Amy Mattson, University Communication and Marketing, 319-384-0070
Drumming to the beat
Drumming to the beat
Drumming to the beat
He had the beat. But it would be another two decades before Steve Schlosser drummed up the idea—and the courage—to share his percussive talent with youth.
The year was 1979, and Schlosser had just received his first set of drumsticks. It was a match made in musical heaven.
At age 11, he amazed his parents and teachers with an impressive rhythmical repertoire. By 14, the Burlington native was teaching drum students at his local Musician’s Pro Shop.
“I loved my time there,” says Schlosser, now a West Liberty resident. So much in fact, that when he came to the University of Iowa to pursue a Bachelor of Science in psychology and later a Masters of Art in science education, the young musician made the 120 mile round trip home each weekend just to continue administering drum lessons.
But it wasn’t until he began work on his doctorate at the UI that Schlosser realized how integral his passion for music was to his life and character. “I thought it would be my last hurrah of being a drum lesson teacher,” he says.
A musical motivation
The prospect sounded so disappointing that Schlosser was forced to confide in his advisor, former College of Education professor and dean Margaret Clifford, he didn’t know whether it was possible to relinquish his musical side and take up science education.
Though he would eventually make the difficult decision to leave the doctoral program, it was Clifford that helped plant the seeds for what would later become Sheltered Reality, a Midwest youth drum performance group.
She encouraged Schlosser to not only pursue his passion, but to ponder what motivated him and others intrinsically. “Could music become an inspiriting tool for struggling children,” she asked?
The answer, it seemed, was yes. What began as dissertation material—complete with a few drum students from his hometown music store days as case studies—soon morphed into “a true musical organization” with more than 200 drummers spread across 13 states.
Listen to the beat while UI alumnus Steve Schlosser instructs youth drum students at Squaw Creek Baptist Church. Video by Kirk Murray.
Members perform at fairs, festivals, churches, and public schools across the Midwest, delivering what Schlosser calls “music with a message.” Using percussion set to song and choreography, the students ranging in age from 4 to a youthful 76 encourage audiences to pursue their dreams, speak out against bullying, help prevent drug and alcohol abuse, and create positive change in their community.
But more than motivate others, group members also participate in organized volunteer projects that include assisting neighbors with yard work, sending cards to the elderly, and collecting dry goods for the local food bank.
“We consider Sheltered Reality a family,” says Ranae Lynch, board president and mom to 18-year-old drummer Sydney. “These kids love one another, and they love to give back to the community.”
Finding a rhythm
The close cooperation seems to have been rewarded. In 2012, the group performed its three thousandth show—an arguably notable milestone, especially considering that at the organization’s conception, Schlosser was nearly laughed out of town.
“I had doors slammed in my face, and people tell me I was stupid,” he says. But just as he was prepared to leave the work behind, the drummer was buoyed by words from his pastor.
“He told me to take a chance,” he says. The phrase stuck with him, and Schlosser gathered the courage to attempt his first ever performance. Accompanied by several of his drum students, he played for the congregation.
“I was sure everyone would run out screaming if it was too loud,” he admits. But rather than cover their ears, the audience gave an enthusiastic round of applause. Encouraged by the warm reception, the enterpriser welcomed more drums to the group and began to book shows.
Within a few short years, the nonprofit had expanded outside the state, and boasted exchange student members from countries as far flung as Germany and Russia. Yet Schlosser remained most proud of the positive changes he saw taking place in his drummers each day.
A powerful art
“Since I’ve joined the group I’ve gained a lot of confidence and skills. I’ve learned how to be a leader, and how to be comfortable in front of an audience,” says 8-year Sheltered Reality veteran Sydney Lynch. “It feels good to be a part of something that sends a message.”
Schlosser has to agree. “It’s great to know that a crazy idea not only worked, but worked well enough to become my life and change others’ lives,” he says.
Take the case of the group’s “oldest kid.” Captivated by her grand nephew’s enthusiasm for percussion, she accompanied him to practice. But rather than remain a spectator, she took up a pair of drumsticks, at last quenching a long-held dream to drum.
“You only have one shot in life,” says Schlosser. “But combined with the education I got at the University of Iowa and the creative power we have working together, I realized there’s nothing that can’t be accomplished.”