Drummer

More about the weirdness of writing:

In Squatters’ Speakeasy young Mark Churchill has a band, and of course the band has a drummer. Drummers usually sit back in the shadows with their drum sets so until a few months ago I didn’t pay much attention to this drummer. If he showed up on cue, that was enough.

Then Mark and his bandmates were talking about an upcoming jam at Bluesman Luke’s cottage — Luke is Mark’s father and musical mentor — and the drummer said no way was she going: Luke thought “female musician” was an oxymoron and the last time she’d sat in, he ragged on her incessantly for her unconventional appearance. “Hoo boy,” said Dennis the bass player. “Last time you were there I thought you were going to crack his head with your conga.”

The (borrowed) conga in residence

The (borrowed) conga in residence

Hoo boy indeed. I learned a few things from that exchange. Mark’s drummer was a she, Luke’s take on the blues was seriously sexist, and the drummer probably knew something about Afro-Cuban drumming if she played congas.

Now that she’s out of the shadows, she’s turning into a key character, one who makes things happen and says things no one else dares to. The others call her Suze, or maybe Sooz. Either way the similarity to Susanna is impossible to miss, and I’ve never had a character show up whose name was that much like mine. Beyond that, however, the resemblance stops: she’s got three rings in one ear, two in the other, and one in her right nostril; her hair is braided liberally with beads (which she uses to great effect when she’s talking); and she’s spent time in Cuba and (I’m pretty sure) Brazil.

Roberta teaches the mambo rhythm at a recent class.

Roberta teaches the mambo rhythm at a recent class.

On the other hand — I’ve been taking an all-women drumming class with Roberta Kirn. It’s a blast. I practice on a conga borrowed from a neighbor up the road. When I’ve got enough money, I’m going  to get a drum of my own.

Which came first, Suze or my interest in drumming? Aha, that’s where it gets complicated — and interesting. Not long after I moved to the Vineyard year-round, I started volunteering at Wintertide Coffeehouse, which at that point happened only on winter weekends, and generally learning my way around the island’s grassroots music scene. Die Kunst der Drum, an all-drum ensemble led by Sam Holmstock, was prominent in the scene at that time. They played inside, they played on the beach, and wherever they played, people got up and danced.

Being fresh out of the women’s community, I couldn’t help noticing that DKDD was almost entirely male. Roberta was one of the two exceptions. Co-leader of the ensemble was Rick Bausman, who went on to found the remarkable Drum Workshop. I took a class with Rick at Wintertide in its year-round Five Corners incarnation (20 years ago?), meant to go on with it, but didn’t. Both Roberta and Rick are huge believers in building community through music. (Roberta is a protegée of Sweet Honey in the Rock veteran Ysaye Barnwell, whose Building a Vocal Community workshops are devoted to exactly that.)

And community, you’ve probably noticed, is an obsession of mine. What fosters it? What diminishes it? What does it make possible that individuals in isolation can’t accomplish, or even imagine, on their own? What does it make impossible, or at least difficult? What does it squelch?

So Suze the drummer steps out of the shadows and I get to see what happens next.

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About Susanna J. Sturgis

Susanna edits for a living, writes to survive, and has two blogs going on WordPress. "From the Seasonally Occupied Territories" is about being a year-round resident of Martha's Vineyard. "Write Through It" is about writing, editing, and how to keep going.
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2 Responses to Drummer

  1. Don Dale says:

    Hi, Susanna.
    You and I have talked about this before, but isn’t it fascinating when a character decides to move fully into the middle of whatever you’re writing? Often, the writer winds up wishing she really knew this person in real life!

    Like

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