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Beating age stereotypes like a drum

A couple of articles about Nobel Prize winners recently caught my notice. The winners had followed their curiosities and invested their lives chasing what-ifs and recording results. Their ages 70, 76, and 96 are what drew me in, and their accomplishments were astounding.

I don’t like to dwell on age. I think we’re better off not knowing what’s printed on our birth certificate. Some live that way. Such a one is my friend, Sue Musolf.

For several months, Sue has been taking drum lessons from Nate Lee, a senior at South Medford High School. I knew as soon as Sue mentioned this unique pairing that I wanted to investigate. After months of delays, including smoke/heat avoidance (me), one broken wrist (Nate) and wisdom teeth extraction (also Nate), I found my way to the most welcoming Lee home.

One word to the wise and/or carefree, depending on how you view life — beware what you bid on at silent auctions. You just may carry it off. In Sue’s case, an auction triumph sounded the downbeat to a life-long desire.

Nate had donated four drum lessons at a church auction, and Sue made the rounds, checking out the offerings.

“I’d turned 70 years old, and I realized I always wanted to learn how to play the drum set. I paid $40 because nobody was bidding on it.”

Personally, I think providence blocked other bidders or erased their numbers, because obviously this gig belonged to Susie.

“I used to accompany my dance classes. I needed to have a rhythm, so I used to bang on whatever I could,” said Sue, who was a dance major at UCLA — BA and MA. She danced professionally and taught modern dance at the college level.

“I started on one drum, the snare.” Once she felt comfortable with the sticks and elementary rudiments, she graduated to the full set and added the bass and high hat. Sue is not your ordinary septuagenarian, but then, is anybody ordinary?

“I have heavy metal on my Pandora, like AC/DC, Kiss. I work out to that.” Sometimes she tries playing along with the band.

After our interview, I took sticks in hand, and Nate showed me this first, elemental, easy-peasy, duck-soup move. I began with the right foot, beating out the one and three count on the bass. Good. Then I added eighth notes on the high hat. No sweat. Hey, I kind of suspected I had a natural gift at this. Then, the objective of hitting the snare on the second and fourth beat with my left hand proved categorically impossible. Whatever coordination I’d imagined quickly exited the room, and I shared Sue’s frustration with new fills.

She practices daily.

“When you start feeling confident, that confidence gives you the incentive and desire to keep going.”

She keeps after it.

“I feel now that I want to continue on as long as my hands hold out. Arthritis in my hands, it’s not very comfortable.”

Nate has been at the drums since fifth grade, and his dedication shows. His drum teacher is none other than Hal Davis, the principal percussionist for Rogue Valley Symphony. Nate is a member of the Youth Symphony of Southern Oregon and has ranked high in state competitions. He is serious about drums. In fact, I had trouble getting Nate to crack a smile, a challenge I don’t take lightly. I had to skewer him in the ribs with a drumstick to elicit a glimmer of a grin. He may be looking ahead to all the studying he faces before becoming a maxillofacial surgeon, his ultimate goal. But music will always play a big part in his life. He likes jazz, especially jazz drumming great, Art Blakey.

“All my favorite jazz drummers are dead,” Nate said. A cheery thought. To arrange lessons, phone him at 541-601-7175.

These two reinforced the long-held belief that you’re never too young or too old to follow your gifting. And when generations meet on the path, the reward is doubled.

Reach freelance writer Peggy Dover at pcdover@hotmail.com and visit her on Facebook.