Bryan Tuk

Drummer | Producer | Arts Entrepreneur

TEDx Talk: Of Two Minds (or, A Hard Left Turn From the Expected Road)

(Originally published November 14, 2014)

Delivering a TEDx talk was a new performance format for me and a lot of work but also a lot of fun.  I am grateful to the TEDxLehighRiver committee for choosing me to be in with a group of very impressive people: clergy, CEOs, doctors, and accomplished people of all walks of life.

Here is the video of the talk, with the prepared text below.

Of Two Minds (or, A Hard Left Turn From the Expected Road)

TEDxLehighRiver - September 27th, 2014

This all started a very, very long time ago. It was 1982. I was 10 years old. There was a couch in the TV room in my mom's house in Fairless Hills. To me, it was more than a piece of furniture. I remember it very clearly.

At this time in my life, I realized that I liked to bang on things with sticks and rulers and pencils. Making a racket was FUN. I would line the pillows up just so, and they would become tom-toms. The back rest of the couch would be where the cymbals were. With two 12" rulers in my hands, the couch became a drumset. I was hooked.

And I didn't even know what I was doing really, other than knowing that I could be in a rock band in my mind, and it was awesome.

Fortunately for me, I had a family member who was (and is to this day) a really good musician, and a drummer, and he taught me how to hold the sticks properly, how to read music, and how to play all the basic rudiments - basic sticking combinations that a drummer can use for certain effects and rhythms.

It grew from there. When I was 11, my mom bought me my first drumset. A second hand blue vistalite Ludwig set. I was in heaven.

That was the beginning of the longest and most durable relationship that I have to this day. Me, the sticks and the drum set. We celebrated our 32nd anniversary together earlier this year.

It wasn't just the joy I felt in making a racket, but there was something about the sensation of having a stick in my hand and striking an object and hearing that sound that really captivated me. Having a stick in my hand, beginning my downstroke, bringing the stick to the head....and at that point of contact creating a vibration through the air...

In all of those years, playing the drums has never disappointed me. It has always been a source of comfort, a source of pride, a source of achievement.... And it made talking to girls a heck of a lot easier. Not as easy as guitar players have it… But you can't have everything!

Even to this day, after 32 years on the instrument, when I sit down behind the drums like I just did and I raise my hand up in the upstroke and then I turn my hand to begin the downstroke and the stick follows down to the point of contact on the drumhead, that contact to me is still an incredible sensation.

That contact causes the instrument to resonate. That resonance creates a vibration in the air. That vibration in the air leaves me and the drum at 767 miles an hour and it reaches you.

At that moment when the audience receives those vibrations in the air, we are all connected. And I think that still the purest form of communication. My hands and feet are doing with my brain tells them to do. Without speaking, I can convey what's in my head to you without saying a word and you can perceive what I'm saying almost instantaneously without either of us saying one word.

When I hold a pair of drumsticks in my hand, I go into another space. It's here and present but it's not here and not present at the same time. We just all went there together without saying a word.

This is something that I knew deep down but didn't realize - the moment of bringing the stick to the drumhead - that point of contact - the space that is created - the vibration in the air - that’s my juice. That's why I am on this planet.

I didn't always consciously know this until recently. And when I did realize that fact, I did something about it.

Labels Are For Other’s People’s Comfort

During your travels you will meet people. In the earlier phases of your life, usually the first question posed to you centers on your location or your origin. This is what people do. Upon meeting someone for the first time, you are asked for a contextual identifier: a friend affiliation, the neighborhood you live in, sports teams you root for, schools, and so on, and so on.

You’re not a kid forever. Some years later, you will transition into a much different stage of life. The school days are long gone. The real world closes in and begins to take hold. You become an adult. Adults have serious jobs. Jobs with titles and offices and expense accounts.

You won’t know when, or how, or why. But it will happen. You will find yourself in a networking event for your job, or at your place of worship, or at a neighborhood barbecue, and you will start to hear a pattern emerge.

"Hi, Bryan, nice to meet you! So what do you do for a living?"

What do you do for a living?  That is the filter through which most adults will understand you.

You know that deep down there is a piece of you that wants to respond thusly: "Well, I'ma transplant from Indiana that loves Motley Crüe and a tall vodka on the rocks."

But you don't.

You fall into the trap. And, inexorably, you start talking about your job.

You will have labels placed upon by others. The labels, if you are not careful, will come to define you if you let them.  

Always remember: Labels are for other people.

