The cover of Carol of the Drum (a.k.a. Little Drummer Boy) lovingly done by @Spadezer and myself releases tomorrow, 24 December 2020.
Ahead of its release, I want to talk about why it's so special to me, and what I endured to get to this point. I'll also be talking a bit about the process behind it.
CW: child abuse, violence, misogyny, transphobia, sexual abuse, rape.
I first heard this carol, and the sound of the drum, when I was three years old, and my path was set.
While I often feel stupid for not admitting to myself that my path was set and that this was what I was destined to do, I never really had the space.
For, you see, my drumming is tied inextricably with my history and who I am as a person. Yes, the drum is my favourite instrument, but I feel like I'm drumming in response to something. It is often a joyful response to being loved, cherished, appreciated as a person. Given the time, I would happily do a drum recital in front of my friends just to thank them for being there with me.
I guess, enduring a sorrowful history leaves me with no words to express my sorrow, and no words to express joy when it is there.
What I endured as a drummer, and as a person, is not something that I wish upon anyone, even my worst enemy. I would normally choose to keep it to myself, telling it on the rare occasion perhaps. But today, it's important for me to write it down, because all of these things led me to where I am today.
- At age 3 I heard the sound of the drum and this special carol for the first time. From that point, I would pray through rhythm on a frequent basis. My body had already been violently treated prior, by my own parents, but this was new ammunition to them.
- At age 5 I saw and heard a drum kit being played for the first time. I desperately wanted to play, but both parents made certain to tell me in front of people that "drumming isn't for girls." My parents would sooner believe that I was a lesbian or a trans boy, than believe I was a cishet(?) girl who loved the beat of the drum, and they made that known plenty through the years.
- Since then, whenever I pleaded and begged to play, they would beat me up very badly. They beat me up for anything that didn't fit their precious little picture of what they wanted me to be. On a few occasions I lost consciousness as a result of the beatings. During this time, I kept looking for a drum to play, and when I did, I played it softly -- since if I did play it loudly, people would hear me, and my parents would inevitably find out, and the cycle of abuse would begin again. This would go on for years. This was also exacerbated by the fact that the place where I grew up hated minorities like myself, and so I had little support from school or anywhere. I was on my own.
- At age 15, on Christmas Eve -- the anniversary of which is also the release date of that cover of the Carol of the Drum -- I was at a Christmas Vigil Mass with my immediate and extended family, and I happened to see a second cousin of mine playing kit that day, part of his parish music ministry. I'd been holding in my desire for years for fear of being badly beaten up again. I was in church, with the tabernacle right in front of me, and I was certain that they'd beat me up again -- but this time would be a point of no return. Believing my life forfeit, I looked straight to the tabernacle in front of me, and then told my parents about this. Surprisingly, I was spared that night. Something changed in my mother, too, and I can't quite put my finger on what.
- At age 16, I tried out the drums for the first time. It was everything I yearned for, and more. No one taught me; this was my own natural ability then. I was, however, prevented from taking it up because of my GCSEs.
- At age 17, I was gifted my first (electronic) kit, at my mother's urging. Little did I know back then that she wanted to make things right with me, in part because she was dying. In the month or so that she could do this, she sat by me to listen to me playing. Then, she was taken to hospital, and a hundred days later, she passed away. My father prevented me from showing her my playing for fear that I would "upset her" -- but the day before she died, while he was absent, I managed to show her a video of my playing. She smiled, and she motioned to a visiting family friend that I could play drums now. Now my father had promised me drum lessons once we got my mother out of hospital okay -- I don't know if that was to placate me or what; he knew she was dying. And while we were at home, he decided to make his feelings about my playing known, beating me up and calling me names on a regular basis.
- I would spend the next few years in conscription, preparing to read law, and being bundled out of the country of my birth due to it being unsafe for me. In the absence of a drum, I drummed on my chest until it was red and painful.
- At age 21, after begging friends to help me find a kit and finding out that they took the brunt of the verbal, sexist, and likely racist abuse meant for me, I felt like I had nowhere to turn. Someone whom I once considered a friend recommended that while waiting for a kit, I could try playing the bodhrán, if my desire to keep the beat was strong. With what little money I had I bought my first bodhrán, and began to beat it.
