Little Drummer Girl

Fredrica Duke, Little Drummer Girl

I have a favorite sound, not that you asked. And no, it isn’t the obvious one, crashing waves. Nope. That’s my second choice.

I once went to Orange County with my husband to see a friend who was a famous jazz singer. She gave us free passes, we couldn’t resist. As we approached “will call” to retrieve our tickets, I overheard the orchestra tuning up. This was years ago. I looked at my husband and announced, “That is my favorite sound. So, if ever we are on The Newlywed Game and they ask you my favorite sound, that is what it is, please remember.” I doubt that he made a mental note of it, so we won’t be winning any game shows.

I have a prized possession – a note I wrote to my daddy when I was little. The note says that my grades are good enough to get into orchestra. Proudest moment of my life, and I needed to share the good news with my dad who was in London producing a play (and turning down an unknown band called the Beatles who wanted to come to the States). I looked forward to that day — being in the orchestra — my entire school life. I would watch the elegant older girls clutching their violins and dream of the day that that would be me.

I brought home the application for orchestra. There were a few questions on the form and I enlisted my brother Alan’s help. He asked me what instrument I wished to play. I said, as if there were any other answer, violin. He then said, “Okay, second choice.” I again said “violin.” He said “No, Fredde, they need a SECOND choice, what other instrument might you want to learn?” “Nothing Alan, I only want to learn to play the violin. Just put that and let me turn it in tomorrow, that’s good, thanks,” I said, as I tried to pry the paperwork from his hands. He refused to accept this as an answer because he goes by the rules. I kept insisting, “I ONLY want to play the violin and no other instrument — don’t even write one down.” Now it was a battle. “Listen,” Alan said, “the bells could be fun, you might find them easy since you already play a bit of piano? So, how about those bells?” “Okay, sure,” I reluctantly gave in just to get him off my back, and he filled out the rest of the form.

A week or so went by till the teacher announced what instrument we got. It seemed an eternity as everyone’s name was called, and then they said: “Fredrica Duke, percussion. Please go to the equipment room to pick up your instruments.” I was baffled and instinctively knew to be angry. When I went to the equipment room, they handed me my DRUM STICKS????!!!!!! Were they kidding, wasn’t this some kind of mistake???? It had to be!!! I said, ”No, you must have made a mistake, (sure of myself and a touch defiant) I am here for a violin. Please look up my name again.” They humored me, checking their paperwork, then said, “No, it’s definitely percussion, your second choice. Now I’m screaming, “What is PERCUSSION???? “ “Drums, you can take the sticks home and here is your practice pad.” What the fuck??? Those were not my exact 4th grade words but my blood was boiling; I had been profoundly betrayed by my older brother. Double-crossed. So, I cried as I ran through the halls to his classroom which was quiet and in session. I stormed in, tears in my eyes, to yell at my brother, “Alan – they gave me PERCUSSION!” as I waved the damn drum sticks around in the air. He took me into the hall to calm me down. I was hysterical at this point but he stayed very calm, he said we should talk about it later. He was embarrassed by my behavior in front of his friends. When we were home, he and my mother convinced me to try it, that I might like it, that it would be easy. Easy being the operative word. They promised me if I hated it, next year I could try again for violin. And that’s how I came to play the drums in the school orchestra for the rest of grammar school. All four years. Or would that be five? I’m bad at math. I should probably also mention there were no other girl drummers. None. Not in any popular bands and certainly not in grammar or high school, not that I knew of anyway.

After I played drums for a few years, my father surprised me with my own Gold Sparkle Ludwig set. Nothing was missing. It had a snare drum, bass drum, tom-toms, floor tom-toms, hi-hats, cymbals. It even had a cowbell. No doubt he’d made a call, said he was in production for a movie and got it as a freebie. To me, my dad was a hero, especially when he made magical things like drum sets, pianos, sometimes even cars, appear.

There was another big fantasy I had in grammar school besides playing the violin, which I had given up on long ago. It was to look great in a fantastic dress, wearing heels and walking with my graduating class to “Pomp and Circumstance,” our shining moment, before an audience filled with proud parents and family. But NO. I was in that damn orchestra. The conductor informed me that they needed someone to play the bass drum for the piece, so I would be left out of the fantasy moment I’d always dreamed of.

I also stayed playing “percussion” through my first year of high school. It wasn’t easy because during football season, we were a marching band. The drum I was forced to carry was the big-ass bass drum. Not only was it too heavy for me, but with each marching step, the bottom edge would cut into my shins; please note that I was all of four-feet, seven inches. I was often bleeding by the end of each Friday night game. Also, there were two band nerds, other drummers and never-been-with-a-girl types who, on the long walk back to return our instruments after the game, would throw drum sticks at my head. I was officially done after this experience. Fuck that, I was going to move on to cheerleading and a much sexier costume.

For the fun of it, I just quizzed my husband on what my favorite sound is. Here is what he answered: “The sound of a plate of food being placed in front of you?”

RIMSHOT!!! I’m not really a drinker, never have been but in honor of this piece, enjoy this recipe.

