Marching, Singing To My Own Drum

Once there was a band and a little girl who desperately wanted to play the drums. The band was the Beatles, and I was the little girl. My love of the drums was directly proportionate to my love for Ringo, the drummer who had been dubbed the "shy one."

I was in grade school at the time, and the school offered free music lessons before school to any student with a signed permission slip and his or her own instrument. My sister had started taking flute lessons the year before, but I had no interest in learning to play any instrument I couldn't sing along with. Besides, I wanted to be like Ringo. The drums were my obvious choice.

When I asked my parents if I could sign up for drum lessons, they told me that little girls didn't play the drums. Even my grandmother, who usually wanted me to have anything I wanted, was horrified at the idea of her dear little granddaughter playing a "masculine" instrument. She said that some instruments, like flutes and clarinets, were "feminine" and other instruments, like trumpets and drums, were "masculine." Apparently the piano fell into the "unisex" category, because she had already taught me to play the piano and she also encouraged my male cousins to take piano lessons.

My parents told me that they'd be happy to sign me up for band lessons if I would choose the appropriate instrument. I said it was the drums or nothing. I got nothing.

Sometime later I sneaked into the room where the band lessons were being given with the excuse of seeing my sister. In the corner a boy was learning to do a drum- roll. He had no drums, only drumsticks, and since the lessons were given in the cafeteria, he practiced drumming on the table. I watched closely and listened to the teacher, and when I got back to my class I practiced on my desk with two pencils.

As I grew older, I became more and more interested in singing. Judy Collins and Peter, Paul, and Mary were popular, and I could easily imagine myself as a folk singer. I collected notebooks full of folk songs and decided I needed more training. I auditioned for the school choir, and although my voice wasn't particularly strong, the director was pleased with me and said they could always use another alto.

I rushed home to tell the folks, but they weren't as pleased as the director was when I told them I was an alto.

"No, you're not, you're a soprano," my mother insisted. "You and your sister have always been sopranos."

"That was when I was little," I explained. "Now I'm an alto."

"Girls sing soprano," my father said. "Only boys sing down low."

"Well, I'm a girl and I sing low," I defended.

"It isn't right," he said. "Everyone knows girls are supposed to sing soprano."

They didn't actually forbid me to join the choir, but I had a scheduling conflict with another class. That, plus their disapproval, made me decide against joining the choir. But still I kept singing on my own.

On my 19th birthday, when I was away at college, I asked for and got a set of bongos from my parents. They were so easy to play that I didn't need any lessons, and I found to my delight that the drumroll I had learned so long ago with two pencils sounded great when I played it with my fingers on the bongos.

One of my greatest joys in college was singing with Rags, a buddy of mine. She played the guitar, and I played the bongos. We tried singing in our dorm rooms, but the sound wasn't right. Then one day Rags dragged me and my bongos down the hall to the communal bathroom where the acoustics were excellent. She was a soprano, and with my alto we sang in beautiful harmony.

The world kept turning. John Lennon was murdered. Ringo, the shy Beatle, started making commercials. My role-model sister got married and bought a ranch. I graduated from college and tried my hands at many jobs. I bought a piano and kept working on my music.

THEN two years ago, my music was suddenly accepted. I was spending some time at my parents' house, and my father, an avid Barbra Streisand fan, had heard her sing "Memory" on the radio and asked me if I knew what album it was on. I said, "Who needs Streisand when they've got Lee?" and started singing it at full volume in their living room. I played it for laughs, and my mother got up and went to the kitchen to check her turkey. I would not be put off and followed her into the kitchen, still singing lustily. I got a few laughs and was satisfied with that.

Later that day, various relatives showed up for dinner. We all sat around the living room after the meal, trying to come up with some common interest to discuss. My father suddenly suggested that I sing "Memory" for the company. I protested that I had no accompaniment, but apparently that was no problem, because he had a cassette tape with an instrumental version of the song on it. I sang with my low, husky voice to an enthusiastic audience. Afterward my father casually mentioned that he "wouldn't mind" having a tape of me singing as a Christmas present.

So many things have happened to me, the little girl who grew up in a boy's world, and sometimes I wonder at how far I've come. Did my parents change? Did the world change? Did I change? Probably all three. One of the few things that hasn't changed is my love of music - a love that has taught me to express myself in my own way and to please that most discerning of critics, me.

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