The 24 hr. Yips – or Chuck Knoblauch Disease – or Spastic Ankle

I am premiering my new piece, Takes One to Know One, this coming Thursday. I’m playing kick drum and floor tom – which is deeply in my comfort zone, as drums is my first instrument. And it’s a good thing, since the other members of my ensemble (Ben Noyes, cello; Josh DeScherer, bass; and Maria Wagner, bass clarinet) are all the ilk who are actually professional performers a good bunch of the time (more than say, once a year, which is where I’ve been living these past couple).

Anyway, prep has been going nicely. I’ve gotten out to the drums and practiced muchly, worked out all the trouble spots, played along w/ the midi, felt great about the gig. First couple of rehearsals went fine.

Then yesterday, when I went out to the drums after a weekend away to just brush back the dust, I was confronted with a problem. My kick drum foot was just completely daft – non-responsive, spastic, a waste of an appendage. Here’s the opening of the perc part:

You might think that at such a clip, the opening 7 measures would be the potential trouble spot, but they’re a breeze. What I was unable to play – suddenly – with any modicum of steadiness or musicality was the passage starting in the middle of m. 7. Repeated notes on the kick drum were just not coming. It happened early yesterday, and remained a problem when we gathered to rehearse last night.

I couldn’t help thinking of old Chuck Knoblauch. I remember being so excited when the Yankees acquired him to play 2nd base. He was a gold glove fielder, a speed demon, and a hitter. And he did all right in the beginning, but shortly after his arrival, he began to lose his ability to throw the ball to first base. Understand that from second to first is probably the easiest throw in the game. Yet Chucky Garlic would take a routine grounder, pause for a sec, and then throw it three feet over the sad first baseman’s outstretched glove. I was actually at the game in…um…’99 or so, when Knoblauch made three horrendous throwing errors, one of which sailed into the stands and hit Keith Olberman’s mother. (she lived)

There is a history of this in baseball. Steve Blass, Steve Sax, but I’m not sure any demise was quite as tragic as Chuck K’s. Because Chuck could still hit, and run, and could still actually make the tough plays. It was the routine plays in which he just came apart. The thing he had done 10,000 times and could do in his sleep, he was suddenly unable to do at all. He sought counseling, switched to left field, left the Yankees, and was soon out of baseball altogether, a sure hall-of-fame career completely derailed.

It is probably fortunate that my career as a kick drum/floor tom specialist is not off to as auspicious a start as Chuck’s baseball career was. Nonetheless, I was aware of the potential of this becoming a full blown mental catastrophe, something I couldn’t get over, like ever. I mean, the inability to hit quick repeated notes on the kick drum, when my training was really as a rock drummer, is borderline unfathomable. And certainly made me live in terror of this final passage, a routine ground ball if ever there was one:

But I took cellist Ben’s advice. I blamed the kick drum pedal. Got up this morning, went to the barn with my Allen Key and my drum key, adjusted the thing every which way, arranged it so the beater actually sat a good couple of inches closer to the head, and what do you know, my problem was essentially gone. The finesse returned, the odd yips that so blighted the prospects of a smash debut this Thursday? Nowhere to be found. Well, not exactly true. I was a bit yippy on some of those kick hits, but the absolute spazziness was vanquished. Years of counseling and an ultimate demotion to left field averted. 

Chamber music kick drum/floor tom hall of fame, here I come.