Requiem for a lost avocation

April 17, 2013 

He was probably the last person I’d have expected to buy my set, but I knew right away I wanted him to have it.

Older than myself by at least a decade, probably retired, he admitted he didn’t play. Just fooled around with the two snare drums he already owned. Now he’d be fooling around with my drum set -- pieces of which I’d owned for nearly 40 years.

He paid in cash, which helped ease the pain of separation. Didn’t dicker on the price, either. Gave me what I wanted. Still, I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a lump in my throat when he drove off.

I recalled several of the times I’d set out with percussion instruments packed into vehicles headed to one gig or another. During one of them, our high school concert band made a lunch appearance at a local service fraternity. We loaded Tom Reitan’s Chevy Econoline van with snares, bass, cymbals and timpani for the drive downtown. Then Reitan handed me the keys. He’d broken his arm a few weeks earlier and couldn’t drive his three-on-the-tree. I never had.

Riding in back, poor Lynn Morris nearly reached her final destination via kettle drum every time I turned a corner. That was the day I learned one needed to depress the clutch before braking.

That same year, I experienced the high point of my drumming career while filling in for Reitan at the spring concert. Terrified of the spotlight, I nonetheless guided the ensemble through a jazzy arrangement of songs from “The Wiz.” The band director singled me out and sexy sax player Lori Gill shot me a nod and a wink.

I learned then I was a capable right-hand man. I learned the next year -- after Reitan graduated -- of my incompetence as a leader. I was the lone senior, but others in the unit were better drummers. I struggled to reconcile that discrepancy and offered little in the way of direction.

To this day, I prefer not to be in charge of people. I prefer not to ask help of volunteers (although I’m actually not bad at delegation when my authority is well-defined). But I digress.

Drumming taught me lots more: Master fundamentals. Keep playing even when you screw up. Clap on the after-beat for goodness sake.

Mostly, however, I just enjoyed it. With a set of headphones, a turntable and Kansas’ “Leftoverture” album, I could travel inside myself to a world where math had meaning and sound had substance.

I packed the set up years ago. I lost my touch because of something called spastic paraparesis. A drummer without touch is not a drummer, but merely someone who plays drums.

Now I am neither. Save for a few figurines and a drum key there’s little in the house to suggest I ever played. Carry on.

Contact Deighan at

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