The art of rhythm

Local drummer, educator says passion for music and teaching equals a passion for life

Rosie Mullaley
Published on July 21, 2014
Private drum instructor and music educator Brant Parsons in his teaching studio at his home Wednesday. — Photo by Rhonda Hayward/The Telegram

His first drum kit was a set of fish boxes from his father’s boat in Bristol’s Hope.
His drumsticks? A couple of twigs from the alder bushes in the back garden of his parents’ house.

“I remember banging on the fish boxes to the beats of Phil Collins and John Cougar Mellencamp songs. I wasn’t sure what I was doing. I just felt it and went with it. That’s how I started playing.”

Brant Parsons knows a thing or two about rhythm and keeping a beat. Today, he’s a classically trained percussionist with bachelor of music and bachelor of music education degrees from Memorial University. He’s also a local drummer, private drum instructor and music educator in the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District.

While attending MUN, Parsons played in the concert band, jazz band and festival choir. He was also part of the percussion ensemble, the Scruncheons, which was directed of his mentor, the late, great percussionist Don Wherry.

The 40-year-old has performed in numerous festivals, concerts, shows, including performances in the International Sound Symposium and various productions with the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra.

For Parsons, drumming has become an art which helps him express himself.

“We’re like painters,” Parsons said. “Like a painter who uses different brushes, we use different sticks. A painter uses colours and textures to paint on a canvas, as we use different sound colours and textures to paint on sound."

Parsons knew from a young age he wanted to be a drummer. When he wasn’t banging on the fish boxes, he’d beat up his mother’s pots and pans. He’d thump on buckets and books and made a practice pad out of cardboard, panel board, tape and nails, which he still has.

In the late 1980s, after attending Strathcona High School in Owen Sound, Ont. — where his interest in drumming was taken to new levels — he continued to play whatever drum kit he could get his hands on, was exploring sounds and listening to different kinds of music.

“Anyone can sit down and play drums and that’s fine,” he said. “I just wanted more and more and push myself further as I felt hungry for more. So, I started challenging myself to learn about music theory, to read, to write and compose music and rhythms. This eventually changed how I heard music as it opened my eyes to listen and explore different music and new rhythmic possibilities and new drumming influences.”

Parsons — whose family moved back to Bristol’s Hope a few years later — finally received his first drum set during in his graduating year of 1991-92. And like a lot of teenagers, he wanted to play in a rock band.

His first group, based in Bristol’s Hope/Harbour Grace, didn’t have a name, but it gave rise to him making a name for himself on the local music scene.

Parsons has since played in numerous rock bands and with local artists. These days, he is playing in a progressive rock band called Rok-It Sauce, and you’ll find him on stage with Cripple Creek, who will be playing Aug. 8 in the Blueberry Festival Street dance.

But Parsons also wanted to share his passion with those who wanted to learn and experience the art of drumming.

He has taught hundreds of adults and children the art of rhythm during his 22 years of teaching.

In 2002, he had an idea to do something different. Sparked by one of his student’s desire to focus more on drumming, Parsons wanted to develop a drum camp — a school concentrating solely on teaching students drum-set-oriented material and technique opening their minds to learn and develop new possibilities and be involved in various kinds of music.

“I wanted them to learn not just about drums and drumming, but different drum-set techniques, world music, hand and foot techniques, co-ordination skills and rudiments which would provide them with a comprehensive and well rounded knowledge of drumming,” Parsons said.

His drum camp started more than a decade ago at O’Donel High School in Mount Pearl. But as interest grew, it soon had to relocate to St. Peter’s Parish Hall, also in Mount Pearl.

Now in its 12th year at St. Peter’s Parish, the camp offers six acoustic drum kits and six electronic drum sets for students to play.

This year’s camp begins today.

Parsons takes great satisfaction from teaching others and seeing that same spark in his students' eyes.

“Drumming can help us go on a journey of exploration in finding yourself, building self-confidence and emotional well-being.”