As a jobbing percussionist, Lauri Lyster is used to beating her own drum on stages both large and small, and with ensembles as diverse as the Vancouver Opera Orchestra and seasonal specialists Winter Harp. But now that she’s starring in a new autobiographical show, The Drummer Girl, she’s blowing her own horn too.
It’s not that The Drummer Girl is a solo project: to ensure the piece will be of interest to more than just her fellow percussionists, Lyster will be accompanied by a crack band that includes keyboardist Brenda Baird, bassist Laurence Mollerup, horn players Evan Arntzen and Simon Stribling, and singer-mandolinist Kat Wahamaa. Wahamaa’s helping out with publicity, but otherwise Lyster is on her own: handling media relations; taking care of set, lighting, and costume design; and writing the script as well.
“It would be great to have a creative team,” the effervescent percussionist says with a laugh, checking in with the Straight from her Whistler home. “I would love, like, a lighting designer, and a costume designer, and a dramaturge. I’d love all of these things, but no, I have nobody. I could fork out more money and hire more people, but it’s been great to learn how to do all of these different things.…So for financial reasons and my own, um, control issues, I’m doing it pretty much all myself.”
If Lyster sounds less than blue about her lack of backup, that’s probably because The Drummer Girl is turning out to be exactly what this perennial backing musician wanted: a chance to stand at centre stage and strut her stuff.
“I think the main impetus was that I was desperate for some project, for my own voice,” Lyster explains. “Now, I mean, I have my own voice in the bands that I play in, but I wanted something that was me, the leader, doing something I wanted to do. And for the longest time I couldn’t figure that out, because I have such eclectic taste. Was it going to be a jazz band, or was it going to be a rock band, or was it going to have more world-beat stuff going on? Was it going to be serious? I just could not decide.
“Then it just occurred to me that I also like to be a goof and joke around,” the self-described “hamball” continues. “So why couldn’t I do a show that drew upon all those different things that I do and tied them all together with little skits and things like that? And, you know, I took acting courses in college. I paid good money to get that training, so I thought, ‘What the heck, why not try something completely different?’ And right from the get-go it just felt perfect.”
Life has certainly given Lyster plenty of material for her skits, which she’ll intersperse with musical numbers in a variety of styles. Her stranger on-stage experiences have included playing in a nun’s habit—wearing a wimple, she notes, makes it hard to hear the cues—and having to improvise her working tools after leaving her stick bag at home. “I was in some Legion, so I went down into the basement and found this bit of window frame that I broke into two bits of dowelling,” she recalls. “That’s how I had to play the whole first set—and the really remarkable thing was that nobody noticed!”
She also touches on her work in the world of opera: playing triangle on a score by Giuseppe Verdi or Richard Wagner is like flying an airliner, she says, in that it involves hours of boredom interspersed with moments of terror. Tedium won’t be an issue with The Drummer Girl, however—for Lyster or for anybody else.