Working in the drum department of a music store this winter break, I felt right at home. I've grown accustomed to loud environments after 10 years of playing the drum set.
However, "accustomed" was seldom the word to describe the gift-seeking parents who straggled through our store.
Paralyzed by the din of budding rock stars pounding away at the floor models, most parents simply stared at the expansive rows of cymbals, snares, and bass drums.
Others trembled at visions of the racket being transported into their own homes with the swipe of a credit card. I could hardly blame them.
On a bustling Saturday morning, my voice rang out, "Do you need any help, ma'am?" "Yes," she mouthed emphatically, her dry whisper lost in a resounding fusillade of adolescent angst, "I do."
I pitied her at that moment. How closely she must have resembled my mom years ago, making the uncertain trek into the music store for her son's Christmas present. And yet, as an avid drummer myself, I told her that, despite the noise, the decision to buy her rhythmically inclined child a drum set was one of the best she'd ever make.
Doubtless, this is a controversial statement. But, speaking from personal experience, it's one I'm willing to make.
In middle school, my mother placed me in the beginning band. I decided I would follow in my brother's footsteps and play the trombone. My mother was delighted, and informed me that I would be sharing his instrument.
I determined that would not do. Without hesitation, I announced I would play the drums, and, after some hesitation, was given the go. It was a decision I will never regret.
At school, they started us out simply on drum pads, which are small circular disks producing about one-tenth the volume of a real drum when struck. My pad was noiseless enough at home, and I was allowed - encouraged, even - to practice at will.
Then, one Christmas, the snare drum arrived. For me, the sound was a gleeful cross between the crack of a wooden bat in summer baseball games and the smack of a fly swatter on a lazy household day.
For my parents, quietly holding their ears, this drum was vexing. The urge to silence the offending shots was only thinly suppressed by the sight of unrestrained happiness in the eyes of their boy. Reluctantly, they proceeded to buy me a full set.
To drummers, the sound of drums is fuel and fire, lighting a ubiquitous realm of unheard music. The best part is that crowd-whipping tornado fittingly known as the "drum solo."
Like the tornado, the outward appearance of a drum solo seems a noisy wreck, tearing and demolishing all that lies in its path. But inside, unheard, a beautiful, tranquil peace breathes life: a pulsing, pounding world of beats, colors, and music. It is a world easy to love and be lost in, a life of surreal yet tangible adventure. A world of heavenly rhythm.
Or, it is, as my mother tried to explain through sputtering lips after I emerged from an hour of thunderous double bass drum playing upstairs, "like this, this train, that keeps coming, and coming, but never gets there! It's driving me insane!"
"Sorry, Mom. I'll put on my practice pads. OK, OK, I'll stop. I think I'll go outside now."
Yes, sorry, Mom. But, please accept my sincere thanks for your tolerance. I hope either my visible love of playing or the years of practice has made the listening a bit easier to take. And if it makes you feel any better, I sort of know how you feel.
Swinging back to the last of my 10-hour custody of the drum shop, I can't help but think the great "skins beater" in the sky was sending a bit of acoustic retribution my way as my colleague and I suffered through the last elementary beat to filter out of the store.
"Aaron, that kid's been going for 20 minutes! Please go take the sticks, we're closed...."
"Noooo problem," I sighed, eager to comply, with my weight shifting slowly from the back counter. And walking over, I did mean to take his sticks, but ... seeing his little squinted eyes, lids torqued tight in the struggle to coordinate that leg there with these hands here, I couldn't help but stop. I recognized that face. He wasn't done yet.
"Hey! Five more minutes, buddy, that's it. Five, OK?"
Aaron Bingham is a junior music major at Principia College in Elsah, Ill.