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Growing Pains

Article by Sean Mitchell // September 02 2008
Growing Pains

"When you’re finished changing, you’re finished.” - Benjamin Franklin

It always starts with the pain, always. Remember that feeling in your wrist when you first learned how to shuffle; that feeling that your wrist could quite literally fall off? Then once the shuffle had been mastered, you further discovered that there are literally hundreds of ways to shuffle! The Purdie shuffle, the sixteenth note shuffle, the rock shuffle: there are tons of ways to shuffle, and each step toward enlightenment comes with its own set of pains and lessons. Anytime we decide to move beyond that safe little sandbox we call “comfort,” there exists a world of uncertainty that holds no guarantees, no safety nets and no set of rules. For instance, band leaders of the early New Orleans jazz era, like Papa Jack Laine and Charles “Buddy” Bolden, decided to do away with both the bass and snare drummers to limit payroll expenses.

They convinced guys like Chinee Foster and Tubby Hall to become “double drummers” (one who plays a bass drum and snare drum simultaneously). In doing so, these leaders created a whole new meaning to the phrase “pain in the ass.” Brass bands of the era were often parade bands, yet being a double drummer meant that now the drummer could no longer be mobile. He would have to stay put. So there he would sit, behind the rest of the band. As a result, many bands no longer paraded around town; instead, they set up on stationary platforms, in speakeasies and on riverboats to perform their music. No doubt Chinee was a little miffed at having to pull double duty, for no more money than he received playing the snare alone. Without Chinee and Tubby, there would be no Rich or Roach. Kudos to Papa Jack!

I recently moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia, from Brandon, Manitoba, a forty-hour drive. Why? Because of a dream. In my dream, a little voice urged me to move here, so I did. (No, I am not crazy. My psychiatrist doesn’t think so anyway.) I don’t know anyone here, I have no family here, and I had no reason to move here other than my inspired thought. More importantly, I have nothing to lose—if for no other reason I have this article to show for it. The act of going beyond a comfort zone always comes with some form of growing pains. This, I can honestly say, I am currently in the process of learning. I can’t say that driving across Canada, spending a ton of money on hotel rooms (not to mention the cost of gas) and having all my drums in storage is a huge turn on for me. Nor is the thought of ingratiating myself into a music scene that has now rendered me a little fish in a big pond. These are not the reasons any one of us inflicts a large amount of irritation on ourselves. In truth, the real motivators are growth and self-improvement.

When my girlfriend and I first arrived in Nova Scotia, we had a little trouble landing an apartment that suited our needs. A drummer looking for an apartment...I am sure you can all relate to my plight. As it turned out, we found the perfect apartment just outside the city, and, as an added bonus, it was right on the ocean. Everything seemed to be working out for us, that is, until we found out that the apartment wasn’t available until the middle of July, and it was only June 13th. For the last part of June and the beginning of July, we camped in a small—I’m talking small—blue and yellow cabin, which was less than one hundred square feet. Just when we thought we had braved the worst of it, we found out that the campground’s wireless internet didn’t jive with our laptop. Things not working seemed to be the repeated theme of our excursion. Nevertheless, I still had a magazine to publish, so we rallied on and made the best out of our glorified tool shed.

Bugs, rain, and cold nights aside, it was kind of a neat existence (despite not having my drums). “It’s only for two weeks,” I kept telling myself. “Two weeks.” We were only five days into our adventure when our landlord informed us that the lady who currently inhabited our future abode was refusing to hand over the key any earlier than the first of August (which apparently she had every right to do). This meant that we now had an additional two full weeks at Camp Mitchell. One whole month in the wilderness! I had no drums, no internet and no more patience. I grabbed my suitcase, put my kick pedal in front of it, set up my practice pad, and got to work. If I was going to be in this crazy little blue-and-yellow shed for a month, I was going to become productive. In an effort to stay sane, we went about learning Beatles tunes to prepare for gigs in our new found city. Turns out, during the course of those four weeks, I had learned a lot more than just “Hey Jude” and “Lady Madonna;” I learned about myself. Regardless of circumstance, it is most important to continue growth and move forward, especially in the face of a daunting undertaking.

To quote my good friend Dom Famularo, “Failure is not an option.” I wrote that motto on my practice pad, and for those four weeks, I sat there hour after hour doing rudiments, picking apart Ringo’s parts, running Dom’s credo through my mind, and loving every minute of it. Growth can come in so many strange forms, and you have to be ready to act when it shows up. If you are an optimist dreaming of performing before an audience at Madison Square Gardens, you feed that feeling, and before long you will be given opportunity to become that drummer. Swing for the fences, my friend. However, the same is true for all you pessimists out there. You get what you give. Sometimes the only thing we can’t be convinced of is to give up on our misery.

This is the point where I am supposed to give you the prolific advice and tie the article up in a neat little bow with the news that we are now gigging in the big leagues, and enjoying the fruits of our labor. The reality is that I am the new guy in town who stands humbled amongst talented players in a strange city with nothing more than the desire to play. I’m still looking for a gig, and still banging on my suitcase kick because I love playing so much (my drums are on their way as I speak, thanks to my little brother). Yet, I am still part of the process; I am alive. This is what we sign up for as artists. The fact of the matter is, old Ben was right: once you’re done growing, you’re done. I published July and August’s issue of The Black Page from my little shed in the bush, then drove the ten minutes into town to pay for internet time, to send it out over the web. Why? Because I know that our industry needs this magazine and others like it. Sometimes it is obvious, if only to ourselves, that we are in need of some growth. Other times it may be more apparent to the world at large. According to world thought guru and entrepreneur James Ray, when you are faced with a decision, it is important to ask yourself one very important question: “By doing this am I going to grow as a person?” In the end, I now know why I came to Halifax. To start this journey and achieve the goals I have set meant that I would have to become someone better than I was already giving myself credit for. Quite frankly, I am up for that challenge.



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About the Author
Sean Mitchell

Sean Mitchell has been an active participant in the drumming industry for over 20 years. He has studied under Crash Test Dummies drummer Mitch Dorge and Drumming's Global Ambassador Dom Famularo. Sean is also a songwriter and regularly performs with his wife (and singer) Jill Mitchell. Sean proudly endorses Aquarian Drumheads.

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