over on my birthday to set them all up. So that day I walked into our shared office space/makeshift music room a non drum-owner and suddenly — phase shift — there were a gorgeous set of electronic drums all set up and ready for me.
And my jaw hit the floor.
There used to be something of a stigma against electric drums. Or at least that was my impression. They were rather beepy-boopy and lent themselves well to the electronic-y sound of a lot of 80s music. And yeah, they could do some kinda cool stuff, I guess, but they always paled in comparison to Real Drums. Acoustic ones, as they came to be called: The drum kit you’d expect to see a drummer riffing on in a jazz trio or wailing away on at a rock concert.
I briefly had a drum machine — a little machine maybe a foot and a half square with some round pads on it you could hit for drum sounds and do a bit of programming with — but that didn’t move the needle on my take of them anywhere near approaching acoustic drum capability.
My take on electronic drums was probably largely shaped by my impression of drumming legend and my drumming hero Neil Peart, drummer for Rush. From what I’d seen and heard, Neil didn’t use electronic drums. He was absolutely mind-blowing with what he could do, and it was on acoustic drums.
Electronic drums? Pshaw, said I.
Until I realized that he actually was using electronic drums here and there, and likely had been for some time before I clued into it.
Wait, my drumming hero is using some electronic drums among his crazy drum kit? Well then, okay… I was finding that I was suddenly — phase shift — listening to what they have to offer…
Over the years/decades, electric drums had come a very long way since the beepy-boopy early 80s. They didn’t just make a single sound at a single tone when you hit them, but instead varied in volume depending on how hard you hit them. Pressure sensitive trigger pads? That alone was huge.
Then you could also have them sound different. You want them to sound like you’re in a music studio? Sure. In a jazz club, with snappier snare and tighter toms? No problem. A big, rich sound like you’re playing a rock concert in an arena? Done and done.
I had — phase shift — gone from thinking nothing of electronic drums to accepting they could be handy to being sincerely impressed by what they could do. They weren’t acoustic drums, which for me will always be king of the drum set hill. But they were getting really good.
Then I walked into that room and saw my own electronic drum kit.
And I was blown away.
I immediately got behind them and quickly discovered I could pair the kit with my phone’s Bluetooth. No more playing vinyl on the side (hey, I said I’ve been playing them for a long time) with headphones to hear that in while playing along on the drums. Now what I was hearing was entirely in the headphones — no angry neighbours to worry about — and was a mix of me playing with any song I could find on the internet. Better still, I could control the volume of the song and the volume of the drums separately.
I can’t tell you how many hours I racked up playing them over days, weeks, and months. Enough that my hands quickly got blisters, which then became blood blisters (the most metal of blisters), which then broke open or faded away and were replaced by calluses: War wounds from my battling shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the best drummers in history.
Okay, not “shoulder-to-shoulder”, of course. I was just getting caught up in my allegory. Neil Peart will always be the king for me, I don’t even know how John Bonham does some of the stuff he does, and Danny Carey, the drummer for Tool, does stuff that even drumming experts can’t quite follow or wrap their heads around (turn up your volume and watch from 6:16 on in this video for a small taste of his beastly talent).
And from my birthday onward, I drummed every day that I was home.
Because goddamn, I love drumming.
But then… life happens, doesn’t it?
My shifts at work tend toward being later in the day. Usually to closing time.
Well, that’s is right around when my kiddo, especially during the school year, should be getting to bed. So it got to the point where, depending on how my earlier day went, if I hadn’t played drums yet, it wasn’t unusual for her to be waiting up for me to get home just to give me time on the drums, since they’re next to her room and do make enough sound through whacking trigger pads and plastic cymbals that it would keep or wake her up.
She ended up staying awake for that way more often than I’d like.
So I was already shaky ground there. I don’t expect anyone to sacrifice anything for me, and that certainly includes a growing kid and the amount of sleep she’s getting.
Cut to a few days ago. The young lass was battling a cold and had a busy day and was wiped out and was asleep well before I was off work and back home.
I hadn’t drummed earlier that day. And I wasn’t going to.
A couple hundred days after getting them, it would be my first day at home not playing my new drums.
I’m more okay with that chain being broken than I thought I would be. Not being able to play them every day doesn’t mean I love them less. It doesn’t mean my interest in them is waning (as if it ever could). It just means that the realities of life finally caught up with me.
I decided that instead of ensuring I play them every day, I will simply play them when time and the situation allows me to play them. That won’t — it can’t — be every day.
That’s the new phase. And I’m just fine with it.