- At age 22, homelessness, destitution and fear for what I endured growing up drove me to Preston, and drove me to begin the asylum process. I also joined the choir at the parish of St Wilfrid's, and I couldn't believe my ears when they said that one of their former members, who had sadly passed away earlier that year, used to beat the bodhrán for some hymns. I put myself forward, and my journey as a percussionist finally began in earnest. I also met my beloved Seán that year, and his late father used to beat the bodhrán -- it was his favourite instrument -- and the beat was one of a number of things that brought us together. My choirmistress would also take the decision to assign me to the timpani after hearing me play percussion for the first time, and that cemented my use of matched grip and laid the groundwork for my kit drumming. Unfortunately, that year would also mark the year that I would face reprisal in the form of sexual advances, as a result of my outward display of passion whenever I beat the drum. A flatmate would sexually assault and then rape me using my drum face as "consent."
- At age 24, I finally had regular access to a kit, because I came across Soundskills, the community centre in the suburb of Brookfield, and discovered that they had drums at their studio.
- At age 26, my friend from Soundskills -- Greg Slater -- decided to have me as the drummer in his newest band, The Just Numbers. My first ever live performance as a drummer happened that year. Bear in mind that most people would do this in their teens. I didn't have the chance until I was 26. Not long after, I was gifted my first acoustic kit by my Seán.
- At age 28, after much wrangling on the part of my Seán and some friends including Greg, I finally was able to begin formal training on the drums. I talked about it at length in a previous newspost, but long story short, my tutor immediately put me on prep for Grade 8, the highest examinable grade by most exam boards, after hearing me play. My kit would eventually be stolen on New Year's Day 2020, and Seán and Greg helped me to procure a replacement -- which turned out to be better than the original kit, but I miss the original. (You always miss the first of everything, if it gave you a good experience.)
Which leads us to today. I am now 29, and this carol is done with the weight of everything that I've borne. Tomorrow, I release a carol close to my heart -- I release the song that sums up who I desire to be, and perhaps, who I always have been.
Everything that I mentioned above is just a summary, scratching the surface.
So why am I writing this, you ask? Well, those of you who have known me for a while know one thing about me in particular: I cannot, and will not, keep silent about an injustice that has happened until it has been corrected. That's all.
This was long thought out; I had the idea in my head roundabout the time that I was writing A Stroll Down St Pancras, in part for this year's Sketch Collab. I'd actually wanted to do it for years, but this year it really felt concrete. I felt that my mixing, my singing, and my drumming had reached the heights I'd hoped for this carol to be pulled off. @Spadezer suggested that we collaborate, and I was hoping to find other male vocalists to help me since I could barely reach baritone on my own. @Riy0 offered to collaborate as well -- but unfortunately, he needed to pull out due to computer troubles and difficulty with the couriers when having a new computer delivered.
I began recording in September; I concentrated on the drums first. I wanted them to be tribal and thumping and tight. Then, in October, I wrote the harmonies and sent MIDIs to Spadez and Riy0 in November. Spadez and I began recording vocals in earnest in November, and at the end of that month, I had enough parts to begin mixing.
I finished recording vocals in early December.
Mixing the song was a nightmare. Those of you who have been following me on Twitter and interacting with me on Discord may have found out, perhaps, that this project had a lot of gremlins. It was shifting pitches and dynamics and reverb settings where I explicitly didn't touch these. I did my best with a very uncooperative project file. I didn't have time to be faffing around especially since around Christmastide, I tend to be out singing carols and in services and things. It tends to be one of the busiest times for me each year; it certainly has been the busiest time for me this year. After nine months of downtime, it's been hard for me to be adjusted to this level of activity again, and I certainly wouldn't have time to sit at FL ironing out the project any further than I currently have -- I'm certainly not risking even more unwarranted pitch changes, not now.
However -- I do not feel bitter about the song. I feel immense joy and anticipation. My heart beats high like the drums in that piece. I look forward to sharing that joy with you all tomorrow. I will update, of course, with a new FP post when it releases.
I am a drummer, I am a composer, I am an arranger, I am a vocalist. I share all these parts of me with you tomorrow. It is my hope that I'll actually wake in time to release this; I plan on releasing the Carol of the Drum in the small hours, EST. Until then, thank you for reading -- and to those of you who anticipate this carol, I hope that your hearts beat as loudly as mine with that anticipation. ^_^