Lessons

Neil Peart Clockwork Angels Masterclass

At about 4:34, “Headlong Flight” culminates with Peart soloing through a swift flurry of sixteenth-notes – this time played with matched grip – that start with just snare but eventually incorporate the toms. Peart improvised this solo during the recording process. The band ultimately changed the arrangement to accommodate the drum solo.

Ex. 8 "Headlong Flight" [4:34—4:52]

neil peart

“The Garden” – The Dual Role Of Drummer And Lyricist

Clockwork Angels closes with a beautiful ballad called “The Garden.” During the first half of the song, the drums remain silent while Geddy Lee sings Peart’s rather contemplative lyrics including, for example, “The measure of a life is a measure of love and respect. So hard to earn, so easily burned.” Does Peart calibrate his drum parts (in this case, by not playing at all) so that the listener will focus on his lyrics? Not quite. Peart’s choice to not play drums on the first part of “The Garden” was all “about dynamics.”

On a more general level, Peart follows the mantra that “a song is a vocal with instrumental accompaniment.” Thus, Peart tries to “stay out of the way” when there’s singing. Alternatively, Peart frames lyrics by “punching them up rhythmically. I love knowing the lyrics as a drummer because then I know where the vocal parts are going to be, and where syllables could be. I think I do a lot of that on this album. I think I always have.”

Teaching By Example – Practicing To Perform

After graciously sitting down and speaking with us for over an hour, Peart did something that, despite his verbal eloquence, was perhaps more inspiring than anything he said: He played through the entire Clockwork Angels album from start to finish. Was this a thrill to see and hear? Absolutely. And not just because Peart played flawlessly, but because he performed the entire album with the sort of intensity and focus that one would expect to see at an actual Rush concert.

“Perform” is the operative word here. Peart views much of Rush’s catalog as “performance pieces” and spoke of the importance of a “performance mind-set.” Moreover, Peart concedes that even to this day, he can feel anxiousness or apprehension on show days. “It’s in front of a lot of people with expectations, and I have expectations.”

Clearly, this is man who practices to perform and who feels a dedication and obligation to Rush’s fans. All of us who as fans reap the benefit of that effort. As the master himself puts it, “The privilege I have is to do this for a living, and I have to do all those things to maximize that and to feel good about the way I handle that privilege – it’s a responsibility in a way. And that’s not only true of performance but in terms of the values we bring to everything we do in the songwriting and the arranging and the album covers. You know, every aspect of what we do – the live performance is a huge part of that. It’s sustained us all these years and into these difficult times – that reputation that was built show by show.”

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