Soda Ash's Erma Zimmerman learned to play the drums when she was nearly 40. Since then, she has gigged with bandmates who are not only young enough to be her kids but who are also too young to drive. Such is the life of a 45-year-old hard-rock drummergirl.
by Erma Zimmerman

I didn't begin playing the drums until just before turning 40! It amazes me that I didn't start hittin' the skins sooner, because it's the most important thing in my life today. However, I chose to play the flute in high-school marching band. More's the pity. When I was growing up, my whole family sang in church choir and various other choral groups, so I suppose I was overly focused on vocals as a young'un. But I always did love to dance, and that was a clue that the drums would be in my future!

When I was nearly 40, I had a graduate student, Patrick Casey, who was a drummer. My husband of 15 years, Gregory Drobnis, had always said he wanted to learn the drums, so I asked my student about it. Patrick took me to the local music store, where we bought practice pads and sticks, and he showed me some basic beat patterns. I showed my husband, and for a few weeks we sat and practiced paradiddles together as we watched TV. My husband eventually bought a drum kit, but by then, he was gradually losing interest - while I was becoming obsessed! I couldn't even sleep at night because I kept thinking of different beat patterns!

After a few weeks, I realized that I would benefit from some lessons. A friend at work, Peter Lohstroh, was in a band I liked, The PopeAlopes. At one of their shows, I asked their drummer to recommend a teacher. He suggested the Thin White Rope drummer, Matthew Abourezk. I studied with Matt for a year, and he helped me learn the basics while maintaining my passion for drumming. Within 3 months, I was in my first band. Playing the drums make me feel so good, physically, that it is like taking a perfect drug. After playing, I feel invigorated and excited. I love to play so much that I don't even get nervous performing, although I am quite shy normally. I still lose sleep over drum patterns, though!

I have always kept up with cutting-edge rock music, so the bands I have been in have reflected that: punk, post-punk, and most recently the goth/industrial band Soda Ash. My bandmates have always been much younger than me. In one punk band, Midget Toss, both of the others were still in high school, and I had to pick up the bass player for practice because he couldn't drive yet! Oddly, I never think of them as being younger than I am; musically, we are the same age!

I have considerable anxiety about not fitting in with the music scene, both because I am a female drummer, and because I am very old for the music I play. But musicians have always been very accepting of me. One of the happiest moments of my life was when Heather Dunn, then of Tiger Trap, noticed me watching the drummer at a show and came up to talk to me. I had only been playing a few months, and I felt very shy; I will never forget her kindness. It really helps to know that there are other women out there drumming! -- Erma Zimmerman

 

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