Buddy Rich Recipe
3/4 oz Stolichnaya raspberry vodka
3/4 oz Kahlua coffee liqueur
1/2 oz Chambord raspberry liqueur
1/4 oz Frangelico hazelnut liqueur
1/2 oz half-and-half
Preparation Instructions:
Build the Stoli raspberry vodka, Kahlua coffee liqueur, Chambord raspberry liqueur and Frangelico hazelnut liqueur into a highball glass filled with ice cubes. Top with half-and-half, and serve.
Additional/Optional Info:

Servings: 1 person

Serve In:
highball glass

actual letter to my dad, click to make larger

Gold Sparkle Ludwig set, circa 1966

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18 Responses to “Little Drummer Girl”

  1. Julie Tolman says:

    I loved this blog, I didn’t know you were a drummer!

  2. Ellen B. says:

    oooo..Remember Mr. Eaves @ BV? He wore IHOP cufflinks.

    I tried to play clarinet in the BV orchestra. It didn’t stick. Later @ BHHS, I too was in the percussion section, senior year, playing glockenspiel and sometimes cymbals. The kid standing next to you in the photo was still in band, playing drums and tympany in the BHHS orchestra…forget his name!

  3. Susie Wibel Schulman says:

    I remember you and Fred Grossblatt playing drums and percussion at the Festival of Music each year, while Liz Gans and I played flutes in the City wide orchestra – we all made beautiful music together.

  4. Joel B. says:

    A delight as always!

  5. Doreen says:

    Hey….at least they didn’t give you a Tuba! It would have crushed you. Love this….although I’m not sure about that recipe. xoxoxo

  6. jennifer arbaugh says:

    You are so damned funny. I can see and feel your words … when are you going to get off this blog and into the book stores? Drums? At least you were not handed the cello…


  7. pauli moss says:

    Were you drinking those when you wrote this? What is the connection?
    Doesn’t really matter I guess since the drummer girl is such a memorable image. Hope you never missed the violin, Fredde.

  8. I wanted to play the violin too. Before we moved to Beverly Hills I played the violin for just a few weeks. After starting EL Rodeo I still wanted to play the violin but the only instrument that was available was the cello. I walked to and from school with that cello for months and quit after the first concert. Can you imagine me walking down Wilshire Blvd carrying my books and that huge cello? What were they thinking?

  9. Mitch says:

    I didn’t know you needed at least a “B” average to play in the BV orchestra. They must have been short a viola player ’cause the let me in, and I wasn’t pulling too many B’s in the fourth grade. I only lasted a year, but I do remember you in the orchestra. And Mr. Eaves. And I remember Jeffrey Kahane conducting later on. And he’s still conducting! My son played the clarinet at El Rodeo and at Beverly. And he’s still playing that instrument — among others. School music instruction is more valuable than many people realize.

  10. For Barbara and I it was all about singing and guitar. We used to Christmas Carol in BH with our voices and guitars. Went to Gene Kelly’s!!! Hoped to be discovered!! Now as an adult I am in the OC Philharmonic and I go to schools and teach them all about an orchestra.
    I let them play the instruments at at the end of each presentation we form an ochestra with a conductor and they play! It is one of my favorite things – to bring music to kids – Third graders!! My hope is that they will write their Daddy’s a letter and ask to play an instrument! What a joy!

    Thanks for sharing!!

  11. twana brawly says:

    A recipe from Buddy Rich!?!?! Who says the dead don’t
    communicate!! Loved this enchanting reminiscence !!

  12. toni miller says:

    I love when cars “appear” from daddys… I got a 1966 gold Fleetwood Cadillac delivered to my door when I turned 16 from my daddy. That thing was a bomb and I spent many a wild night driving with my friends when I shouldn’t have. I will always remember the magical feeling as he led me blindfolded to the driveway for the big reveal! Beautiful story and wonderful memory Fredde… Michael didn’t disappoint either! xot

  13. Janet P says:

    Lmao then sadness when I read your letter to Dad…………………..great story.

  14. stacey nelkin says:

    The picture of you and the big ass drum is priceless – as are your stories…

    Your writing is wonderful – I can always hear your voice when I’m reading one of your stories. And having a terrific memory, like you do, definitely serves you well (and all of us who get to read these stories).


  15. Eileen Mumy says:

    I love you and will listen to anything you have to say… little drummer girl.

  16. valentina says:

    At least you had the brains to want to play an instrument. I didn’t get to discover how cool that was until my daughter played cello for 5 years. When she quit in her sophomore year of high school, I went into major withdrawal.

  17. […] Little Drummer Girl « Channeling The Food Critic in MeApr 7, 2011 … I remember you and Fred Grossblatt playing drums and percussion at the Festival of Music each year, while Liz Gans and I played flutes in the … […]

  18. Linda says:

    Love that you signed the letter “Fredrica” … I did play rhe violin. (Oh, maybe I shouldn’t mention that.) And when it came to graduate from 8th grade, I quit so I could walk down the aisle in the HM auditorium and onto the stage to get my diploma.

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