Taking on the Chops: Even the Best Reinvent Their Craft

Procrastinating earlier this week, I watched Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage which is a 2010 documentary about the Canadian rock band Rush (perhaps obviously).

For those few of you who either know me or who read this blog, I’m a drummer (mediocre, most definitely, but I identify as one nonetheless). Every drummer has to deal with the dominance of certain players who shaped the role and pushed the boundaries of what a rock drummer can play.

Neil Peart is one of those drummers whose legacy and whose playing you have to acknowledge. Now, I’m not a chops (technically proficient/precise) drummer by either temperament or practice, so it was never a question of me imitating or emulating Peart. But there are basics that every drummer can learn—should learn—from the masters (and with apologies to the ever-humble Peart, he is a master).

At the top of his game, but following a poor showing at a Buddy Rich tribute concert, Peart reinvented his playing by studying under renowned jazz drummer Freddie Gruber.

What was revelatory was that Gruber didn’t teach—didn’t have to teach—Peart how to play; he focused instead on body movement, feel, and the ‘dance’ of the body when it synchs up with the song and the other players.

That Peart, who could have just kept performing in the same manner as he had been and done just fine for himself, took the risk to challenge his preconceptions and his habits and his playing—his very identity as a player—is an amazing testament to the resiliency of art and to the resiliency of the artist.