"Stephen, they need you to play drums Sunday."
My mom’s words smacked me in the face then echoed back and forth in my 15-year-old head. They what?? I laughed to myself. How do they even know that I play drums? No one’s supposed to know that! I just started lessons two months ago! This is crazy.
But somehow word had gotten out and I was getting dragged into the high school student worship band at church. Turns out their regular drummer had graduated high school and the replacement hadn't worked out. Little had I known 5 minutes before this moment that I was about to play my very first gig with just two months of drum lessons under my belt. I didn’t even own a real drumset at the time.
I was totally unprepared, terrified, and looking for a way out of this. I remember laying in bed that night praying about it, saying “God if you want me to go way out of my comfort zone to do this, you have to go with me and somehow enable me to do what terrifies me.” The strange thing was, I woke up the next day knowing this was what I was supposed to do. I was still absolutely terrified, but I knew 100% that I needed to take this on and help the worship band out with what little skill I had to offer.
Thankfully I actually had a few weeks to prepare. Turns out they wouldn’t need me until the school year started, so I had some time to begin learning the songs we’d be playing. The best preparation I could do was jam out in my bedroom to these recordings and learn the first worship set to the best of my ability. I even came up with a simple charting method that I used to ensure that I knew the songs front to back.
I’ll never forget that first Sunday… We played three songs: "The Time Has Come" (Hillsong United), "Holy Is The Lord" (Chris Tomlin), and "How Great Is Our God" (Chris Tomlin) - the biggest worship hits of the mid 2000s for sure!
I felt so awkward counting off the first song. I’d never counted off a tune before, and I remember it occurring to me that I didn’t know whether or not to click my sticks or hit the hihats. I felt (and definitely looked like) a deer in the headlights the entire time. I just wanted to not mess up and train-wreck the band. If I can just make it through these songs, I’ll be ok. I’m pretty sure I played “The Time Has Come” significantly under tempo. It’s supposed to be 147bpm, but we probably settled into somewhere around 130bpm. Don’t mess up, don’t stop playing. Don’t mess up, don’t stop playing… I reminded myself the entire time. Ok, what’s next? Alright, chorus is coming up… ok don’t mess up the fill. Alright I think we drop down here… I hope this is right… yeah I think so… ok.
My goal that morning was survival. I don’t have a “miracle story” of that first gig being amazing. I wish I could say that I just settled right into the groove and felt great and everything was perfect and everyone said “Stephen, you’re amazing! How’d you get so good in two months?!” That wasn’t what happened at all. Everyone was absolutely very encouraging, which I definitely needed. But I was just a young drummer hanging in there trying to land on his feet. I knew that I wasn’t a terrible drummer. After all, I learned the songs and played the right parts (probably debatable though), so I probably didn’t sound awful. But I didn’t feel like I sounded particularly good either.
I played the next Sunday, then the next, then the next, each week dealing with the same nerves, the same fear…the same general not-really-enjoying myself all that much. Then after about 4 months, something clicked.
Maybe it was the break over Christmas and New Years…Maybe I reached a new place in my practicing… I really don’t know. But something changed. I remember showing up for the first Sunday of the new year for the typical morning of rehearsal at 7:30am. We counted off the first song, which was another great Hillsong United tune, “Look to You.” Playing this song for the first time was so much fun. Our electric guitar player that day (a senior in high school) was a really great player, and I remember him ripping into the driving chorus. We as a band had a level of passion that morning that I hadn’t felt or noticed before. Thinking back on this, I bet it was there all along. It just took me 16 or so Sundays to discover it.
It’s interesting to look back on this, because that Sunday was January 3, 2010, the first Sunday of the decade that we just finished. It’s hard to believe this was ten years ago exactly. I remember those days of playing in the high school worship band like they were yesterday. The year and a half from January 2010 to May 2011 ended up being such a blast, because I was playing music I loved with people I loved. We were all passionate about leading the youth group in worship, and we all truly dug the music that we were playing. We didn’t get burned out at all playing worship tunes, because that was what we listened to in our free time!
Something happened at the beginning of last decade to stir a deep passion for music in me. I don’t know exactly what it was, and I don’t need to go back and try to analyze it. But I know it had something to do with letting go of some fear, some self-consciousness, and a lot of my worry about what people thought of me. Watch out, because those things will easily block you from chasing after a calling on your life or from at least being the best you can be at something. I can’t even give myself the credit for getting over those things and moving on - God had to have done that for me. I could name numerous times since then that life challenges have arisen and the same thing has happened. I’ve had to lay crap down and give it to God since only he can deal with our mess.
Wherever you’re at in your drumming, whether you’re just starting, just about to play your first gig, or you’re deep into this and have been doing it longer than I have… I hope this story serves to encourage you. Growth takes time and patience, and passion has tremendous power. It’s normal to feel inadequate on the drums the first time you play. It’s also normal to experience fear and self consciousness…But that doesn’t mean those are things you should put up with. Leave the baggage behind and be the musician you’re supposed to be.