You vs. Yourself

The world is abrupt. It’s messy. It’s complicated. Sometimes it is inexplicable. Sometimes there is so much noise going on in your life that you wake up one day and find yourself in a place you don’t recognize. Somehow you wandered from your passion into a professional situation that does not square with your creative interests. That can lead to a lot of internal conflict. Like you are out of step with your self. Out of time. Out of sync.

For me that used to be what I experienced in the legal profession, but I have found a way to reconcile my two minds into a single stream, which I’ll explain in a minute.

Until you find your key for doing that, being out of sync with yourself can lead to a lot of stress, and a lot of problems, physically and psychologically. Keep this in mind though: the pressure you feel is not external forces against you, it is you versus yourself.

You are fighting against yourself.  Why is this important?

It’s important because realizing this puts you in the driver’s seat. You are in charge of your own professional life and creative life. Once you realize that you are in charge, you can create your own professional and creative reality.

Take a Hard Left Turn

At some point, you are going to face a choice. A big one. Once or twice in your life a situation will develop where you will find yourself thrown in with people who may hold you back - that don’t understand you, or what makes you tick. People in your situation may hold you back professionally, they may hold you back psychologically or they may hold you back artistically.

You cannot please everyone, nor should you attempt to. Coming to terms with that is part of growing up, growing wiser.  Some people will simply not get it - and that's OK.  

So how will you know when you’re in these one or twice in a lifetime circumstances? You will know. You’ll feel trapped for the long term in a professional setting not of your choosing.

So what do you do? You have to choose. Choose your own way.

If you believe in your gut that your professional setting is holding you back - professionally or artistically - then in your mind, you return to that place of your passion, your excitement, the thing that makes you want to get out of bed in the morning.

Then take a hard left turn that no one expects to get you to that place. Grab wheel tight and hit the accelerator, and turn the wheel hard to the left and go like hell. Go see what’s over the horizon. You’ll enjoy the ride.

Once You Embrace Your Passion, the Sky’s the Limit

For me, this meant letting others in my professional circles in on how central a role music and the arts play in my life. It also meant pursuing playing musical opportunities as hard as I could - as hard as I pursued my professional life. It meant returning to a disciplined practice schedule - not an easy thing to do for an old guy like me. It took a lot of energy.

Letting the creative side of my mind run free had some interesting and rewarding outcomes. First, artistically I connected with some really great musicians and we started gigging around the Valley. Then we decided to make some recordings. The recordings turned out better than I could have expected. The band started gigging in New York City. For jazz, NYC is the center of the universe.

The New York gigs went well enough that we landed a residency in mid town Manhattan. The record we made got submitted and accepted for consideration for the 2015 Grammys.

Why do I mention all this? None of this would have happened if I simply did what was expected of me.

I was energized by all of this. Suddenly I started to wonder how this could help my law practice. How could my creative mind help my professional mind?

Suddenly it became very clear to me: none of the artists, filmmakers or musicians or recording studios I was friendly with had local legal help. Many used competitors from New York or Philadelphia. That became a mission of mine - to build an entertainment law practice in what I saw as an underserved market.

There were filmmakers, recording artists, actors, and arts organizations right here in Allentown, and elsewhere in the Valley that had no legal representation whatsoever. They were right under my nose for years yet I didn’t see them because I was following the expected path.

As word traveled, actors, filmmakers, producers and musicians started to contact me. Awhole new professional world opened up.

None of this would have happened if I simply did what was expected of me.

What I have learned is that both sides of your mind aren’t polar opposites. They can work together. One side of your mind can inform the other. The creative mind informs and energizes the professional mind.

You Will Become More Empathetic Towards and Curious About Others

Once you say yes, once you take ownership of who you are, once you become willing to be more open about your out of the office life, something really interesting happens. You will become more empathetic towards and curious about others.

There are like minded people around you that you don’t yet know. But, when you take the step to embrace your passion, and make it part of your professional life, other like minded people will gravitate to you. They will seek you out.

At the end of all this I have a homework assignment for all of you. Tomorrow morning when you wake up, before all of the obligations and responsibilities of tomorrow get to you, look in the mirror and ask yourself why you were here. Is it to follow someone else's dream, or is it follow your own? And then please do something about it.

If you are Of Two Minds, I promise you this: When you can channel both sides of your mind into a single stream, you will be a force. And you will create your own professional and creative reality, which others will have no choice but to accept.

Thank you for listening. Good luck and go be excellent.

(c) Bryan Tuk 2016