A good friend of mine, named Ron Behr, once asked me if I had ever experienced the “drummer’s dream.” I wasn’t sure if I had or not until he explained a recurring dream that he has had for some time. As he described it, I realized that I’d had a similar dream for years. In my case, it goes like this: I arrive at a very important job or concert and begin to set up my drums. Try as I might, I cannot seem to complete the process. Pieces are missing or I can’t find them, and the job is getting closer and closer. Finally, the band begins to play, and I still haven’t completed the drum setup. I am always relieved to awaken and realize that it was just another dream.
Ron told me that he had begun to ask his students if they ever had similar dreams. In a great many cases, they reported having dreams of this sort. Likewise, when I mentioned the idea for this article to MD Features Editor Rick Mattingly, he described a drummer’s dream that he once had: “It seems that I was hired to play a casual. I was the first musician to arrive at the job, and I started setting up my drums. Suddenly the rest of the band walked in, and they were all wearing tuxes. I had on a tan sports coat. I was really mad at myself for forgetting to ask what I was supposed to wear. I don’t recall anything like that ever happening to me, but I guess in my subconscious I worry that it might.”
It does seem that the drummer’s dream is usually based on fear. The following describes another such dream that I have been told about: “I was hired to playa dance at an exclusive country club. I like to be early in order to set up my drums without being in a sweat over it. However, I can’t seem to find the country club. I ask for directions and people keep giving me conflicting ones. The time for the job to start is getting closer and closer, and I am getting more and more worried. When I finally find the place, everyone else is already playing, and they give me dirty looks as I hurriedly set up the drums.”
A dream that show drummers have on occasion concerns a forgotten piece of equipment. For example: Rehearsals are over and it’s opening night. The conductor walks over to the drummer and says, “I think I would like to hear timpani mallets on the tom-tom in the opening rather than sticks.” No problem. That is, until you look in your stick bag and there are no timpani mallets. You say to yourself, “I know they were in there. Perhaps I left them in the dressing room.” A mad dash to the dressing room follows. Suddenly, you hear the orchestra start without you. If you are lucky, you wake up at this point. Another dream that occurs from time to time is based on a faulty piece of equipment. You’re right in the middle of your featured drum solo at an important concert, and something happens to your foot pedal. Suddenly, it just stops. The spring has broken or, worse yet, the beater rod has gone through the bass drum head. I’ve actually had both experiences, and you really do feel helpless. The only time you feel more helpless is when this happens in a dream. You feel as though you can’t move. It is a frustrating feeling.
Then there is the dream in which, for some mysterious reason, your hands and feet will not work. It’s as though you have forgotten how to play. You know what to do, but your body has forgotten how to do everything. This is, perhaps, the most disconcerting dream of all. I have only spoken to a couple of drummers who have had this one. It usually precedes a big, important situation.
Another dream that plagues some people is the one about forgetting your music. You are in a big band or orchestra, the concert is about to start, and your music is missing. This is a common dream for young musicians in school bands who carry their music back and forth from school to the house for practicing.
For young drummers in school marching bands, the big fear is forgetting or misplacing your sticks. The band is just about ready to go. You put your sticks down for a moment while you adjust something, and when you reach down to pick them back up, they are missing. If you are lucky, a friend is just playing a joke on you. When this happens in a dream, it seems that you never find the sticks in time.
Often these dreams are based on actual experiences. In my case, the dreams are based on a couple of different things that happened to me. When I was in my teens, I went to an out-of-¬town dance job and forgot my trap case. It was very humiliating, because I was working with older musicians and they didn’t let up on me the whole evening. Another time, when I was on Benny Goodman’s band, we were in Europe and I overslept (or the hotel forgot my wake-up call, depending on your point of view). I got to the concert only moments before it started and only had time to set up part of my kit. I played the first tune with only a snare, bass drum, hi-hat, and ride cymbal. In between songs I added the other drums and cymbals a piece at a time. Benny never noticed, and by the time I had to play “Sing, Sing, Sing,” I had the entire kit set up.
Whether these dreams are based on actual experiences, or simply some fear about what could go wrong, they reflect the pressure that all drummers are under relative to equipment and being on time. So if you have had similar drummer’s dreams, at least you now know that you are not alone. We all seem to go through this experience at some time or another. Suffice to say that it’s just another part of the difficult business of being a drummer.