Alfred Sergel IV


Little Drummer Boy & Emotive Practicing

Last week I realized I’ve been playing the song “Little Drummer Boy” since I was around 11-years olds. That’s over 3 decades.

I also realized that this song was the first song I played on the drums in a church. It was a small Lutheran Church in Maryville, MO. I only had a snare drum and two drumsticks. Being an 11-year-old kid and standing in the organ loft with a (retired professional) organist who studied at the prestigious Eastman School of Music was, well, let’s just say I was a little nervous. 

The organists first words to me were, “snares off Alfred, snares off.” She happened to be my piano teacher too. :)

The past 3 years, I’ve had the opportunity to play this same song for the wonderful audience at the Bechtler Jazz Series. And yes, with the snares off. haha. I digress.

In preparation for the Bechtler performance this year, I felt compelled to read the lyrics of “Little Drummer Boy” without the refraining “pa rum pum pum pum”. This really allowed me to understand what the song is about. For me, it changed the song from a cute children’s song to a poem about being asked to perform for a King; about using your gift to honor someone; about saying something with your instrument that brings joy and a smile to someone else.

This type of practicing is a performance preparation process I call “emotive practicing”: centering yourself emotionally in the context of a story or a moment in your life and then playing your instrument from that place or that disposition. Another way of describing this would be: saying something more than playing something.

During my practice times, I played this song and actively thought about what it would be like to actually play for a King. At the same time, seeking to play something that was beyond formulated ideas, habitual information or rehearsed patterns.

I mean, how do you impress a King?
DO you impress a King?
Can you impress a King?
More than that, a King who is newborn baby?
What could you play?
…to make a baby smile?
…to get the nod from the King’s mother?
…to get the animals dancing?

What would you play?

I find that emotionally connecting with the story of a song changes how I approach playing a groove or a solo. More so, its possible to set the mood or vibe for the other musicians. It helps us morph our role as drummer and/or musician to storyteller.

A quick anecdote: before the song was called “Little Drummer Boy”, it was called “Carol on the Drums”. A “carol” is an old round dance with singing; a song of joy; a popular song or ballad of religious joy.


When’s the last time you had “with joy” as a musical directive on your sheet music?

Emotion drives music differently than tempo or dynamic. When’s the last time you thought “I want my playing to bring joy to that person (or that audience)?

For me, it’s game changer. It shifts every aspect of my playing, especially my purpose.

Now, let’s check out the lyrics, (without the “pa rum pum pum pum”).

Little Drummer Boy:
Come they told me,

A new born King to see,
Our finest gifts we bring,

To lay before the King,
So to honor Him,
 When we come. 

Little Baby,

I am a poor boy too,

I have no gift to bring, 

That's fit to give the King,

Shall I play for you,
 On my drum? 

Mary nodded,

The ox and lamb kept time,

I played my drum for Him,

I played my best for Him,

Then He smiled at me,
 Me and my drum.
Among other things, the path of maturity for any drummer and/or musician is this: know the song and play the song. 

Emotive Practicing is a way knowing a song. It’s another way of performance preparation.

These video excerpts of “Little Drummer Boy” are from Friday night’s performance at the Bechtler MOMA jazz series. More than performing for an audience, I was performing for a King - a baby King. As I put my attention on this baby King, I began to remember the organist at the Lutheran Church, my parents, my grandparents, my own family and other loved ones who have always supported me. What started as a solo for a King became more of a response to the love and joy I felt coming from this King.

Big thanks to the Bechtler MOMA for creating this space to make music in Charlotte. 

As always, it was an honor and joy to share the stage with Justin Ray (trumpet from Michael Bublé’s band), Ziad Rabie (sax), Ron Brendle (Bass) and Noel Freidline (piano).


Catching an early morning flight can only be justified with coffee...

As I was standing in line at the airport Starbucks, the house music playing was jazz. It was a tenor saxophone sounding a LOT like John Coltrane. I've been studying Coltrane's monumental album "A Love Supreme" to prepare for an upcoming performance so you would think I could pick out his sound pretty quickly. It was still early for me and the volume level of the music was super low and I simply wasn't sure if it was or was not Coltrane. Then, the piano came in. The voicing of the chord, the rhythmic placement of the chord..the was undeniably McCoy Tyner.

Knowing it was McCoy was all I needed. This was, in fact, early Coltrane.

