When I was younger, I wanted to play the drums. I sat in band class in middle school, alternating between the triangle and the cymbals, and on my lucky days, I’d get to play the snare drum. I took up private lessons, learning to play the drum set with Jim Lemmons and Roger Kidd. I made it to the Cazadero Performing Arts Camp in the coastal redwoods of Northern California and earned a seat as the jazz band drummer.
People were always surprised to see me and the few other young girls behind the drum set or back in the percussion section – this, I did not understand. I carried this question with me: Why do so few women play the drums? Could this possibly have to do with personality, cultural American values, and gender? Why have more men than women gravitated toward the field of percussion, and why are we looked at differently?
This project is an exploration of these questions. I chose to interview five women who are experienced, professional percussionists – their backgrounds and talents range from classical training to Afro-Cuban and Latin American percussion to punk rock drumming. These interviews were designed to highlight their careers and dig deeply into the resistance they have faced as women in a male-dominated category of instrumentation across genres.
This project exists to investigate how women, as artists, have navigated musical careers throughout the twenty-first century. The interview subjects have shared with me their stories of discrimination and sexual harassment, details of their career paths, and advice for future girls and women interested in the drums.
All of the interviewees emphasized, in one way or another, that girls and women are still told to be quiet. Women are not always encouraged to voice themselves or taught to be declarative. This is why the process of learning the drums – by nature a loud, physical instrument – does not always make sense to girls. However, for these reasons, learning, experiencing, and enjoying the drums can be an extremely empowering accomplishment for women, men, or anybody.
This project becomes journalistic through carefully-planned interviews that I have designed to be as objective as possible. However, it is here that I must be transparent about the fact that I admire these women and am searching for evidence that they have had to navigate careers in percussion differently than men and have to jump through different hoops in order to be successful in this industry.