Josh Sack came to me for drum lessons at age 9, a drummer in his heart but not yet in actuality. His mother brought a picture of him as a toddler, a toy drum hanging from around his neck, his expression passionate as he intensely hit the drum. I saw this same expression many times over the years.
Josh’s parents understood that he was a drummer from birth, and they were all about giving him the opportunity to realize what was in his heart. As his teacher, my job was only to keep him engaged and having fun, the rest was up to him. It wasn’t hard. In the ensuing years I watched him on his path as he traveled from an insecure, possessive (and not always nice) little boy to a young man with enormous generosity, sensitivity, good taste and elegance as a human being. There was nothing not to like about Josh Sack (sorry for the double negative).
Like most people, musicians often aspire to become their heroes. They imitate to exacting standards those who influence them the most. What they’re really doing is building a repertoire, establishing a set of tools. I like to think of it as filling the well with water. Eventually, when there’s enough water in the well, you can fill your bucket. Eventually, when we reach a saturation point of influences, we draw out our unique artistic identity.
On the way towards achieving a signature quality in his playing, Josh became several drummers. Most notably he was Carter Beauford of the Dave Matthews Band. From an observer’s (my) point of view, I could see his emerging brilliance because he was able, by ear, to imitate almost exactly Carter Beauford’s drumming, both technically and musically. While others may have tired of his somewhat obsessive desire to be all things Carter, I thought it best to give him plenty of rope. It paid off. Although Josh continued to idolize Carter Beauford into adulthood, he eventually moved on to many other influences, and not just drummers. Guitarists pianists, bassists. Josh was an equal opportunity listener. He may not have been consciously aware of the rightness of the choices he made, at least not as a younger player, but his compass was always pointed in the right direction. His intuition was spot on.
I came to view Josh as an artist at a very young age. This is what I, as a career player and teacher, nurture and respect the most. The music, the song – these are the gods we worship as musicians. The playing – in Josh’s case, the drumming – always has a way of taking care of itself, as long as we’re on the right track musically. While Josh may not have always been the most disciplined in his practicing, he was always determined as an artist. He had his musical priorities straight, and we can see how he turned out.
Today we dedicate a music lab in the name of Josh Sack. However, we must be careful to understand that a music lab is only a bunch of technology and tools we have at our disposal. It takes the music itself to make it come alive, because in the absence of music, all this stuff is meaningless. With so much opportunity in our lives, it’s sometimes easy to lose sight of our raison d’etre (reason for being), which is expressing ourselves through making music. Josh never lost this understanding. Of his many accomplishments that we all acknowledge, Josh embodied best a love and respect for music itself. That’s what he gave us. That’s his lasting legacy we carry with us in our treasured memories of his life. So, today let us dedicate this music lab not just in Josh’s name, but in Josh’s spirit. That is how we can best honor him.