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11 characters. 5 instruments. 1 person. Meet Cathryn Wake, former drummer (and guitarist, mandolinist, pianist, and violinist) of The Other Josh Cohen, the uplifting off-Broadway musical that really put its performers through the ringer. The band members are the actors. The actors are the band. Got it? Cathryn will tell us more.
It’s an absolute blast and a whirlwind because every show is different, especially in Josh Cohen – all of the actors on stage are responsible for everything you hear. So there’s tremendous responsibility in being an actor-musician, especially as the drummer.
Also, we are a show that’s not on click. So I’m responsible for time through a visual metronome making sure that the entire band is on track.
So I am watching a blinking light and that’s how I’m keeping us on track. I need to be checking in with this blinking light in the brain of this V-kit that I play onstage to make sure that we’re close to the sweet spot of each song.
That was the biggest adjustment for me…I’m used to an auditory click. I am a classical clarinetist and that’s always how I practiced: with an auditory metronome.
We had a drum kit in my basement when I was 13, which I banged on every once in a while, so I sort of had that in my back pocket. I think when I was in college I got privy to the fact that more and more often they’re taking the orchestra out of the pit and they’re making them actors and they’re putting them onstage.
And so I started kind of investigating. If I play clarinet and I play guitar – I started guitar when I was twelve and clarinet when I was nine – how can we make that multiply? So if you know clarinet you can pick up saxophone and oboe…but you’ll probably be terrible starting out at oboe, as I am. If you know guitar you can play ukulele, mandolin, banjo, and bass. Those all operate under the same rules.
Author’s Note: While Cathryn was the main drummer, a few others in the cast took turns filling in while Cathryn was singing or playing another instrument. And there’s no intermission to rest!
I actually was in a different incarnation of the show five years ago at Paper Mill Playhouse (Millburn, New Jersey) but I wasn’t playing the drum track. I only played drums on one song called “Hang On”.
For this incarnation, Hannah Ellis (who originated the role Off-Broadway) was leaving, so yes, I did have to come in. I played and sang three song snippets, which is easier said than done. They already knew that I played clarinet, saxophone, guitar and so on, so I just exclusively proved my worth on the drum set.
I have two very benevolent roommates. I turned our living room into a mini stage, and I went through the blocking. I had my drum set set up. I had the piano. I had a cajon, a violin, and a mandolin, and I just had to physicalize it in my body.
The show is a 90 minute whirlwind/fireball of activity where we are running to switch a wig off stage, then come back in and play piano, then leave the piano to go pick up a violin somewhere, then cross underneath the stage, put on a gray wig and a sparkly tracksuit, and run up to the stage to do a huge number only to then play the drums again. So I knew that there was no room for error.
That was an aesthetic choice. Our director Hunter Foster wanted lots of color on stage.
Part of it is that the heavier sticks feel better because of one of the things that I struggled with: you really gotta mash the heads on the V-kit to get the sound. So we choose to use heavier sticks to exert less force and maximize my energy.
There’s a moment in this song called “Neil Life”. We play verse-chorus-verse-chorus, then the bridge starts. I tacet drums for maybe a measure or two in order to put on a headband and get a prop phone. I have to squat slightly in order to make this work and keep four on the kick going while I’m singing and acting.
Finally, the crazy part of this whole sequence is getting out of it. I have to ditch the phone and headband, grab my sticks, sit down on the throne, and then hit a crash and I go back to this comfort I know about.
Here is Cathryn singing and drumming that part without all of the choreography. Now imagine adding in the props and costume switches…
(Skip to 11:52 to hear Cathryn’s big vocal number playing an old Jewish aunt running through her family tree. She kills it.)
The score was loosely based on a Neil Diamond album (which is a plot point of the show). Cathryn’s favorite track is the titular “The Other Josh Cohen”. It rocks the hardest, and has a really fun triplet fill at 2:30. The album uses a whole team of Broadway stars for all of the different characters.
Sadly, the show has closed off-Broadway…but it doesn’t mean they’re done forever. I know Cathryn isn’t.
Yamaha DTX Drum kit
KORG-60 Tuner (for her string instruments)
Vater Sparkle Sticks
Vic Firth Sticks (“For the boys”, as Cathryn said)
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