CARMICHAELS – In her mind, 8-year-old Summer Wilkinson of Claysville was already a drummer, but it is a little more official now that Larry’s Music Center in Carmichaels presented Summer with a drum set of her own Tuesday.
Diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome when she was 4, Summer struggles with the socialization skills that come naturally to others. Her mother, Christie Wilkinson, said music has been the great equalizer for her daughter, the place she can go to shut down the exaggerated noises of the outside world inside her head.
“She says it feels like she has a tornado in her brain and the only time that it stops is when she listens to music,” Christie said.
“We are blessed to have made a lot of musician friends. I take her to hear a lot of live music. It seems to be the only time she feels peace.”
Wilkinson said people have joked that she will need ear plugs when her daughter starts playing but she said it will be music to her ears.
“I think hearing any drum beat is better than hearing a little girl cry out of frustration all day,” she said. “Doctors push me to medicate her but I’m going to stick to music and love as her therapy.”
After taking Summer to multiple performances of the same bands, she began to be noticed by the musicians on stage, Wilkinson said. As she was standing in the front row, singing and dancing to their music, the bands even began to bring her onto the stage with them. Evet Sem, drummer of the psychedelic rock band Jamband KR-3 from Wheeling, W.Va., met Summer at a music festival this year and said he felt an almost instant connection to her. Sem, who was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, said drumming has been a “huge coping mechanism” for him.
“I believe music has very powerful healing properties. Everybody needs as much happy as they can get in their life. After talking to Christie, I had a light-bulb moment,” he said. When Christie told him that Summer wanted to play drums, Sem made it his goal to make that happen.
He took to social media sites with a shout out to his fellow drummers to help him put together a drum set for Summer. He said he thought it would come in pieces – a cymbal here, a snare drum there – but he didn’t imagine someone would offer a complete, brand new set.
That is where Brian Dukate, owner of Larry’s Music Center in Carmichaels came in. Dukate was approached by Gary Antol, guitarist of bluegrass band the Weedrags, about helping Summer out. Antol teaches guitar at the music store.
“It is good for the store and the publicity is nice but it is just the right thing to do,” said Dukate, a drummer for more than 40 years. “We were thinking about maybe trying to find pieces and parts to put together but I just decided to give a D Drum Kit to Summer for Christmas.”
Dukate said it was in line with what he wants the store to continue to be, a link to the community and music.
“There is a long-standing history with this store and I want to continue that,” he said. Dukate purchased the business in July from Bernie Zupansich. It was started 27 years ago by Zupansich’s brother, Larry, who passed away six years after it opened.
When word went out to Sem’s musician friends, there were pieces that came in. In fact, there were enough of them to put together two additional drum sets. Jamie Welsh, owner and craftsman of JDUB Cajons in Orrville, Ohio, handcrafted a JDUB Cajon to go with the drum set Summer received. The Cajon is a box-shaped percussion instrument played like a bongo drum.
Sem and friend, Ryan Neeley, also with K3, are hoping to identify other children in the community that would benefit from the music therapy provided by playing an instrument. Neeley said he and Sem have discussed starting a nonprofit that would bring awareness to music therapy as a method for helping children who have been diagnosed with disorders like Asperger’s.
When asked why drums and not guitar or some other instrument, Summer said the drum beat is the “base of the song,” where it starts from. With tastes that go from Hip Hop to Elvis Presley, Summer said she doesn’t have a favorite genre of music.
With sticks in hand behind her new drums, Summer proved she has vocal talents to go with them. She offered an acappella rendition of “Winter Wonderland” for the store full of musicians that gave everyone a glimpse of her talent.
“I’m blown away by what they (Larry’s Music) did here,” Neeley said.