Victors Sticks
by Chris Quinlan (photo by Iain Anderson)

Victors sticks 16th April 2014

I received an email from his daughter.

Victor had just had a major heart operation, his surgeon told him he would need to spend time slowly rebuilding his cardio-vascular system. The surgeon recommended drumming for upper body exercise. So Victor came to me for lessons. He was 74.

Victor used to be a pilot for a major international airline, his heart let him down on the last physical so he took his wondrous spirit elsewhere. Drumming.

Over a period of time, we built up a rapport, and he invited me to meet his family. I was flattered as I knew he was well to do and a gentleman who commanded respect.

At the time, a lady I was seeing had booked a night at a famous top end restaurant. A three month wait to get a table on a Friday night. I spent that night at the end table facing the wall. I was a tourist in my own town.

Victor rang the next day asking us out. 'Have you heard of (insert the SAME swanky restaurant name here)? 'I know the owner, Ill ring now and book for tomorrow night, Sunday night, center table, same restaurant as Friday night.'

Victor introduces me as his teacher, my lady as a University lecturer. The difference between the two nights was palpable. I still giggle about that.

Victor had a not too bad Yamaha kit, one day he told me he wanted to upgrade his kit. I told him he had a great kit already, 'What are you after?' ... He pointed to mine, A kit like that one! I laughed. But Victor, its taken me twenty years to afford that!!! And then he laughed too.

We made arrangements.

Victor, his lovely wife and I, made a trip to Flemington, I introduced Victor to the boys at Flemington, I explained what Victor wanted and left the boys to work it out, meanwhile I showed Victor around the shop, Nick came back with the details and Victor quickly picked up a piece of equipment and handed it to Nick to add to the order. It was a surprise present for me. I have a ritual now where I hold that present just before I press record for a show.

Victor then told Nick to 'See my wife, she has the money, now we go and have YUM CHA!' everyone in the shop laughed. A treasured memory.

Over a period of time, we decided that I would travel to his place every Tuesday for an hour lesson. Waiting for me always was a coffee and a lovely cake his wife would prepare. It became an ongoing ritual. We would talk then we would drum.

Victor made it to my Grade Four Drumset Manual before his heart started to let him down again. He went away to his apartment in Hong Kong for a rest. When he came back he told me he wasnt happy because he couldnt drum. He brought me a little present, a pair of Vic Firth cymbal sticks. 5bs with a mallet on the end.

I started using Victors sticks on the show, I loved Mallets, but these were the perfect balance for me, the perfect balance between me playing the atmospheric stuff and a quick flip and Ive got the weight for the hard edge I love to this day.

Soundtrack music to Metallica in a quick flick of the sticks.

Victor had a regular table at another well known Chinese Restaurant. 'I used to own this place' he would say. Not as ego but as fact. He did. Then he sold it at a price where everyone won. He was a man that when he made deals, he made sure everyone won.

He was loved and he was respected, but to Victor he thought his friends were the ones to be respected. His Sunday yum-cha at his regular table with his family became a much loved routine and I was honored to be invited. I always sat on his right hand side.

For Victor he just went about his business. He was smart and he made money. But money wasnt what it was about. He used to pay me from a wad of bills that would make a dent in any musicians mortgage. He loved restaurants, he loved inviting people from different walks of life just to hear them talk about their music, their art, their acting and their films, he was a free spirit and loved to be surrounded by free spirits.

By 2009, he wasnt well, but he still wanted to drum, there were a few times where we just spent the time talking with coffee and his little cakes. I once refused his money. He took it as an insult but at the same time saw me as one of a few people who didnít value his friendship simply based on his wealth.

Like my Father treading a fine line running a Pub filled with Irish Musicians and Bikie gangs, you tread a fine line and use discretion. This is where we bonded. As well as with Drums.

I once told Victor the story that when I changed the format of my TV show from interviews of Melbourne Musos around town to one of just teaching drums, all the phone calls stopped for gigs. He looked at me and nodded, we knew that we understood the nature of people. But yet we both knew that when we found someone true they are to be cherished.

Maybe we both found that truth a bit late. I think that may have made us even closer.

Victor passed away from his heart in late 2009. He was 80 and yet still making plans. He wanted me to come to Macau with him on a holiday.

I played guitar at his funeral and his niece sung his favorite songs.
As a eulogy I was asked to pass on a story that Victor told me once.

I picked this one from many ....

He was agitated one Tuesday when I arrived for his lesson.
Chris, Im sorry, Im not myself today, Ive just had a phone call from my brother, we are negotiating with the Chinese government about land in Peking that was taken from our family by the Communists. Mao ZeDong stole our land from our mother but we have the papers and the deeds and we are negotiating with the government to get it back.

Oh, Victor, thats so sad! Where in Peking is your land?
PEKING! he said with a look ....

Yes Victor, Peking, but where is it, Collingwood Peking or Richmond Peking? ... which suburb??


I laughed and laughed and then Victor laughed and then we drummed a little.

So everytime I made a show, there was Victors sticks, they would be called VicFirth 5bcs in the catalog. 5B sticks with a medium mallet for the cymbals on the other end, I canít find them in the Vic Firth catalog anymore and nobody stocks them in Australia, nor even heard of them??

So Im holding on to them until we both fall apart.

As the funeral cortege was preparing to leave on that awful day in 2009, I asked how his daughters came to find me for lessons in 2004. I had never asked before.

His daughter told me the story of Victors heart surgeon telling him to play drums, he was too sick to walk, he had to exercise sitting down and drums was a great way to do everything for the heart while still sitting down.

So the family rang up the best known drum shop in Melbourne, and ordered a drumkit over the phone, telling him Victors story.

The person they talked to promised to personally pick a good kit and cymbals and come out and set it up for them within their initial budget.

One day in 2004, the drumshop guy turned up in a van and delivered on his promise, a good kit at a reasonable price, with personally picked cymbals and stopped to chat and tune the drums as part of the price. He was there the whole afternoon apparently, no rush and so friendly.

I found out at Victors funeral in 2009 that it was that person who recommended me as a teacher for Victor, on Doctors orders.

I asked Victors daughter for that mans name.

It was George Kristy.

My former student and wonderful friend.
George took his own life in December 2013.

I miss you both so very much and there is not a day that goes by that I do not think of you both.

Chris Quinlan f.dip.a is a musician, drum and guitar teacher, and producer of Melbourne Musos - The Drum TV Show and author of the MMDC Drumset examination syllabus used throughout Australia, New Zealand and South-East Asia. He has written for Beat, Mixdown and Drummer Magazines. He was nominated for the Australian of the Year awards in 2013.