My new drummer is a very philosophical guy.
A couple months ago we had our annual drummer-juggling week, which is nowhere near as fun as it sounds. Over the lifetime of the Parkdale Revolutionary Orchestra (three years now?) we’ve had three solid drummers and more fill-ins than I can remember. And each new drummer and I quickly fall into a unique and strangely-intense relationship. This doesn’t happen with the violin and cello players who’ve been in the band. With them, it’s always been a gradually-evolving relationship: professional awkwardness develops to mutual respect and, over the course of many months, slips into a comfortable friendship.
For example, Alex Cheung (our violinist of two years) and I have always liked working together but only became what I’d call “friends” through a year long series of chess-like maneuvers. Alex McMaster (Ms.Cello) and I are still, I think, just a bit shy and cautious with each other. I’m not saying this slow way of learning to enjoy the people who share my creative life is a bad thing – in fact I prefer it in a lot of ways.
But that’s never been an option with our drummers. I’m not sure if it’s something ingrained in the personality of people who become drummers; or if it’s ingrained in the subset of drummers interested in making the sort of music we make; or whether it has to do with my approach to working with drummers… but with each drummer it seems that our relationship is carved in stone by the second rehearsal.
And it’s always different: Rosie was a demon-cupid Mercury of sarcasm, wild creativity, and dissoluteness; Chris Patheiger was a Jupiter, a true gentleman. Very kind, slightly reserved, self-regulating his orbit around the project to exert a solid gravitational pull without committing to a stable trajectory. But our new drummer, David MacDougall, is from Neptune – by far my most troubling planet-archetype.
This discovery came as a shock to me. By nature (and by practice) I’m very pessimistic. I do my best to predict catastrophes as early as possible, and on the most preliminary evidence. So, from the moment that David contacted me out-of-the-blue with “I hear you’re looking for a drummer. I play drums.” I was trying to figure him out by my special (and absurd) process of psycho-statistical analysis.
You must recognize the obvious dilemma: this strange character was immediately and unabashedly enthusiastic about this music; very generous with committing himself to rehearsals; incredibly competent and in-demand as a musician, and yet borderline-diffident in rehearsal. He asks questions about texture and structure. By the second rehearsal it was obvious that he understood the functional language of this music better than anyone else in the band, often including myself.
He’s a balanced professional on stage: he plays hard but never overplays. I’ve yet to see him lose his cool when a performance brushes up against the definite possibility of falling completely apart. Off-stage he’s always been relaxed, with a detached ironical sense of humour, and displays a marked absence of self-indulgence combined with a philosophical sympathy for my own not-infrequent displays of that lousy trait.
So you must see now that bringing David into the band was a shattering concession:
Is it worth abandoning thirty-three years’ worth of hard-earned pessimism – and the insulation against disappointment that comes with it and has sustained me through the past three years – in order to work with a drummer who contributes so much to every aspect of the band’s existence while causing no problems at all?
It’s a catch-22; a paradox; a no-win scenario.