Saturday, August 8, 2009

Drummer BoyKyree Tooson, 11, joyfully bangs out the beat on a pair of 5-gallon buckets in the alley next to Michigan Theater in downtown Ann Arbor earlier last month. (photo by Lon Horwedel)

The sound is loud and thunderous.

So loud it would hurt your ears if it wasn’t so catchy.

It booms off the alley walls behind the Michigan Theater and pours out onto the street. It pounds into the chests of all those walking by; stops them dead in their tracks and forces them to stomp their feet to the intoxicating beat.

The powerful rhythm, it turns out, is being produced by a mere child. An 11-year-old boy who goes by the street name of T-Nice, but whose real name is Kyree Tooson. A friendly little kid with a smile even more intoxicating than the beat he's putting out. Standing in the alley, not far away, is Kyree’s father Rick, who keeps a protective eye on his son while he does what he loves to do most - play drums.

Not that Kyree needs an actual drum kit to play the drums. In fact, the booming sound emanating from the alley comes only from two 5-gallon buckets (three if you count the one he sits on) and a pair of tattered drum sticks.

Both buckets have semi-circles cut out of their rims so Kyree can prop them up with his foot to get a deeper bass sound when he smacks them with a stick. 

And what about those sticks? 

Looking more like he just fended off an angry tiger than played the drums, neither stick is equal in length and both are badly splintered from their daily beating on plastic, concrete, wood and bricks. In fact, they're in such bad shape, it's hard to believe they don’t break into pieces, let alone make music. But watching Kyree play, you soon realize his sticks aren’t splintered wood at all; they're more like an extension of his hands…his life…his soul.

This kid can play, and that’s all he wants to do. With his dad by his side, Kyree is trying his best to get back to the Pacific northwest, where he was born. Although if you ask him, he’ll tell you he’s from “everywhere.” He has a dream of attending the Seattle Drum School some day. He figures all he needs is a break. Just one little break in a life that hasn’t had many.

“My mom left when I was little.” Kyree said. “She used to bring me around to all these people who were gang members and stuff, so my dad had to come and take care of me. He’s got full custody of me now so my mom’s not really in the picture anymore.”

There isn't a hint of regret or sadness in Kyree’s tone as he talks about his mother. He just lays it out there like a simple truth before resuming his rhythmic tapping on the nearest surface.

Kyree has only been playing the drums for a year - and not just 5-gallon buckets, he actually has a real drum kit; one donated by a church, but as Rick points out, “we ain’t got no car yet and it’s easier playing buckets on the street.”

Listening to Kyree play, it’s hard to believe he hasn’t been playing longer.  “He started dancing when he was two or three.” Rick said, “We went to dance at a market about a year ago and he seen a guy playing the buckets and he said ‘let me try that.’ Dude gave him a bucket and I bought him some sticks and this is how he sounds a year later.”

Never mind the four measly bucks he has in his collection jar. Kyree’s mission is to turn his passion into a decent living someday. “I wanna be a professional drummer when I get older.” He said. “I wanna save up a million dollars ‘cause I never had a million dollars before. And if I ever get rich when I’m older, I want to help people who don’t have money…and animals too, like cats and dogs. I wanna be as happy as I can be.”

With business slowing, Rick decides it's time for Kyree to take his drums over to Nickel’s arcade in search of a bigger crowd.  

What began as a family reunion in May, turned into a 6-week stay in Michigan for Rick and Kyree. But last Tuesday the pair took the money they’d been saving all summer and left for Seattle in search of a brighter future for the talented young drummer.

Now all that's left of Kyree in Ann Arbor is the thunderous echo he left behind with his splintered drum sticks and 5-gallon buckets. It bounces off the streets and alleys and reminds us not to forget him... and don’t be too surprised if he resurfaces a few years down the road on a much bigger stage.

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