Thursday, December 29, 2011

I am a Renaissance Man, mon!

 A colleague of mine once accused me of being a Renaissance Man.  I was amused that she would have used the term to refer to me.  If you are unfamiliar with the term, a renaissance man is someone who “does not have only broad interests or a superficial knowledge of several fields, but rather that their knowledge is profound and often that they also have proficiency or accomplishments in at least some of these fields and in some cases even at a level comparable to the proficiency or the accomplishments of an expert.” ( 

This knowledge comes from having, in my opinion, many hobbies and interests.  I don’t usually toot my own horn, but I am a pretty good cabinetmaker, a good photographer, and an excellent shot.  Two recent hobbies that I have unfortunately given the short shrift to are writing and drumming. Just the other day my drum teacher remarked that my writing pieces have started to become few and far between.  So I thought I would kill two birds with one stone and write a piece about drumming. 

I was brought up in a house that appreciated music.  My parents, who never spent money on anything frivolous, one day came home with a new, RCA console record player.  It was finished in gorgeous mahogany veneer with gold fabric covering the speakers.  It became the centerpiece of the house.  Then, in an act that I can only describe as sheer madness, two weeks later they came home with the matching stereo speaker.  Whoa!  As they were hooking it, up no mean feat, because my father was clueless as to how stuff works, they were laughing about the speaker terms: woofers and tweeters (bass and treble).  They got a lot of mileage out of that joke.  At parties they would act it out with my father saying woofer in his deep bass and my mother saying tweeter in a falsetto.  It was hysterical. That stereo played all day.  I listened to Sinatra, Martin, Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman and Vaughn Monroe to name a few. However, Elvis and the Beatles never made it to the top ten hit list.  Last year I asked my mom about Elvis and she said, “He was disgusting, shaking his ass like that!  Did you know that on the Ed Sullivan show they had to...”  Yeah okay, I get it. 

When I was twelve years old, my mother asked me if I would like to play an instrument.  Without hesitation I said, “The drums!”  I was always tapping my feet, pulling out pots and pans and playing them with pencils.  When all of the other kids were discussing whether John was cooler than Paul, I chimed and said,  “Ringo is my man.”  Well maybe not those exact words, but you get the point.   

Anyway, I thought that drums would be a logical choice.  “Too noisy!” said my mother.  I tried explaining to her that the kids playing drums in school practice on rubber pads.  She would not listen and the next thing I knew I was the not so proud owner, or to be more specific renter, of an alto saxophone.   Big, heavy, loud and impossible to figure out.  Yep, that was my new instrument.  Complete with Mr. Amato, my private instructor.  I hated this thing. It hung around my neck like an albatross. Also, not many bands that were coming out in 1964-65 had a saxophone player.  Beatles, no, Rolling Stones, not until later, Kinks, nope, The Animals, uh-uh, and so on.  Oh sure there were some bands that had a sax player, but drums and guitars ruled the air-waves. 

When I practiced, which wasn’t often enough according to Mr. Amato, it sounded as if I was slaughtering animals in my basement. It squeaked, bleated, squealed and howled. The ASPCA once staged a protest outside our house. We never even owned an animal. Mr. Amato was always telling me I had to “bone up” on my practice.  I remember thinking how can I smash this thing over his head AND get away with it?  He would complain to my mother that I wasn’t doing my work, so I got punished by having to practice more. 

A couple of my friends and I formed a “band.”  We had a guitar, organ and, you guessed it, me sitting in on sax.  Our only piece of sheet music was, of all things, Wooley Bully, by Sam The Sham and the Pharaohs. ( We worked on that song for weeks.  At the end of those weeks we sounded so bad that one of our parents said we should name our band the Discords.  It never sounded right because the sheet music was written for the sax part.  That was my last foray into being in a band.  I completely stopped practicing the sax and much to my relief, my mother took the instrument back to the music store, so it could torture some other unsuspecting child. 

Fast forward forty years.  I was looking for a new hobby and thought, how about the drums?  My wife was agreeable, I had the means, so I bought a cheap kit on the Internet and searched for a drum teacher.  I hooked up with Gus, who at the time, was teaching at Music and Arts in East Hartford.  It has been a very rewarding ride. I’ve learned music theory, different styles, and I can even tune a timpani. What I like about Gus is that even when I mess something up while I’m playing, he finds something good to say. I bring him recordings of my sessions and he gives me honest, insightful comments and criticisms. He is a patient guy, with a lot of knowledge.  

I’ve gotten together with two other cats who play guitar, and every couple of weeks we get together to jam in my basement.  At first it sounded like noise, but for the past year, my wife never fails to mention that is sounds like music.  Very good music.  And that is music to my ears. 

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