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Dave Anania drumming for Blue Man Group.
Doing what he loves: U alum now drummer with Blue Man Group
U alum now drummer with Blue Man Group
By Christopher James
Two things compelled Dave Anania to become a musician: his older brother Johnny and the rock group Genesis. "Johnny was a drummer," Anania said. "While he was in school, I had free time in the basement bangin' away on drums. But then when I was 9, he played a Genesis album for me. It was so unconventional--25 minute songs, odd time signatures, drum duets, everything. I was hooked." Anania has gone on to a career that many would call unconventional--at least for a classically-trained musician. He has shared the stage with pop stars like the Indigo Girls, Chaka Khan, and Tracy Bonham, and he's currently one of the drummers for the acclaimed performance troupe, Blue Man Group. Anania studied briefly at the University of Wisconsin before moving to Minnesota to study with then-jazz director Ron McCurdy at the University of Minnesota. He also took lessons with Fernando Meza (percussion) and Phil Hey (drums). "Fernando was a great teacher," Anania said. "I got a taste of the Latin rhythms and how to play them. I got some conga and bongo lessons from him. It was a great follow-up to the orchestral percussion I'd already learned. It helped me be a more well-rounded player." He needed to be well-rounded, because during his formal studies Anania had been gigging around town with professional performing groups--"funk music, some jazz, some studio stuff." By the time he finished his degree, he had started playing with Greazy Meal, a Minneapolis-based soul-music collective that achieved near-legendary local status in the late 1990s. "[Playing with Greazy Meal] was amazing," Anania said. "I had no idea what to do with it. I was playing with some of the top musicians in the city--in the world. It was surreal for me at that point in my playing career. It was really challenging because I started thinking about it too much. It was a head check for me." Despite the demands of his professional work, Anania finished his bachelor's degree at the University of Minnesota in 1996. "When I think of having a music degree, I think of performance degrees which mostly are classically oriented-positions in a symphony. My performing has so little to do with classical repertoire. What I got that I taking with me are some playing techniques and ideas of musicality. I definitely am using the theory and jazz arranging and orchestration." Anania's biggest challenge--and his biggest break--came in 1997, when he met Ian Pai, who was a co-creator and the original drummer for the acclaimed Blue Man Group in New York. Pai invited Anania to audition for the New York's drum set position. "I flew out, stayed the week, did the callbacks, got the gig, came back, packed up my bags and I was back in New York by the end of the following week." Best known for their groundbreaking performance piece Tubes, which premiered in New York in 1991, Blue Man Group now enjoys mainstream blockbuster status with long-running shows in New York, Boston, Chicago and Las Vegas. Their "Complex Rock" tour recently completed its third national circuit, and a brand new production will open in Berlin in May 2004. The eponymous group is made up of enigmatic, blue-painted performers, mute and bald, who guide the audience through multimedia performances involving video, live music, and spoken word. Anania keeps busy with more than just the Blue Man Group. He plays with pop singer-songwriter Joshua Tyler and a jazz trio, Timefly, which he describes as "live drum'n'bass meets Herbie Hancock." " A lot of what I'm writing right now is very orchestral in nature, and it's also somewhat pop oriented. People tell me 'Oh man, I could hear that in a soundtrack.' My aspirations down the road are to have my own career as a pop singer/songwriter. For the time being, a lot of my writing is personal, but in my collaboration with Joshua Tyler, we've been performing a lot of my stuff live." Anania is unequivocal when it comes to advice for other musicians considering nontraditional careers. "Yes, do it. Be persistent and be very intentional," he said. "In a lot of cases people get shunned from music careers-by parents or outside influences or pressure to get a real job. Do what you love for your career and just make it work. It's possible. We've only got one life (in this lifetime), so we might as well enjoy what we're doing."