My Drums - Their Story

I got to thinking the other day about my drums and their stories. Or is it about my stories attributed to the drums. Either way I believe that each drum, if it falls into the hands of a professional player, ends up with a story to tell. I am not a vintage drum collector but I have many drums and each has a tale to tell.  Their story can range from how I got the drum, where it was used or the individual or company that made the drum.

I have already written about my 6 ½” X 15” single-tension Leedy Snare Drum - (March 2014). It opened the Eastman Theatre in 1922 with a fortissimo snare drum roll played by William G. Street for the Star Spangled Banner. The drum was then used by Oliver Zinsmeister in the “President’s Own” United States Marine Band and probably spent a few gigs at the White House. The drum is now here with me at the Eastman School of Music and has been used for many formal occasions involving the Eastman Theatre. Not a bad history for such a drum.

In another article for Not So Modern Drummer, I have written about the Rogers Drums that are part of the Eastman School of Music Percussion Department -  (September 2014). I would like to single out one of the Rogers 6 ½” X 14” drums that is my personal snare drum. The Rogers Drum Company gave the drum to me since I was endorsing the drums and supplying the Eastman Percussion Department with their equipment. Now why is one drum so important?  This drum was in my studio and played on by all the students for their lessons. It also had another function. It was the drum used for all the auditions at the school. I auditioned 1,618 students in my 49 years of teaching – only 258 of those who auditioned were accepted. This drum has seen the best and the worst. If it could talk, I am sure it would have stories to tell.

In 1976 the Eastman School of Music played host to the first Percussive Arts Society International Convention (PASIC). The Premier Drum Company was exhibiting at that convention and was featuring a rope tension drum 19 ½” X 17”. Jim Coffin was the man in charge of this exhibit and he being a friend of mind suggested that I buy one. I did and have had it ever since. I have played it on several occasions and each time I use it I am reminded of the convention and what a great event it was and the drums position in the history of drums.  Inscribed on a plaque on the shell of the drum is the following:


Having a son who is also a drummer/percussionist has its rewards upon reaching milestones in your life. When I turned 55 years old he had W.H. Reamer make me a replica of The Grand Army Republic (GAR) Drum with the emblazonment of the Eagle clutching arrows and a shield – 21” X 17”. Since I was also in the “President’s Own” United States Marine Band, W.H. Reamer emblazoned the shell with the Marine Corps Globe and Anchor, my name and dates I served in the band. This is a beautiful drum that sounds as good as it looks. I have used this drum on countless occasions for rudimental demonstrations, clinics, parades and lectures. Inside the drum across from the vent hole there is plaque that reads:


I also had W.H. Reamer make the same drum for my son. Now we have matching father and son drums. He was also in the “President’s Own” United States Marine Band and has the Eagle and the Globe and Anchor on the shell.

As I mentioned in the previous paragraph about having a son who gives great gifts at milestones in my life, the 6 ½” X 14” Orlich glass drum was a gift when I retired from playing timpani in the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra after 43 years. As you can see the plaque reads – JOHN H. BECK – ROCHESTER PHLHARMONIC ORCHESTRA  - 1959-2002. This drum was a big surprise to my students as well as some auditioning students. I always had my Rogers Drum for them to play on but had the glass drum there so they could experience its tone and feel that I might add is great.

There you have the story of MY DRUMS – THEIR STORY. You can decide if drums have a story or the player gives them their story – I think it is collaboration between the two or said in another way – IT IS A WIN WIN SITUATION.

Rogers Drums at Eastman School of Music

In 1962 I was asked to present a clinic with Louie Bellson at a local hotel in Rochester, NY. I was teaching at the Eastman School of Music and a local music store – Music Lover’s - was sponsoring the event. Ben Strauss of Rogers Drums contacted me and the date was set for November 7, 1962. Louie did the drum set and I did the classical snare drum. Since I also played drum set Louie and I traded fours etc. It was also at this time that I was teaching Steve Gadd and he was in the audience. I told Louie that he should hear this kid play. Louie invited him to the stage and Steve blew Louie away. It was at this moment that Steve, Louie and I became good friends for life.

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John Beck's 1922 Leedy Snare Drum


CHARACTERS: 6 1/2” X 15” Leedy snare drum with 14 single tension rods and gut snares Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra Eastman School of Music “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band William G. Street Oliver “Ollie” Zinsmeister John H. Beck

PLACE: Rochester, NY

DATE: 1922 to present

STORY: This Leedy snare drum belonged originally to William G. Street who in 1922 was the percussionist for the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. The Eastman Theatre was opened in 1922 and the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra performed the first concert heard in the new Eastman Theatre. The first sound that was heard in the Eastman Theatre was the snare drum roll performed by William G. Street on the Leedy snare drum to announce the Star Spangled Banner. This drum was Street’s pride and joy.

The first graduate in percussion from the Eastman School of Music was Oliver “Ollie” Zinsmeister in 1935. Ollie was a resident of Rochester, NY. Besides performing in the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, William G. Street was also the Professor of Percussion at the Eastman School of Music and Ollie was his first student.  Street continued to teach both timpani and percussion at Eastman until 1968.

When Ollie graduated he was selected for “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band in Washington, DC. Street was overjoyed with his first student’s success. Ollie joined the Marine Band and became part of the “Dream Team” - Charles Owen/ Oliver Zinsmeister. They performed on marimba and xylophone not only in Washington, DC but for 20 years all over the United States as the band toured once a year for nine weeks in various parts of the United States. They also did weekly radio broadcasts. As you can imagine, Street was proud of Ollie to the point that he gave the Leedy snare drum to him while he was a member of the United States Marine. I imagine Ollie used it many times for concerts with the band.

When Ollie’s 20- year enlistment was up in 1955, it was my turn to graduate from the Eastman School of Music (1951-55). I took the audition with the band to replace Ollie and was successful. For four years (1955-1959) I was a member of the band and played marimba solos in Washington, DC and on tour. Essentially I was continuing what Ollie had done. Street was also proud of me for my accomplishments. Now he had two of us who did him proud. I only stayed for four years because a call from Street telling me he was going to retire from the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and would I like to audition. I said “yes” and got the job. I also became the teacher at the Eastman School of Music in 1968 when Street retired.

Ollie and I kept in touch with each other over the years. The Leedy snare drum was still in his possession. Because I continued teaching in the tradition of William G. Street, continued Ollie’s tradition in the United States Marine Band, and Ollie’s affection for Street and the Eastman School of Music, Ollie gave the drum to me with the idea that I would continue the tradition of the drum.

Since the drum has been in my possession it has been used for a celebration of the renovation of the Eastman Theatre in 2004 in a percussion fanfare that I wrote. I also used it in 2009 in a performance of the Downfall Of Paris for a celebration to announce an addition to the Eastman Theatre. I have used the drum many times to tell the story that you have just read - and will continue to do so.

John H. Beck

Professor Emeritus of Percussion Eastman School of Music Retired Timpanist of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra