Drummer Girl celebrates a trailblazing career

Burnaby musician takes centre stage in autobiographical show

Where most people hear noise, Lauri Lyster hears rhythms.

It was the simple sound of her cross-country skis on the snow that sparked what would become a two-hour show devoted to her life in drumming.

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She was listening to the sound as she skied, back in January of 2012, and thinking that she could create a soundscape based on it. The more she let her mind wander, the more she realized that there were sounds everywhere that could be brought to life - and that there was a whole show's worth of possibility in Lyster's own world.

Drummer Girl takes to the stage at Vancouver's Firehall Arts Centre from Feb. 12 to 22.

It's the third incarnation of the show, which debuted at the Firehall in 2012 and played again at the Orpheum Annex last year.

As Lyster describes it, it's her life, in two hours or less.

It tells the story of the Burnaby musician's trailblazing career as a female drummer over the past 30 years.

"Being a woman, that has informed everything about my life," she says, chatting over coffee about its upcoming run. "But it's more generic than that. It's about being a musician."

The show was the product of a long period of pondering in Lyster's life. By the time she had that epiphany moment during that cross-country skiing outing, she'd already been thinking about what she could do next. She was thinking about setting up her own band, but she couldn't decide what kind of music she'd want to concentrate on. Having spent her career, by necessity, as a self-described "gig chameleon," she'd never focused exclusively on one style.

When she came up with the idea of running through all genres of music and adding some dramatic elements, Drummer Girl was born.

The autobiographical show runs through the vast variety of experiences Lyster has had as a drummer since she first took up the drums at age 12.

Incidentally, she credits her father with that decision - she was going to play the flute in school band, but her dad said it didn't suit her. He suggested she play something more "fun and aggressive."

It turned out to be a good suggestion, since Lyster went on to a professional career after doing a music degree.

That career has spanned everything from playing with the acclaimed Winter Harp ensemble to the jazz-blues group Mother of Pearl - and a whole lot in between.

"Lots of fun things have happened, and lots of great music has happened," she says with a smile.

She's not afraid to focus on the times when everything hasn't gone quite so well.

Like the time her husband forgot to bring the bag containing her cymbals and her drum sticks, and she had to improvise. The gig in question was at a Legion hall, and in the hall's basement she found an old wooden window frame that she broke up to make sticks. Her cymbal? A beer bucket.

And she's not afraid to get personal - she has a whole section devoted to a former boyfriend, from the instruments she chose to learn because of him to songs about the breakup and how she coped in its aftermath.

She grins about that part - since, unbeknownst to her, the ex-boyfriend in question actually turned out to see the show in its original incarnation.

"That was ... interesting," she says with laugh.

Embarrassment isn't really a big consideration for Lyster.

"I'm a very open person. I'm very comfortable having my life up there," she says. "I poke fun at myself. If you can't poke fun at yourself, you're lost."

Lyster assembled her own band for the occasion - something she points out that drummers never get to do.

She's got Rene Worst on bass, Brenda Baird on keyboards and vocals, Kat Wahamaa on lead vocals and mandolin, Ben Henriques on saxophone and clarinet, and her husband, Simon Stribling, on trumpet and saxophone.

"I forced him to be in the show," she says with a laugh.

But it's fitting that he is, since the two met onstage - Stribling is also a professional musician, playing all the jazz winds and brass instruments.

Lyster credits her husband with her ability to change gears in her career. For years and years, she notes, she spent time taking whatever gigs she could get, just to stay afloat - which changed when she married someone more financially stable than herself.

"Maybe that's why the Drummer Girl has been able to come to be right now," she muses. "My husband has helped me be able to make choices based on my heart and not on my wallet."

The two also have a child, the now-four-year-old Scarlet - and that has changed what Lyster is willing to do for her career.

"Every time you step out the door for a gig or a rehearsal, it's got to mean a lot to you," she says. "Because I'd rather be home with her."

Lyster is thrilled to have a chance to present the show again after the "fantastic" reception is received in its earlier staged versions.

She notes that audience members have come from all walks of life, and the show appeals to a wide variety of people.

Musically, it roams through everything from "slow and sleazy" blues to African jazz to Celtic sounds, including some Lyster originals.

And it features Lyster on the drum kit and a variety of other instruments - playing the bodhrán, djembe, frame drums and even her daughter's shoes and toys.

 "It's probably unlike anything you've ever seen," she says with a grin. "You don't have to know anything about drumming or be interested in drumming to enjoy the show."

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The Drummer Girl runs Feb. 12 to 22. Shows are Tuesday to Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 5 p.m. and 9 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $20 to $30, on sale through the Firehall Arts Centre at 604-689-0926 or firehallartscentre.ca.

The Firehall is at 280 East Cordova St.

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