Marching Band Director Pays Tribute To Neil Peart

Chris Moore sits in the band room at Georgia Tech holding the sheet music to Tom Sawyer and his vinyl album of Rush's Permanent Waves.
Image: College of Design
Athletic Bands and School of Music undergraduate programs director Chris Moore holds the sheet music to "Tom Sawyer," and Rush's 1980 record, "Permanent Waves."

By Chris Moore

The music world, and more specifically the drumming community, mourns the recent passing of Neal Peart. He died on January 7, 2020, after a long and private battle with brain cancer.

Peart was the drummer for the band Rush. He joined singer-bassist Geddy Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson's already-formed rock trio in 1974. All three stood out as virtuosic musicians in this Toronto based band, but Peart was overwhelmingly gifted.  He was a master drummer, a rhythmic innovator, a systematic composer, and a poet.

I love Rush music because it explodes with complicated, mixed-meter rhythms, and thick musical layers that are combined with meticulously crafted and expressive lyrics.  Lee’s voice may provide the most unmistakable sound of the band, but it is staggering how much more Peart contributed to this band’s unique sound than an "average rock drummer” could have.

Not only did Peart mesmerize listeners with his drumming technique: as the band’s lyricist, his words were every bit as multifaceted as his playing. Beyond the more familiar Spirit of the RadioTom Sawyer and YYZ, the song Red Barchetta is an example of his gifted and colorful story-telling, interesting phrasing, and intricate drum fills.

Anyone who knows a drummer can bet that drummer has a deep connection to Neil Peart. Peart’s musicianship is haunting, captivating and attracts experienced musicians and non-musicians alike.

In the drumming community, he is admired and imitated by so many up-and-coming drummers. If you’re not a drummer and aren’t familiar with the adulation Rush inspires, just watch the 2010 documentary “Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage.” Several rock musicians, known for their musical mastery, were extremely complimentary about Peart in the film.

When Peart’s death was publicly announced on January 10, there was an overwhelming response on social media, where musicians turned to express sadness and love for this drumming titan. For me and so many others, news of Peart’s death was a breathtaking loss. Part of mourning that loss, for me, has been listening to the music, watching Rush videos and studying the drum solo transcriptions that had such a tremendous impact on me as a young drummer.

A long-time fan of the band, Spirit of Radio is my ringtone to this day. And I'm not the only one; Rush fans are everywhere. I can honestly tell you, they’re even at Bobby Dodd Stadium.

As an educator and drummer/percussionist, it was my privilege and responsibility to incorporate Rush’s music into the Georgia Tech Marching Band’s repertoire. It wasn’t easy, Peart was a genius. Even he said, in the documentary, “I will never get tired of playing Tom Sawyer because it’s difficult to play right, and any time I do play it right, I feel good.”

When our band performed Tom Sawyer as part of the “Guitars and Drums” halftime show in 2002 and 2009, the song was undoubtedly the audience favorite. It was evidenced by a sea of air-drum solos waving throughout the stands. 

So instead of a moment of silence for Neil Peart, take a moment to crank up your favorite Rush tune and celebrate with me that this incredible man believed in the freedom of music.

From Spirit of the Radio:

One likes to believe
In the freedom of music
But glittering prizes
And endless compromises
Shatter the illusion
Of integrity.

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