Places: Drum room, Academy of Contemporary Music at the University of Central Oklahoma, 25 S Oklahoma, Oklahoma City

Published: December 11, 2009
Modified: December 11, 2009 at 1:23 pm



Air drumming with a No. 2 pencil during an exam is accepted — encouraged, really — in this strikingly uncollegiate college classroom.

A couple students in the Academy of Contemporary Music's drum room are doing just that to help them answer question No. 35 of this semester's final exam, which is less of a question and more of a sound: boom-boom, crack-crash, bigger boom-bigger boom, crack-crash.

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The instructor behind the drum kit plays it again.

“Try to go with your gut,” instructor Justin Walke says. “If your gut tells you something, it's probably right.”

The students' guts hear a distinct rhythmic pattern they are carefully transcribing to music manuscript paper that is the answer sheet for their final exam. My big gut just hears boom-boom, crack-crash. Suddenly, I feel inferior. I look at the witless onomatopoeia scribbled in my notebook and realize I would fail this final. It's disheartening, as an enormous chunk of my life has been spent obsessing about music. But a thousand CDs, hundreds of concerts and a few stints working on the business side of music haven't given me the trained ears of a musician. Not even close.

Training those ears is the point of this room at the University of Central Oklahoma's new academy, known by many as the city's first “school of rock.” The room works like a factory assembly line for drum parts. Not actual parts, like a floor tom drum or high hat cymbal, but parts that are played, like beats and fills. In here, every nuance of playing the drums is torn apart and put back together in perfect order.

A standard five-piece drum kit is on a riser at the front of the room. It is the only traditional kit here. Facing it are 18 electric Roland drum kits, each identical, with various cords snaking in and out of headphones, mixing boards and power sources. Sheet music to “(Don't Fear) The Reaper” by Blue Öyster Cult sits on music stands throughout the room. There are no desks, just drum kits. A half dozen students were playing the electric drum kits before class, arms flinging everywhere, headbanging to the cascade of faint drumming rolling across the room. It would've been deafening had they been playing traditional drum kits, but it was oddly quiet.

During the final, heads bob and feet tap in sync with every drum beat the instructor plays. Some slap their hands on their laps to keep tempo. The beat begins again, but this time, their heads all dart up in unison and pause.

“Yeah, I know,” Walke says, and starts over.

Apparently, the instructor dropped a beat. This layman couldn't tell, but the students sure could. The room works.

JOHN ESTUS, STAFF WRITER

 


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