Right On Time: Starting Drums at 38 by Dana Wilde

This is Dana, in Easthampton. I’m the drummer in the band, Ex-Temper. I picked-up drums in 2013 when I was 38 years old. I’d started lessons early in the year and then went out and did a life-changing weekend at Ladies Rock Camp Boston that spring. But I’d been interested in drums since I was 10.

The reasons why it took that long and more than a decade of therapy until I was ready to even approach the starting line — decades behind most drummers my age — are cultural as much as they are personal. All of it stems from sexist rock music culture, sexist and abusive social conditioning and profound failures in education. The odds of me becoming a girl rock drummer in rural New England in the 1980s and 90s were about zero. It can be really hard to do, or to be, something when you don’t see people like you doing it and being it first.

So now when I’m performing onstage with the band, I get to represent that reality and possibility for other girls and women and feel the joy and power of finally being the drummer I’ve always felt I was. As for being an adult beginner: It’s hard — sometimes embarrassing — and totally worth it.

I’ve found that as an adult, not only can I appreciate the rewards of it more deeply, but I can also handle the implicit challenges — challenges that might’ve wrecked me as an insecure teenager! Plus, as The New York Times so accurately declared in September 2017: “Rock’s not dead — it’s ruled by women.”

Why did you choose this topic?

The fact that nobody at home or in school helped me pursue learning drums (or learning any other aspect of creating rock music) — when it was my only obvious, unwavering and passionate interest from a very young age — is a glaring example of how institutionalized cultural norms betray, fail and undermine the integrity, creativity and power of girls and women.

You shouldn’t have to go on a heroic lifetime journey of overcoming obstacles, abuse, misinformation, bias and societal sabotage just to play a very common musical instrument that millions and millions of boys and men are regularly encouraged to play, unfettered.

Why do women in the community need to hear it?

Dana Wilde featured by Tom Tom Magazine on Instagram @tomtommag

First, because now is the time for more women to join us in changing the face (and narrative) of rock music — as instrumentalists, vocalists, writers, engineers, bookers, managers, agents, producers, music reviewers and festival organizers. Second, because I’m certain there are many women who, like me, want/wanted to be a drummer — or some sort of rock star or musician — but also never had access to the correct support at home, at school, in their community, or from the culture at large. So, they quietly give up, believing that some mythological window of opportunity is forever closed.

I want them to know that it is not!  These days, there are finally “rock and roll camps” for teen girls — and that’s so great — but finding ones for adult women is difficult if not impossible around here. So that’s why they should know about the Massachusetts miracle that is Ladies Rock Camp Boston (mentioned in my speech) and the three-day program it offers!

For ongoing inspiration, information and encouragement, check out these two magazines: She Shreds and Tom Tom Magazine. I’m considering starting some type of local resource for beginner female drummers of all ages. Not sure what that looks like yet!

WHMP celebrates Women’s History Month in a series of women speaking their truth, produced by WHMP News Director Denise Vozella, who leads a speaking club for women in Northampton, as part of the Speaker Sisterhood. The Speaker Sisterhood provides a community to women who want to discover, awaken, and create their voice through the art of public speaking.