Inside the Circle with Tony Bakerink, Snare Drummer & Pediatrician
When and why did you start playing drums? Why a pipe band?
I actually became interested in drums when I was in the sixth grade. I used to watch the school band drummers walk around on the playground playing cadences. I thought it looked and sounded cool, so the next year in 7th grade I signed up for “Drum Corps”. I learned to play the snare, and continued until about 10th grade. I didn’t do too much with drumming after that except for a little self learning on the drum set. It wasn’t until Medical School, where I played with some other Medical students in a rock band, that I got back into drumming. It wasn’t until my Pediatric residency at UC-Davis, though, that for the first time, I found the world of Piping and drumming. I went to a Scottish Games in Pleasanton and saw a girl playing snare opposite a piper. I was there with my 2 year old son (now 20 years old and a Scottish drummer himself), that I said to myself, "this is my heritage" (I am Scottish and Puerto Rican-I get my rhythm from Puerto rico) and really thought this could bring everything together for me with my past drumming interest. When I got back to Sacramento where I lived, I looked up the local pipe band and went to see what it was about. To my surprise, I found it a little hard to break into at first. They really didn’t know how to take this guy who just kept showing up week after week asking about how to get into Scottish drumming. I found out later that they are a very competitive band and that they were focusing on the younger players going into the Prince Charles Pipe Band, and that to them, I was an old man at 27, so they took me in and relegated me to the newbie beginning group ( Grade 4B, there was no Grade 5). The lady that was teaching was Liza McAdam, a former Ladies World Solo Drumming Champion. My first year out with the band, I got my feet wet learning the Scottish style. My second and last year with them, before moving back to Las Vegas (home), I played lead in the grade 4B band, and we did absolutely abysmal, but I learned a lot. As I was just starting to sink my teeth into Scottish Drumming, I finished my residency and moved back to Las Vegas. Here in Las Vegas, at that time, there wasn’t really very much going in in the Piping world. I ended up at the VA center playing with a few Vets who played only a few tunes, over and over, and only played gigs for money. It became frustrating for me, considering what I had just left behind in Northern California. This is when I met Danny Packer. He played at the VA as well, and was equally disenchanted. We decided to split off from the VA guys and start our own thing, with the hope that, we might make something a little better. This new beginning was the inception of Desert Skye Pipes & Drums. There were about 4 or 5 of us at the outset, but it started to slowly ramp up. After about a year, I struck out to start a solo Pediatric practice, which ended up taking a tremendous amount of my time, so I had to say goodbye to the band and drumming for awhile. From that point on, Danny took the reigns and continued building the band into a competition grade band. Since that time, it has evolved into today’s Las Vegas Pipe Band. Fast forward 14 years, as my kids were getting older and I was looking for things to do, other than just work all the time, I found myself looking up Las Vegas Meetup sites one night on the internet. I was looking up hiking groups and social groups, when I came across Desert Skye Pipes and Drums on Meetup. I had long since forgotten about the world of Pipes and Drums, let alone DSPB. Again, I was stricken, like that first time in Pleasanton so many years ago, and I knew that that was what I wanted to get back into. I contacted Danny, who got me in touch with Andy, who invited me to practice. Everyone was very warm and receptive, and so welcoming! I found the quality of the drummers was so much better than when I left years ago, and that I could learn so much more from these guys, so I signed up to get back into the world of Kilts, Pipes, Scotch and Guinness.
Is your family musical?
No, my family is not musical, zero musical ability there. If I hadn't started in the drum corps, I wouldn't have grown up with any music. My kids are musical though because I was a drummer and they grew up with drumming in the house. My daughter plays guitar, viola, ukulele, & banjo and my son plays drums and guitar.
Who was your first teacher?
Liza McAdam from City of Sacramento Pipe Band would be my first teacher in a Scottish style of Drumming.
Describe your practice routine.
Since I know Andy will see this, I want to say I practice 24/7! In reality, I have this (Tony points to drum pad, sticks, and music folder on the kitchen counter behind him) out here all the time. Upstairs I have a loft that is our music room and I have the exact same set-up up there with a place to plug in the music, listen, and play along. The way I work is when I am fresh in the mornings, I'll get up, go outside and throw the ball around for the dog, come back in and do some pad work before getting ready for work. A lot of times at night, I'll do more intense practice, banging away at the pad, after dinner. But, it's there all the time. That's my thing. You have to make time to practice. So, I do. Even at my office, between seeing patients, I have the competition music hung up on the wall in my office right in front of me. So, even if I'm not practicing on the pad, I can look at it and work on memorization. You have to find the time. I do everything in my life to try to maintain a balance so it isn't all consuming to me, I just don't ever want to be the weak link. For this year, I will be the lead for Grade 5 and if I don't practice that lets everyone down. Also, how can I ask everyone else to practice if I'm not...so, it's a personal thing of mine. Its how I do everything from running a Medical practice, Authoring, running 5k’s, to competition drumming, - balance and routine is how I regiment my life.
