As drummer for the pop band *NSYNC, Billy Ashbaugh plays the world's largest stadiums and arenas. But last week, the Frederick native returned to his home state to play solo at Columbia's Rouse Theatre.
Ashbaugh performed for a small audience this time, about 150 music students from several county middle and high schools. The teens were not there simply to meet a famous musician. For most of them, the drum clinic was a chance to improve their percussion skills and learn from someone who is considered to be among the best in his business.
Ashbaugh began doing educational clinics in Florida, where he lives. "It was at that point that I said, 'Wow. These kids are paying attention,' " Ashbaugh said. "Working with kids is great."
Rob White is music facilitator for the county schools' Office of Advanced Programs and Fine Arts. He said he wanted to bring the drum clinic to local students because of Ashbaugh's "work ethic - having integrity, dedication and perseverance. His message is a really strong one for kids as opposed to the glitz and glamour the kids see on MTV."
Terry Pierelli, 13, an eighth-grader at Patapsco Middle School, has been playing drums for more than two years. "I wanted to come because I thought it'd be a really great experience and maybe I'd learn some new beats and some new techniques," he said.
Suzanne Simmons, an eighth-grader at Dunloggin Middle, came to the clinic "because I really want to improve on my set skills." Since beginning drums in fourth grade, she has been playing mostly classical music. "I thought this would be good for that. Tips on different rudiments ... different drum rhythms I could practice," she said.
After playing a few pieces to an accompanying tape, Ashbaugh got into drum technique and how he approaches songs. He spoke to the youths drummer to drummer.
Using *NSYNC's song "Digital Get Down," Ashbaugh played a few bars solo to give the audience a sense of how he reproduces the sound of a drum machine. Then he played the whole tune with the track to show students how percussion works in the song. "You get in a room full of drummers, you start talking shop right away," he said.
Josh Bosse, 14, plays drums in Patapsco Middle's school band. "I was totally awed by how good he was," Josh said. "He like totally amazed me. It was really fun watching him. ... Just seeing all four limbs be all over the place, banging on every drum and cymbal." Josh said he learned "to work around the drum set more."
Ashbaugh began playing drums at age 15. By the time he was in his 20s, he was making a living playing local clubs in Florida.
"When I played clubs, I always took the gig seriously," Ashbaugh told students. "I always did my homework. ... You've got to know your instrument."
He said a strong work ethic led to work with *NSYNC, Pat Benatar, Britney Spears and other artists. He also pointed out that treating people with respect and avoiding drugs and alcohol helped him find success.
He is active in a program called Start with the Arts, which promotes creative thinking for schoolchildren.
Ellicott City's Music & Arts Center covered the expenses of last week's clinic. White said, "They've been very good about supporting events and activities for our county in a variety of ways."
During a question-and-answer period, one student asked Ashbaugh whether he played in his school band. "I played in every version of the school band you could imagine," Ashbaugh replied, drumming his fingers on a water bottle.
Josh, who hopes to be a successful drummer like Ashbaugh, said, "I was thinking about dropping out of band. Now I'm going to stick with the band thing."
Ashbaugh said, "They're so receptive. ... I hope what they take home is to dedicate yourself to your instrument ... work hard and you'll succeed."