Every year of my earliest childhood, my parents bought me a musical instrument for Christmas. I still have the Mickey Mouse tambourine from year one, the Hohner harmonica from year two, the colored-coded xylophone with original sticks from year three, and the 1/2-size red sunburst guitar from my fourth Christmas morning. However, the instrument I was given on December 25th, 1979 only lasted a few months after I received it, but it enabled all my dreams to come true looking back on the opportunities that it created in my pursuit of “motivating people with the rhythms of life.”
All the instruments leading up until this special one had been appreciatively played, recorded by my dad, the engineer, and bragged about by showing off her talented little multi-instrumentalist by my mom, the pianist. That all changed on my fifth Christmas sunrise when my sleepy eyes peered down our long hallway to become as wide as they possibly could to take in the gleam and wonder of my first drum set in our living room by our Christmas tree! Somehow my feet began to spin out, and the biggest smile you’ve ever seen stretched across my face as I raced to the symphony of percussion sounds that I already knew were going to make my dreams come true.
You see, I found the drum set incredibly fascinating at age two seeing drummers come through our home and church to play with various musical groups. We had musicians in our family, and my favorite was my cousin Charles who lived about a mile away and played the drum set. When our family would go visit, I would immediately ask to play his drums. He taught me how to hold my sticks and how to hold a basic beat. I knew that was the greatest feeling I could ever experience even at a toddler’s expectancy of the world to come. I begged for a drum set of my own, but my parents always had good reasoning why I couldn’t have one. “It’s too expensive. We don’t have enough space to put a drum set in our house. We can’t stand to listen to all that noise all the time! No! No!! No!!!” Keep in mind that this conversation did not change for over two years. In fact, their opinion had not seemed to change all the way up to my bedtime on Christmas Eve that wonderful year. So when I awoke to find the instrument of my dreams ready and waiting for me that morning, it was a moment that changed my life. My parents claimed that Santa delivered them, and as surprised as I remembered them being when they were awakened to the sounds they heard coming from our living room, I still believe them!
Many people have memories of the first instrument they ever received for Christmas, but this drum set not only designated my lifelong career path, but through several decades, it has also inspired hundreds of other young drummers to follow their dreams and learn to express their thoughts, feelings and inner rhythms. I played that drum set every single day for hours nonstop, and many times played myself almost to sleep at bedtime. My parents never had any doubt what I was doing when I was pounding out my heart’s desire on “my chosen instrument of self expression.” Needless to say the bass pedal broke first, and my father repaired it exhaustively. Then heads would break, and we replaced what we could to keep me jamming. Eventually the mounts gave way, and the drum set became part of my Erector Set just to hold it together. I was always trying to add new sounds to my set from what I found in our kitchen, which my mom didn’t always agree with me using without her permission. Way before the next Christmas, my pride and joy had become a pile of parts and sawdust in my bedroom that no longer resembled the bright shiny new instrument from months before. My parents had formed their decision. I would not be receiving another drum set for the next Christmas or any one thereafter from them. In fact, all the pleading in the world for the next five years could not change their minds. It seemed that they’d had enough drumming already, because I was playing everything possible that made an interesting sound in our house, my dad’s workshop, and basically anywhere else that I went. I was a drummer, and I was determined to keep my rhythms going any way I could!
The turning point in my story came at age ten, when I made a deal with my parents. No, they still were determined not to buy another drum set for me, much less for a Christmas present that year. I have no idea what gifts I received. At that point in my life, I was on a mission to get new drums! Nothing else mattered. The deal we came to changed my life in a way I could not have realized then. They said if I could somehow manage to save up enough money to buy my own drum set, then they would provide me with lessons. Basically, I don’t think they thought I could save up a few hundred dollars when I was ten years old, but looking back I found determination in their doubt. I scrounged and saved all year long. In the meantime, I found the red sparkle Tempro five piece that would soon be mine.
I did buy that set of drums, and to this day I can’t tell you how many hundreds of drum sets have passed through my collection, but the deal my parents made providing me lessons for Christmas was what really changed my life. The gave me an envelope on Christmas morning 1984 that had ten prepaid lessons. I knew then that somehow I would share what I learned with others who had the same dream. That is what teaching is all about. I went from one drum teacher to another learning everything as fast as I could. Sometimes I would take from different teachers specializing in different styles and other percussion instruments at the same time. I wanted to know everything I possibly could about the evolution of drumming. I also wanted to share my passion with others.
Beginning at fifteen years old, I had been taking lessons for five years, when a couple of younger neighborhood kids became interested in playing drums. I gave them the same challenge my parents did, and told them that if they could save up and get a drum set, then I would give them lessons. Eventually, I quite a few lessons I was teaching when I went off to college. I continued to play, teach and share where ever I went. When I started working in a retail music store after college, I thought of the challenge my parents had made me. For every drum set I sold, I always included at least one month worth of free lessons. I know many stores and lesson studios offer deals at Christmas like that, but my philosophy was always geared to creating a strong foundation and sharing the love that drums created passionately in my life. There were obvious career, sales and marketing ideas that corresponded with my offer through the last three decades, but my dreams began with that first drum set at Christmas morning. Through offering the free lessons, I always stress the formula that passion first plus determination equals success.
My businesses today offer performances, recordings and all kinds of lessons to help spread the joy of making music as a means of communication. There’s the joy that I’ve learned through performing that I can help other people make music in the moment with educational programs, corporate business clients and community groups all over the world. I believe my first gift ever was being born with the ability to play music, but my greatest Christmas gift ever was the musical instrument that changed my life.
Give a musical gift for Christmas this year, and change someone’s life for the future.