When Right Is Wrong

My son’s drum set had been sitting in the garage for quite awhile collecting dust, so I figured I would set it up and play on it a little. (Drummer jokes aside, it is a well-known secret that all musicians secretly wish they could play the drums.)

Now, I’m not a drummer. So I’ve always been a little uncoordinated on the drums, even though I can keep a steady beat and can program drums very quickly and credibly. I’d always attributed my klutziness to not having any formal training in 4-way coordination (for you non-musicians, that means banging something with each limb at the same time in a way that doesn’t sound like someone is falling down the stairs).

And then something long ago occurred to me. Many years ago as an adult, I was visiting my parents and was looking through some of the old family photo albums. I asked them why there were a number of childhood photos with me holding objects with my left hand, mirroring my little brother. Things like pop guns or hammers or other toys. My father then confessed to me that when I was a very little boy, I showed left-handed tendencies. But he forced me to use my right hand—eating with a fork, writing with a pencil, picking up the phone, everything. He had reasoned that life would be easier for me as a right-handed person.

It turned out he was wrong. I bat left-handed, throw right-handed, kick left-footed, and am right-eye dominant. In other words, in sports, I was all messed up. Not only was I a short and dumpy kid, but I had always felt a little awkward and uncoordinated.

So this is what I did. I took the snare drum, which sits just to the left front of the kick drum, and switched it with the floor tom, which normally sits on the right. I took the cymbal stand, normally on the right, and placed it on the left. And so on. What I ended up with was a completely left-handed drum set. Then I took a couple of sticks, sat down on the throne, took a deep breath, and began to play.

At first, I was like Bambi on ice. But though it was slow going, something about the way my body was positioned felt really right. My stroke was fluid, my beat was steady, my cross-sticking was meshing like gears on a bike. Experimenting, I went from a straight rock beat to hip hop. I closed my eyes, switched to traditional grip, and suddenly I was Stewart Copeland. Then I grabbed some brushes, laid into the ride cymbal, and suddenly I was a sloppy version of Buddy Rich. I went back to match grip and became a sweaty two-fisted Carter Beauford. About a half hour of this and I came to the slow realization—I could actually play the drums!

Now, I certainly make no claims at being an idiot savant (though I have been accused of this more than once). And I’m decades of practice away from considering myself a real drummer. But I did experience a small but marked epiphany about myself and how I approach art.

You know that I believe and espouse that we are all artists. But I also believe now that some of us have never experienced the artistic medium(s) to which we are best suited. Some of us are photographers who could be amazing oil painters if we gave ourselves the chance. Some of us play clarinet when our true destiny is the cello. I have personally supervised the transformation of several wannabe guitarists who found joy and side careers as bass players. And on and on. We must never be too old, or too set in our ways, to experiment with other mediums, other techniques, other paradigms.

Also, within our given mediums, we need to rattle our preconceptions of how we create. For me, it is a pianist getting behind a drum set. It will be different for others. If you write lyrical songs, maybe you should try writing an instrumental piece and focus on stronger melody. Visual artists who lean into representational art should experiment with creating abstract or iconographic art forms. Aspiring novelists should try a little poetry now and then. If you are primarily a ballet dancer, you should try line dancing (okay, maybe not line dancing, but you get the idea).

Can you relate to this? Do you have a tale to tell? Have you experienced moments when right was wrong? I invite you to share your story with me.

10 thoughts on “When Right Is Wrong

  1. Well, Manuel, I have a little bit of a tale… You know I teach photography and that is where I started (after I started writing first…) At any rate, there came a point when I felt I would never be a really top photographer, I just didn’t seem to capture things in a way that fit the modern vibe. I don’t really know how to explain it, but suffice it to say it didn’t feel entirely ‘right.’ Then I realized that I was incredibly drawn to mixed media works and that I really had nothing to lose by trying something new. Fear of the unknown can be such a big inhibitor, even for us creatives, I’m sure you know. So I started my first mixed media piece, and then let it sit half done for months before I decided what to do next and finished it up. After that first completed mixed media piece, I could never go back, I finally felt like I had found my media: all of them mixed together.

  2. My wrong being right has turned itself into a full-blown ministry in the last 18 months. As a child, I made the time pass on Sunday mornings by doodling on the church bulletin. At first, my parent’s disapproved; but I think it became a lesser of evils since it at least kept me quiet! As I matured, I grew to understand how that practice could be perceived as disrespectful and taboo so I laid the pencils down and sat stoically listening to the sermon. Now, 20 years into professing faith Christ, I have picked the pencils and pad back up on Sunday mornings. I sit among the congregation, drawing a spontaneous visual representation of the day’s message. Not only does this solidify the message points in my mind, but others around the world are responding to the art and connecting with God through the images.

    1. If you were in my congregation, I’d put you on stage with an easel and canvas! My children always doodle on the backs of their church bulletins, and it is a regular occurrence to share with one another what we’ve drawn after the service.

  3. I’ll give you a heads up if I head west, Manuel! My home church now is embracing art as a ministry and encouraging my work. My goal is to do exactly what you described, creating on a larger scale as part of the worship service. We are currently in a building transition and plan to include a gallery space in our new worship facility.

  4. Thanks for these thoughts…I am a “wanna be” of fine arts…I have had a small (that means small) amount of experience in these but desire more… Thank you for saying that we are never too old…I’ve mostly raised my kids (one left) and am trying to figure out how to become skilled at drawing/art/etc. I know practicing is the best way…but sometimes you need others to help and encourage you…and to teach you.

    I would love it if someone would mentor me with the gifts that God has put in my heart…

    Hoping to one day use my gifts to bless the Kingdom.

    1. Thanks for sharing your journey, Carla. It is also a good thing that you are aware of God’s presence in the process. Have you considered taking a class at your community college or local art studio? Hope you can find someone who can mentor you…

  5. Hello Manuel – I weave, paint and write. I was doing more representational things in oil and a gallery owner saw some oil doodles I would make into bookmarks…she asked me to do large doodles and it did release and relax me. The painting anyway – not the gallery owner! Now I do paint live during worship and working to gather others to explore and reengage their creativity. Bless you and your sharing.

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