We can all remember that moment when everything clicked for us. That moment when we picked up the sticks for the first time and realized that it was the start of something. The moment when messing around on the drum set turned into practicing for countless hours to get that set just right.
These moments are some of the strongest memories that we create in our lives. It’s these memories that Vic Firth Artist, Wayne Salzmann II, took the time to share with us.
One of the things that Wayne remembers most about his time growing up in his hometown of Neenah, Wisconsin, is the time he spent messing around on his father’s Slingerland Radioking drumset. The moment when Wayne discovered his love for playing the drums, came when he was just about ten-years-old.
There wasn’t much in my life that I was particularly drawn to before the drums. I played some sports and video games like all kids, but I didn’t really have a passion for anything until I started playing drums.
What were the first few years of learning how to play like?
I remember getting serious about playing and practicing in 6th/7th grade. I started practicing every night from 9-10pm, then from 8-10, and 7-10, and pretty soon I was playing the drums from after school until bedtime, rehearsing with bands, learning new music, and playing along with records. Before I got serious about playing music, I was basically a bored kid with no ambition, so I was getting in trouble at school, failing classes, getting in trouble with the police, etc. Playing the drums was the only productive thing I had going on, and it definitely turned my life around.
What did it feel like to have this new outlet in your life?
Music was a way to express myself when I was an angst-filled teenager. I used to play along to punk records and had a few bands with friends in the neighborhood. Playing music was actually the thing that kept me out of trouble for the most part.
From performing his first gig at the 5th-grade talent show to playing at Carnegie Hall, Wayne has had quite an impressive performance career.
What has been your most memorable learning experience? Why?
“One that comes to mind is when I was younger, I had the opportunity to play with a veteran musician who I respected a lot. I came in with guns blazing because I wanted to show him that I could play. On the break, he said, “You’re not listening to me.” I was crushed because I realized he was right. I was trying so hard to play all this hip drum stuff, but I wasn’t listening to the band and playing what the music needed. That was a very important lesson for me.”
You’ve had the opportunity to play within a wide variety of musical genres. Are there any that you feel are your strong suit/your favorite?
Playing different styles with different artists is something that keeps my career really fresh. As a result, I’ve cultivated relationships with artists in totally different musical worlds. I play with jazz artists who have no idea that I play in rock bands, and vice versa. I love it all!
If it wasn’t for music, my life would be very different. I was headed down a rough path when I was a kid, and my passion for music allowed me to focus my energy on something positive. Drumming gave my life purpose. It gave me the confidence to be outgoing and meet new people, it gave me an outlet to be creative and be a leader. I went from being the kid in the neighborhood who parents didn’t want their kids hanging around with, to being the kid who gave the commencement speech to 3000+ people and getting a full scholarship to college. I can’t say where I would be now without music, but I doubt it would be touring the world and teaching at a University.
As an educator, Wayne is able to play an integral role in how music shapes the lives of his students.
“Teaching is very important to me, and I take it very seriously. As the great Johnny Vidacovich told me “Teaching is your spiritual obligation. Somebody taught you how to play, you gotta teach somebody how to play.”
What do you like most about being an educator? Why?
Helping somebody make progress in this great endeavor of playing music is incredibly rewarding. I love when students experience the “ah ha” moments in lessons or clinics. Some of my most inspiring moments were spent with great teachers, and I just want to pass on those experiences on to my students.
Being a percussionist is not a hobby, it’s a way of life. Stories such as Wayne’s help to exemplify what it means to #LivetoPlay. Follow the movement online and share what being a drummer means to you!