She’s Got That Beat

Entrepreneur plays the drums as a hobby

Ava DuVernay has been fascinated by the drums ever since she can remember. “I was always in love with the sound of the drums and always wanted to learn to play,” says Los Angeles-based Ava. A year ago, this owner of a 2-year-old entertainment public relations firm, the DuVernay Agency, whose clients include Miramax Films’ Scary Movie and Spy Kids, Sony’s The Brothers, and Disney’s L.A. stage presentation of The Lion King, finally picked up her first pair of drumsticks. “I sing in my church choir and I mentioned to the choir’s drummer, Mark Henry, how much I loved the percussions,” recalls Ava, age 28.

Mark gave Ava an old spare drum set he had and some free lessons. After Ava had the basics down, her sisters strongly suggested she play in public. “Their point was that it didn’t do any good for me to just play for myself in my garage; I have to go out and share it and learn to play in front of an audience,” explains Ava, who teamed up with two other musician friends to form a trio that performs jazz, R&B, and gospel. The trio plays once or twice a month at small gatherings. Ava says jazz drumming is a hard form to master. “You have to be very flexible and able to improvise.”

Ava says she’s ready to advance her studies. She plans to buy a new set of drums, which costs around $2,000. “Jazz drummers tend to use vintage drum sets such as Gretsch, Ludwig, and Slingerland,” advises Mark Contento, drum specialist at Sam Ash Music in Los Angeles. “They run $1,500 to $3,000. Some of the newer drum makers such as Yamaha make vintage-sounding drums, which cost about the same. To start out, I’d suggest [you] get a less expensive set for about $500 and [then] move up.”

For Ava, making music is only part of the reason she swaps beats during her downtime. Playing the drums is also the way she unwinds after a hard day’s work; it lets her concentrate on a skill that is beyond the business world. “Owning a new company requires that I work a lot of hours,” Ava states. “When I can go out to my garage and play, I can pound out my aggression and make music. It’s great.”

Getting started

  • TAKE YOUR PICK. Decide what kind of drums/percussion instrument you want to play and in what style: jazz, R&B, rock, African, Afro-Cuban, and find an ideal location to practice. “Drumming in fear of being too loud is awful,” Ava says.
  • SIGN UP. Call your local high school, college, or music store for classes or attend a music teacher’s conference. For example, the Harlem School of the Arts (212-926-4100; www.harlemschooloft hearts.org) in New York has percussion lessons for adults–14 weeks of group lessons cost $120. Private lessons are $230 (14 classes for 30 minutes), $350 (14 lessons for 45 minutes), and $460 (14 hourly lessons). Search the Net for other options.
  • SET A BUDGET. Drum sets range from about $500
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