Never Too Late to Croon

A professional drummer since the age of 18, I have friends who are world-class musicians and others who have never touched an instrument. The sociological differences between the groups are not significant, but the talent and dedication needed to be a stage performer adds a major degree of separation. Consider, then, my surprise when two of my closest friends decided to pursue music on a performing level later in life. Their actions aroused my curiosity and ultimately inspired this writing. Join me as I delve into their challenges, routines and dreams.

Richard has wanted to be a crooner since he was in his 20s. He grew up in Los Angeles where his father, Danny Baxter, was a sports radio icon. Perhaps intimidated by his father’s celebrity, Richard waited until his 40s before acting on his passion for singing. “I watched Frank Sinatra in concert during my early 30s, and saw how much fun he was having,” says Richard. “Over the years, many people have complimented my speaking voice, but it took me a long time to build my self-confidence about singing.”

Carol Taiko 2Carol enjoyed success in collegiate theater and dance, but never uttered a word about learning an instrument until recently. Apparently she got the “music bug” while watching the taiko group Kodo (see video), and has been mindful of taiko classes after hearing the Pasadena group Makoto Taiko perform in 2008. “Seeing Anglos and women in Makoto Taiko inspired an interest that transcended just listening,” says Carol. She now rehearses with the North American Taiko group Naruwan Taiko in San Diego, and recently attended a workshop on Japanese Taiko along with members of Makoto Taiko.

As a “community class member” of Naruwan Taiko, Carol attends a two-hour rehearsal on Monday evenings, and practices about an hour each week at home. She has been invited to perform at two concerts with the A team — one at UC San Diego and another at the San Diego Obon Festival. Carol listens to every genre except pop country, metal and hip hop, and is inspired by instructor Diana Wu of Naruwan Taiko and other female performers from North America.

Richard has been the quintessential “garage band musician” in recent years. He was with a quartet that rehearsed for six months, but the group disbanded to pursue individual interests. Richard spends at least 20 minutes per day on vocal scales to improve his resonance and pitch. He also sings behind the wheel and studies recordings by artists who inspire him such as Sinatra, Steely Dan and Stevie Ray Vaughn. I listened to a couple of his recordings in 2012, and was very impressed with his phrasing and pitch, especially since I knew he had minimal experience.

Looking ahead, Richard would like to bring the music of Sinatra to life. “A lot of people have never heard Sinatra sing or have forgotten how many great songs were in his repertoire,” says Richard. “I see myself with a very tight band in front of a large audience. … My hunch is that I can get them to smile.”

Meanwhile, Carol is having a lot of fun playing taiko drums, and appreciates the mental and physical challenges that they offer. With more experience, she would like to be a bona fide member of Naruwan Taiko. “There’s a primal nature to taiko that mimics the human heart,” she says, “and I feel a spiritual component while playing the large odaiko drum.”