Music is beautiful.
It’s powerful, it’s lifting, it’s emotional. And it’s extremely personal. Music can help people express who they are as an individual and give them their own identity.
I know this, because that’s the effect it had on me. I started playing the drums at the age of 15, and I can honestly say that drumming has changed my life.
It all started one evening when I was watching television with my dad, Mike Rizun. During a commercial, he turned to me and for some reason asked if I’d ever thought about wanting to play an instrument. My response was, “Yes, I have, but I’m not sure what instrument.”
Without saying a word he reached over to our movie cabinet and pulled out an old VHS tape that was labeled “Lee Aaron Live: City TV Toronto 1983.” He put the tape in our video player and pushed play. To my astonishment, I saw my dad behind the drums making incredible music with this great singer while having the time of his life.
That moment was so powerful, it lit a fire inside me that I am sure will never burn out. To this day, that video still plays back in my mind; it will always remind me of why I started playing the drums.
Not long afterwards, I went to the local music store with my dad to buy my first drum kit. I settled on a beautiful 5-piece cherry wine finish drum set with hi-hats and cymbals. As soon as I got home I couldn’t wait to set it up and start playing! Yet when I’d finished assembling everything, I just sat there in disbelief. I just couldn’t stop looking at it — the chrome hardware, the finish, the cymbals. Everything was perfect. I felt like the coolest kid on the block!
Over the coming weeks, I discovered new drummers, new techniques and music that I never knew existed. I started learning rudiments, time signatures, and how to put it all together. I practiced for months on end, reading through syncopation to improve my playing. In short, I learned how to become a musician.
I did everything I could to progress into becoming a better drummer. I would practice fills until I nearly passed out from exhaustion. I would watch videos of all of the pros and take in all of their styles and techniques, then alter them to make them my own. I put in hours upon hours of sweat, tears and sometimes even pain, constantly trying to find new ways to express myself, to shape my own identity. As much as I admired other drummers, I wanted to create my own path.
I can still remember my very first gig and what I had to go through to make it happen. It was an extremely cold winter night in the middle of January — so cold that the grease on my drums’ tension rods had become frozen solid during the drive to the club in my parents’ van. As I was setting up my bass drum pedal, I noticed that the chain had broken due to the pedal being crushed by a hardware stand when I dropped my hardware bag on the stage floor. I was stunned, and I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. We had just 15 minutes until we were supposed to start the show!
As I thought about what I could improvise to repair the pedal, it suddenly dawned on me that I had a few zip ties in my cymbal bag because the handle was ripped. I took two of them out and put them together, then took off the broken chain and replaced it with the zip ties. Then I prayed for it to all hold together … and it did.
After our first set, we stopped to take a break. I remember sitting behind my kit for a moment looking out at the crowd, thinking to myself, “If I hadn’t figured out how to fix this pedal, I wouldn’t be playing this gig tonight. I would be packing up and going home miserable because I couldn’t do something that I love doing.” It was then that I realized that it’s all about taking action and doing whatever you can to make your dream come true.
I’m proud that I’ve become the kind of drummer that takes a musician’s point of view. Whether I’m recording, jamming or playing in a live setting, I’m always listening to the music as a whole, listening to what everyone else is playing while being open-minded in my approach. I’ve found that this is one of the most important tools in any musician’s toolbox, along with dedication, motivation, practice, effort and passion. Having those qualities will make it a lot easier for you to express yourself at any given time, no matter the type of musical situation you’re in. They will also open doors you never could have imagined and keep you ready for those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.
Today I can take a step back and realize what an impact drumming has had on my life. If I had said no to watching my dad’s VHS tape, I wouldn’t have discovered this beautiful instrument. If I didn’t quickly figure out a way to fix that bass drum pedal, I never would have experienced what it’s like to play a live show. Those experiences, plus all of those long hours practicing rudiments and learning technique, have shown me what drumming is truly about. It’s about doing something that you love and giving it all that you have. It’s about taking the chance to make something of yourself and put your name out there.
Drumming makes me want to wake up every day and discover something new, something no one has ever thought of doing. It brings me the utmost joy, pleasure, and excitement every time I get behind my drum set. I still try to practice every day for at least 4 – 5 hours, always making sure to stick to a particular rudiment or fill for the week. I have this voice inside me that constantly tells me that I need to step it up so I can become a better drummer. Every time I pick up my sticks, I’m putting my entire heart and soul into my drumming.
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