The recipient of this month’s Teach Believe Inspire Award is Gary Schopmeyer. A musician, teacher and traumatic brain injury survivor, he is an example of where hard work and determination, coupled with a desire to help others, can lead.
To say drumming is a passion of Schopmeyer’s is a bit of an understatement. Not only has he been playing drums for 40 years, he believes drumming and the art of rhythm is a universal language, understood and “expressed by people of all cultures for eons of time.”
It is through this language that Schopmeyer communicates best. Drumming allows him to express himself both artistically and philanthropically.
Will I Play Again?
In October 2010, Schopmeyer was in a devastating car accident. The car he was driving was so smashed up that the paramedics were forced to use a Jaws of Life tool in order to extricate him. He was life-lined by helicopter to a trauma center in Indianapolis. While in the intensive care unit, neurologists and other specialists determined from MRIs and other tests that he had sustained a severe traumatic brain injury.
After being in a coma for five days, Schopmeyer woke up in the hospital not knowing why he was there. He told a nurse who was assisting him that he didn’t have any feeling in his fingers or feet. Schopmeyer became concerned he might never be able to play the drums again.
In such moments, a person realizes what is truly important in life. For Schopmeyer, waking up from a coma meant thinking about his passion for drumming.
Driven by the desire to play his instrument, he began therapy to reach the point where he could continue working on his craft and sharing his love of drums and laying down the groove. After leaving the trauma hospital, while still an inpatient, he underwent extensive physical, psychological, speech and occupational therapies. Visiting friends brought him a pair of drumsticks and a rubberized practice pad. From that point forward, drum therapy became an integral part of his days.
‘Every beating heartbeat is a rhythm of life.’
Since his accident, Schopmeyer, like many survivors of a traumatic brain injury, has had to learn to adjust to a new life. Part of his new life is giving back to the brain injury community through The Heart of Rhythm, a drum workshop he has set up for people with brain injuries and other disabilities.
Learning a musical instrument can be therapeutic for anyone. Drumming in particular can help people connect and understand the art of rhythm, a transcendent method of communicating feeling through music and beats that have been in our collective consciousness since the dawn of man.
With his Heart of Rhythm workshops, Schopmeyer hopes participants can experience joy and other emotions from playing drums and other percussion instruments. By integrating sound and touch (and possibly sight), workshop participants engage their senses as part of recovery, therapy or simply an opportunity to learn from an expert drummer. One need look no further than his “Hat Tricks” video on YouTube to understand why the term “expert” is used when describing Schopmeyer.
World of Sounds
Schopmeyer’s workshops don’t focus on ability level. Anyone with the desire to learn about percussion is welcome. Participants learn the fundamentals of creating music, creating beats and having fun in a safe, nonjudgmental environment. From young children to octogenarians, all are welcome to come learn, engage and create, regardless of physical limitations.
Drumming, especially when playing with others at the same time, is as much about listening as it is playing. Traumatic brain injury survivors can interact socially with others who can understand what they have been through as they work together toward a creative goal of growing as a musician and a person.
The Heart of Rhythm workshops are divided by age, not ability. Participants fall into three groups: children, adolescents and adults. The workshop starts with simple stretches and exercises to warm up, followed by a breathing exercise. Schopmeyer then takes students through coordination drills, adaptable to each person’s skills and limitations. Musical terms and an exploration of different types of percussion instruments are then explained.
These workshops serve as an introduction to the art of drumming, as well as a way to express oneself creatively. The chance to see what is possible through hard work and practice can be very inspirational to anyone who has been through a traumatic accident or illness. Traumatic brain injury survivors can gain a world of confidence when they see how far someone else has pushed themselves to overcome a physical or situational handicap.
In addition to his workshops, Gary Schopmeyer has been playing and collaborating with other musicians for decades. From Christian rock to gospel to country, he’s established himself as someone professional musicians want to work with. After living near Nashville for so many years, it was natural for Schopmeyer to develop an interest in making a record of his own. In 2013, he got together with Music City’s top session musicians to record a country EP, “Little Ditty Doodles.”
All About the Groove
Helping others who have had a traumatic brain injury believe in a place they can get to musically is one of those tasks no one can ask of someone. It must come to someone naturally; in Schopmeyer’s case, it might come from the happiness of surviving a near-unsurvivable accident and regaining the ability that helped define himself. It might come from a love of music and the knowledge of what percussion can do for the soul, in a deeply spiritual sense.
Gary Schopmeyer is the recipient of the Teach Believe Inspire Award for what he has done for the traumatic brain injury survivor community, as well as for what he has done to redefine his own life in the face of a tragic accident. If music is the glue of life, Schopmeyer is one of many carpenters who use it to show how others can put themselves back together. As a musician and teacher, he gives more than he takes. We encourage all students of drumming or those would like to learn the craft to seek out this teacher who has felt pain and gone through hardships only to come out stronger on the other side.
Who Inspires You?
If you know someone who deserves to receive the Teach Believe Inspire award for their courage in the face of traumatic brain injury, or if you need help in a case of your own, please reach out to us at the Brain Injury Law Center.