How do you balance drumming with other obligations in your life? Family, job, etc. and what inspires you to stick with it?
For one, when I know my kids are going to be with me, that is sacred time. My son is a drummer in the band, and we will work on stuff together sometimes, and my daughter will join us occasionally but typically when my kids are here, I try to have everything done so I can dedicate my time to them. So there is balance there. But even taking 20 minutes in the morning of a day,when you know time is tight, is better than nothing. So, that's how you do it - you just make it work.
What inspires me is being a part of something that is good. I want to help build the institution of Piping and Drumming from the "House of Vegas" so when people hear about the Las Vegas Pipe Band, they don't think, "Oh, Vegas! All these guys is play for money on casino corners!" I want people to know that we are serious. From a drum corps standpoint, I don't see why we should just accept our place (as relative newcomers on the pipe band scene), we can keep the pressure going and have the desire to be something great. One day we will be serious competition for some of those long standing pipe band institutions. But it takes time and perseverance.
Who are your favorite musicians?
I am an alternative-kind-of-guy; so, I love Blink 182, Pearl Jam, Social Distortion, and I'm really big into blues right now. Beth Hart is huge. I love Beth Hart and Joe Bonamassa!
Sometimes I listen to pipe bands, but I can only handle it in doses. I like Simon Fraser University as well as Shotts & Dykehead, Victoria Police Pipe Band is cool as well. There are lots. I also love Celtic rock.
How do you handle mistakes during a performance and competition?
Not well. I cringe. I totally give myself away. I know you aren't supposed to. This shows my immaturity as a performer. I'm my own worst critic, and start beating myself up immediately. So, what I do, to try and combat my fears of choking under pressure, is that I try to practice to where the music becomes more reflexive, with the hope that I won’t mess up as much. Sometimes it’s helpful, other times, I still just mess up (haha).
What advice would you give to a new student/musician just starting out in drumming?
Hands down, you need to be self-motivated. If you don't like what you are doing, don't do it. If you realize right up front that your goal isn't to be a world-class drummer, that's fine. But you still owe it to everyone else to practice. I know it sounds like a cliché: "practice, practice, practice;".It’s a very simple statement, but carries all of the weight of anybody that is ever going to play with a group. I don't believe in motivating others. I think that if you are interested, you will be self-motivated. So, that's it. Be self-motivated to practice because this is a team. You can be a genius musician, but if you don't practice, you'll never be as good as the guy that practices every day. Just remember to keep it fun.
What do you think it takes to make a great/the best drummer?
Desire. That's what I would say about anything in life. It doesn’t matter what endeavor you undertake, if you have desire to do your best, to become the best, you will always rise, and set yourself apart from those who do not share your passion.
Where would you like to see the band in the next 5 - 10 years? What do you hope to accomplish personally as a musician in the next 5 - 10 years?
First, I would love to see, the Las Vegas Pipe Band be even a greater presence in the Piping world. I would love to see the band cranking out competition level players all the time. I would love to be a well-recognized, powerhouse. A name in the Scottish and Pipe Band community that commands respect and maybe a little bit of fear competition-wise, as we bring some intensity to the field. After that, Maybe we’ll just rule the world!
Personally, I would love to reach at least a level of Grade 3. That would be a great personal triumph for me. To be able to develop the chops to perform at that level, would be amazing!
How would your life be different if you weren't a drummer?
My life would be just fine, as long as I wasn’t a Piper!
What other instrument would you most like to play if you weren't a drummer?
Guitar. Hands down.
What is your favorite thing about being a drummer in the Las Vegas Pipe Band?
The people. These guys are really, sincerely good people. Unlike the luke-warm reception I received in Sacramento, I never felt unwelcom or uneasy about being a part of LVPB. The band made me feel comfortable and achieved my initial goal of a "Meet-Up" - people of like minds and interest where I have met and developed friendships. All of these people are great people and I am blessed to be a part of it.