Still standing in the coffee line, I had this profound realization about how God pairs people or groups of people in order that they not only find their own sound (or calling) but co-labor and assist the other or others around them to discover their sound as well.

In the Acts of the Apostles, I am inspired to read that the first followers of Jesus were known within their community for how much they were "for" one another. Their belief in God was first practiced through their belief, support and encouragement of one another. This belief and hope within this group of first followers was so contagious and outwardly recognizable that they had the "favor of all the people".

Favor rests in our ability to live favorably - graciously showing faith, hope and love - toward our brothers and sisters in this world…to our friends…our family…and total strangers.

Growing older has eradicated my opinion that "love" (as an answer to all problems) is cliche or trite. God, forgive me for being so naive and arrogant.

"Love one another" is not a lofty ideal or trite cop-out, but a grounded activity that we often spend more energy avoiding than practicing.

Coltrane sounded MORE like Coltrane because of McCoy.
McCoy sounded MORE like McCoy because of Coltrane.

They found themselves in the midst of supporting one another. 
They found themselves…They found their sound…
...through loving one another.

Finding and being found.
How is this not God's heart for all of us? 

on work

It's my third day into Lent and David Whyte has, once again, wrecked me.

His word choice and honesty cut through layers of myself I didn't know existed.

Below is a the phrase that I read this morning and could not read anymore...

"Distance and dissatisfaction in our work is only the inverse measure and mirrored representation of the ancient and heartfelt human need to be needed, to be seen, to give something to another, to come alive through our contribution to the visible world, through finding something interesting in our work, something a little more rewarding, a little more satisfying, and perhaps even intriguing and mysterious, and something especially, we want to make somehow completely our own, whether we work for ourself or for another." (David Whyte)


A good friend of mine gifted a book to me by David Whyte called "Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words".

I'm reading this book slowly.  Pacing myself like a full course meal.

For the past few days, I've been living with his poem "Ambition" and it's wrecking me.

All of us are involved in some type of creative act. This involves intentional pursuit and putting our hands to the plow. However, the internal motivation - our hearts - behind this pursuit must continually be put in check.  Whyte's words give fodder to the process and importance of continual self examination.

Click here to read the poem.

half step away

Sometimes when I travel for work, I stay at a person's home rather than a hotel. It's a nice change of pace but as much as it has it's perks, it also has it's quirks.

Recently, I was staying a beautiful home. I had my own room and my own bathroom.  The first time I went to take a shower, I couldn't get the water warmer than about 75 degrees.  It's the type of water temperature that still has a little chill in it. I was already in a colder climate than I am used to, so the thought of a hot shower was exciting.  Having to take a cold shower irritated me a little bit only because I could have stayed at a hotel.

The last morning of my trip, I got up to take my shower and was reminded of a similar situation years back when I was staying at a home in England.  The owner of this old English house had told me that the temperature gauge was slightly off and that in order to get really hot water, I needed to set the temperature gauge slightly under the "H". Standing outside of the shower waiting for the water to warm up (again), I thought to my self "why not give that a try?".

Sure enough...I pulled the temperature gauge back slightly from being set directly on the "H" and the water got steaming hot.

In the jazz community they often say "you're only a 1/2 step away from a right note". 

My personality is prone to lock in on "THE" way something is "supposed" to be done…or, at the very least - in my opinion - how something is "supposed" to work.  It's a blind spot that - in this particular case - had me take 3 cold showers.

All I needed to do was move the gauge less than a 1/2 inch from the HOT setting and I had hot water. 

Being focused…
Being disciplined…
These are great qualities to have. However, they both have an inherent narrowness that can be limiting to not only seeing possibility, but being creative…and in this case, taking a hot shower.

Lesson learned (I hope).


drum lessons

A healthy mix of humiliation and encouragement is just what I needed.

It keeps me hungry to learn more (to better myself) and at the same time, it supports a grounded confidence to stay the course.

20 years ago, I finished my Master's Degree. This past week, I started taking drum lessons again.

It's a season of growing.
It's a time of preparation.
It's time to press in like never before…

It's time...


2017 #goals

hey everyone! welcome to my new website.

2017 has me very inspired to be creative…music, writing, social media posts…live shows with my own band….

It's going to be awesome. Subscribe to my mailing list and stay in touch.