“The more I practice the luckier I get“ said one famous golfer.
And it’s a sentiment with which I would entirely agree. It all started when I, and two other 13 year-olds went to see a movie called “the Glenn Miller story”. That was the biographical film at the eponymous band leader of the 1930s and the 1940s, responsible for such enduring hits as, “In the mood”, “American Patrol”, and of course, “Moonlight Serenade.”
In that movie there is a four-minute clip in which there is a scintillating, driving, rhythmic drum solo, performed by the inimitable Gene Krupa.
I believe Gene Krupa was responsible for the emergence of more drummers in the world then any other person.
Spellbound, I watched and listened as Krupa performed the most musical of solos, with swinging arms, flashing teeth, waving sticks, and a rhythm that had the entire audience in the cinema tapping their feet, clicking fingers and simply wallowing in the driving swing that the man created. Gene Krupa was the man who brought drums to the fore in big band popular music.
Not only were his solos wonderful to listen to, but he had a style to match. So rhythmic was his playing, that dancers never paused when he gave a solo. If anything, dancers were energised and invigorated by his rhythmic playing and showmanship.
My two friends, Tommy Lambert, a gifted young trombonist, and Billy Whelan, a really musical trumpet player, and I, emerged from the picture house in a daze of musical ecstasy.
My two pals played, practised and rehearsed in the local Confraternity Brass Band. Both of them were inspired to improve their playing. Up to then I had not played an instrument.
But I emerged from that cinema as the Boy Who Would be Drummer.
But more than that, as I walked out into Georges Street, still hearing the rolls, the rim shots, the steady beat of the bass drum, the cymbal crashes, I was Gene Krupa.
So much so, that over the next two days, I gathered an array of pots, saucepans, saucepan lids, round ashtrays, and hat boxes. Anything, anything at all, that remotely resembled a percussion instrument was put to use in the construction of my simulated drum set. I was ensconced in the room at the top of our house, out of sight, but not quite out of earshot
So, after three weeks of musical mayhem , percussive pandemonium, and an endless stream of complaining neighbours, culminating in a visit from the Garda Sergeant, my poor, bewildered, overwhelmed mother invested for me in a rubber practice pad and a pair of drumsticks with which I could beat the unfortunate item.
Peace descended on the neighbourhood.
But it doesn’t end there. In the name of progress, I next inflicted my energetic enthusiasms on the town's well-known percussion player, Mr Jack Roche. He agreed to give me lessons. But, there were conditions. The main condition was that I agreed to practice regularly.
That was the least I could do. That was the least I intended to do. Not only did I practice, but was deemed earnest enough to merit an invitation to go and watch, and listen, at a rehearsal of the 11 piece dance band in which Mr Roche played.
For this, I was invited to the local dance hall where the band performed once or twice a week for the benefit of hundreds of their followers and eager dancing fans.
To my amazement, all 11 players were reading and playing from written musical charts, Including the drummer!
To me this was heresy. Treachery.
Up to that minute, I thought drummers were meant to be seated acrobats, gum chewing, elbow flailing, demonic maniacs, tyrannising the band into performance, spurring audience and dancers into a non-insurable, hysterical, limb swinging frenzy, that we called jiving.
And there he was, Mr Roche, sitting sedately behind his drums, relaxed, at his ease, looking for all the world as if he was enjoying himself, and driving the band with a meticulously timed, steady, swinging, metronomic beat.
As I watched and listened, to the up-tempo quicksteps, the foxtrots, the tattooed tangos, the rhythmic rhumbas, the Latin Sambas, and the wonderful waltzes, my life was transformed
The precision, the apparent ease, the resulting ensemble of months, years, and in some cases decades, of individual practice and application was to me a revelation. The eleven musicians gelled into a perfect symphony of sound, rhythm and melody. It was a sound that filled the hall, reverberated through every fibre of my existence, and lifted the human spirit to a celestial height.
That evening, new horizons opened up. The value, and the possible rewards, of diligent practice, in any undertaking, were imprinted on my young and impressionable mind.
That evening was an epiphanous event in my life. Out went Gene Krupa and the extravert showmanship. In came Jack Roche and the rhythm, and the fluency, and the easy relaxed style of precise and practised musicianship.
Jack was The Man.
And for the next 10 to 12 years my aim was to play as well as Jack. I don’t believe I ever did. But in my way, through the skiffle groups, blues bands, trad jazz band gigs, and even Ceili sessions, not to mention the hours spent on my trusty practice pad, I had a great time trying.
And of course I had the great advantage of seeing the value of practice. For the principal spilled over into other areas of my life.
Most of life‘s skills are just that, skills. And so they have fundamentals.
And those fundamentals can be learned, developed, and practised.
And so, you can help yourself get good at whatever it is you do. It goes for anything. And if you apply yourself you just might, might, become very, very good at it.
And of course there’s always the consolation that you will, at the very least, become competent.
And there lies the power of practice.