You’d be hard pressed to find a drummer who plays insecurely. But how many drummers have to convey insecurity through their playing? Enter Jamie Eblen of Dear Evan Hansen. The show is about a boy named Evan who writes a letter that wasn’t meant to be seen. He tells a lie, and what follows is an emotional journey dealing with suicide, divorce, and social media. But the songs are jams!
Eblen has to convey those complex emotions and themes through his drumming. He was up to the task three years ago, and still is today.
I was brought in maybe a week before the rest of the band. It’s just piano and drums in the rehearsal room and that was the first real taste of the show that I got. Basically, on my first day we were running charts. (The emotion) hadn’t been a thing that I had imported into my playing yet.
But when we did a full run in the room, I started to really feel the piece, so for me it’s an energy thing. I was feeling the intensity of the music and the lyrics, and the whole energy of the show was something that I was trying to transport from inside my soul through the sticks. It wasn’t anything technical that I was doing differently, but I was really focused on the intention behind the notes because the music kind of brings you there anyway.
The biggest challenge is to make sure you’re bringing that intention and that emotion. Not to say that you’re putting yourself through emotional trauma while you play the show, but having that heightened feeling of we’re doing this thing and this audience didn’t see it two nights ago.
I’m so glad they got Ben (Platt, the original Evan). I wasn’t sure anyone else could do it. But then Ben leaves and then somebody else does it. You’re like ”oh, somebody else does do it.”
The thing you notice most at the beginning, I think, is timing. Pace was the thing that we noticed. Ben was so quick – his action on dialogue was so quick – and you start to feel the differences there. But over time they find their groove with it.
It’s been super interesting musically. They bring a little bit of a different thing, maybe vocally or acting wise.
It’s crazy because the same thing happens for us musicians, too. The first time [a musician sub plays] is the show that they’re playing. So there’s a part of you that wants to focus through and get to the end of the show in a way where we’re like “nothing bad is happening.”
When an understudy goes on, just be ready to catch them if there is a stumble. Not to say we’re not on our toes when the OGs are in, but everyone’s a little more alert and focused and ready to catch them if we need to.
Yeah, I’m up in an iso booth basically by myself. The best I can describe it is like a little drum tree house.
I have a window that faces toward the band. It’s a little bit blurry because they don’t want anybody to see in, and the [stage] lights reflecting is also a thing. So it’s sort of like looking through drunk goggles. You can see silhouettes, but you can’t really see faces or anything. That was one of the first challenges for me. How do we feel the energy as a group together?
They’re all so good. I mean there is an intensity with “Waving Through a Window”…especially because it’s the first number everyone knows. It’s also the first moment where you get inside of Evan’s personality, too. It’s a heavy moment for a variety of reasons but it’s always funny because a number like that doesn’t always come second in the show.
So that may be a good answer to what’s musically challenging: how do you get there in the second song? Sometimes that would be an 11 o’clock number. You finally get that number where he speaks his piece and does the whole thing, but it’s number two in our show and that I think is one of the greatest challenges.
“Waving Through a Window” is the song from this show. Songwriters Pasek and Paul (of The Greatest Showman fame) crafted the rare song that sounds like a “car-top-down-power-to-the-youth-anthem”…but it’s actually about how everyone ignores Evan and he’s lonely. The three main grooves all vary. Listen carefully to where the hats open, and to the rhythm leading into those barks. I’ve seen some drummers play with the butt of the stick during the bridge (“falling in a forest”). And remember to play with the intention that Evan is delivering, even if you have to shed a tear!
Looks up to:
Vic Firth Sticks
DW Collector’s Series Drums
DW 5000 Kick pedal
Feature photo: Matthew Murphy
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