A lot of cooped-up people are trying to get into nature whenever they can during the coronavirus outbreak, myself included. On a weekend jog through the woods I ran into someone doing something surprising. And noisy. So I stopped and asked if I could come back another day to record him from a distance.
When we reunited, Sander Bryce described how over the past few weeks he's been lugging his drum kit – bass drum, snare, hi hat and all – down a wooded trail that winds along the Charles River, about a mile from Watertown Square.
The 28-year-old sat on a stool behind his assembled kit, about 15 feet from the waterside path. He was wearing black jeans, a black t-shirt, shades and (of course) a mask. Bryce explained when and why he decided to start doing this. “I play drums every day,” he said. “A lot of it is for my own mental health, as well as my career. It keeps me very sane and keeps my mind busy. When I can't play a real kit it can be very nerve wracking.”
Since the coronavirus hit Boston, Bryce hasn't been able to practice on his drum set where he usually does in Allston.
“My practice space Studio 52 has locked down, so I haven't been able to go there. So on a nice day like today, this is kind of my only chance to really come out and at least play a real kit,” Bryce said. He can't play in his apartment either.
But playing outside isn't new for Bryce. He studied at Berklee College of Music and recalled how he liked bringing his drum set out and busking on the street when the weather was nice.
“I've done it before in Texas and brought it out into the woods,” he went on, “I'm a jazz musician, so I like to experiment with different concepts and different environments.”
Emotionally Bryce said being able to practice in the open air is has been helping to fill a huge hole caused by COVID-19 — the loss of his 58-year-old uncle to the virus, just two weeks ago.
“I've just been trying to stay busy,” he told me, “and going outside feels like a little taste of freedom.”
Bryce is still teaching private lessons, now virtually, but said playing music for others in public — even from a distance — makes him feel less alone. He hopes when people discover him, as they meander along the river trails, that it breaks the monotony so many of us are feeling day after day.
“There's sort of a shock value to seeing someone playing drums in the woods,” Bryce mused, laughing. “And I kind of like doing that to people sometimes. But I'm just out here practicing anyways, and I'm just enjoying entertaining other people, and I think it's a positive thing.”
The musician just never expected it would take a pandemic to make it happen.
This segment aired on May 1, 2020.