Local Music Memoirs

This morning I dropped into The Bismarck Tribune‘s website and noticed a front web-page article on Jim McMahon. Anyone who is remotely connected with the Bismarck-Mandan or University of Mary music scene knows Jim, and they also know about his optimistic and upbeat commitment to professional and informal music. This article got me thinking a bit about how I started formal music percussion training in the 5th grade under the direction of Randy Salzer at Grimsrud Elementary in Bismarck. I knew I was interested in percussion (or what I called “drumming”) for a variety of reasons beyond the mimicry of AnimalTommy Lee, or Keith Moon (among others). So in my earlier years I asked my mom and dad about drumming, and they responded immediately. My mom came from a musical family, so it was not only an easy sell, it was encouraged. Her dad, my Grandpa Christy, was an administrator in a musicians union in post-WWII Rapid City, South Dakota. My mom has childhood stories about any variety of musicians being put up at her home in Rapid City (music being played in the house till the wee hours as well). This is kind of the way with musicians, whether professionally trained or auto-didactics (or both, which often is the case).

From behind the drums in the Les Dirty Frenchmen practice room. Photo from December 2013.

From behind the drums in the Les Dirty Frenchmen practice room. Photo from December 2013.

Nonetheless, the story on Jim McMahon reminded me of the 5th grade, and lugging what at the time was a gigantic snare drum to school before the start of classes. I think we had something like 20 minutes or so of time with our professionally trained teacher, and he taught us the basics of quarter, eighth, sixteenth and thirty-second notes, paradiddles, flams, and rim shots. As my 5th-12th grade matriculation continued, I found the percussion avenues of other instruments, including the timpani. Today, just down the road in Fargo, I like to know that if Todd or Troy (Reisenauer) asked me to drop a timpani solo into a Les Dirty Frenchmen song, I’d be able to do that, no problem.

And here’s another thing that Randy Salzer and Jim McMahon (and Robert Pesky, Brad Stockert, Scott Prebys, and professionally trained musical educators in general) plant within their students, whether they know it or not: training one to act on stage in front of small and large groups. Think about it: it is a rarity to play any song to perfection (which is one of the original socio-cultural gripes that punk had toward the music industry). But anyone can receive training to know that when you sense a screw-up, just push on. Instead of obsessing over the mess-up, embrace and own it. This is what in the arts and humanities we call a “transferable skill.” We can use it in other disciplines, and even as a life ethos. There is a psychology to it, and the more one performs, the better they get at their work, and the better they get at interpreting this to larger audiences on stage, both formally and informally. That’s what Shakespeare said, anyhow, about how life is a stage. It’s much more than sound and fury signified by nothing, though. It is, in fact, about how our actions today — the musical training of students — have unforeseen effects. Or unforeseen repercussions (hey, it’s a blog post about percussion). In every conversation I can think of, Jim has been perpetually open to different ideas that encourage and cultivate the local music culture of Bismarck-Mandan. So I just wanted to end this by saying nice work, Jim. Nice work indeed.


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