Schenectady County

Drummer shares the beat with friends on the street

It’s 9 p.m. on a Tuesday and police are once again heading to the Stockade neighborhood.

It’s 9 p.m. on a Tuesday and police are once again heading to the Stockade neighborhood.

In the parking lot next to Roberto Vega Jr.’s Ferry Street house, three people are pounding palms against drums, building to a crescendo that ends just in time.

It’s 9 o’clock. People are going to bed. It’s time for the noise-makers to pack up.

“That’s me,” Vega joked, “the ‘noise-maker.’ I was always tapping at home — I drove my mother crazy because I used her pots and pans. She would chase me out of the kitchen.”

Her son’s passion turned into a professional career, playing drums for bands as far away as Harlem and Florida. But, now 52-year-old Vega has put down roots in Schenectady, and in his spare time, he’s trying to create the sort of social drum circle that he enjoyed in larger cities. After all, he said, drummers can’t generally get together at a coffee shop and jam for a couple hours.

“Guitar players are a dime a dozen,” Vega said. “Even Starbucks has a folk thing going on. But where does a drummer go?”

For the last five Tuesdays, Vega has been hoping they’ll come to him. He has been drumming outside his house in hopes of sparking local interest. So far, the only visitors willing to sit down and try it are two women from Saratoga County, but he’s gotten plenty of compliments from passersby. While he coaxes a symphony of sounds from his conga drum, drivers hit the brakes and coast by, listening. Every so often, a walker stops and dances.

And at 9 p.m., his neighbor always calls police to complain. That doesn’t ruin the mood, though.

“My wife says I’m always happiest when I’m drumming,” Vega said. “We’re not hurting anyone. If anything, we’re putting sweet sound into the air. We stop around 9 o’clock because we understand people have families.”

Most of his neighbors are enthusiastic.

“That’s cool! I like that!” a bicyclist called out as he passed the drummers Tuesday. Others turned off their radios, rolled down their windows and smiled as they drove by.

Drumming might seem loud and energetic, but Vega and his fellow musicians insist that it’s actually calming.

“I’ll think of something I was going through during the day,” Rennelle Miller of Malta said. “You start thinking things through. I think it’s because you’re focused on something, so you’re not distracted from your thoughts. When you’re not distracted, you face things.”

She goes home feeling more at peace with her life, she said.

Drummer Dawne Larkin of Ballston Spa agreed, saying the once-a-week drumming session relieves her of a week of single-mom stress.

“When I leave here and go home and face my day-to-day activities as a single mom, I have a smile on my face. It’s joy. This is something I’ve found to be very joyful,” Larkin said. “This is a good thing for Mom to do.”

Vega, Larkin and Miller all use professional drums, but Vega wants newcomers to chime in with anything they’ve got — even coffee cans and flower pots.

“I remember when I was just a little kid and I’d pick up sometimes a garbage can to play on,” he said. “I know what it feels as a kid to want to do this and they can’t.”

Back then, he built drums out of plastic jars. Although his studio at his Ferry Street house now has two professional drum sets, he still has some homemade drums for use in drum circles.

“When I was poor, I would take anything to play with. So I’m passing this on to the children,” he said.

Drumming is a feeling like no other, he added.

“You feel the drum. You start to express yourself through your hands onto the skin of the drum. All of a sudden people are enjoying it and saying, ‘Wow, I did it!’ ”

He loves watching that moment.

“When I see those faces smiling and everybody generating a love for music — it’s almost like watching your firstborn being born,” he said.

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