Ohio University

Recent Ohio Fellows alum reflects on his journey

Recent Ohio Fellows alum reflects on his journey
Members of the band Clubhouse, with Zak Blumer on the left

By Zak Blumer
Class of 2018

I was a drummer before I was ever aware of it. The whole world was a percussive palette. If my fingers weren’t thumping to the beat of songs on the car radio, my hands would be tapping away on my own body to songs in my head.

I owe all of my growth in both music and academia to my family. In fact, it was my parents who ultimately suggested that I take drum lessons. I remember vividly going to the music store for the first time, picking out a set of used congas (large Cuban hand drums), and playing them for hours once I got home. When I started on hand drums, my twin brother, Ari, was becoming interested in acoustic guitar. We took lessons every week for years. Eventually I transitioned from hand drums to the standard drum kit, and we began taking lessons together, once a week, learning how to play songs as a group and developing further. As Ari and I pushed each other along in our musicianship, we pushed just as hard to excel academically. It was like a competition between us as to who would have the slightly better grade on each test we took, or each homework assignment we submitted. We have subconsciously competed like this for as long as I can remember, and it is likely the most important reason for any academic success we had along the way.

The two of us formed our first real band with our best friend Max Reichert while still in middle school, and soon after transitioned into high school, where we quickly joined the soccer team. As if those two commitments weren't enough, I decided to join the marching band, too. School, music, and soccer were all more serious than before. I thought I could do it all, and I definitely tried. After a while, though, it was too much, and I decided that I would drop the marching band to focus on soccer, the band with Ari and Max, and academics. Over the course of high school, we pushed each other harder than ever, registering for the highest-level classes we could take, competing every year in the high school’s battle of the bands, and joining the varsity soccer team. We thought this was tough, but it would only get tougher from here.

College came quickly. Both Ari and I were presented with an incredible opportunity through Ohio University’s Honors Tutorial College, and, since Max was also an OU student, it made the move to Athens a no-brainer. Soon after settling in, we decided to take our passion for music to the next level. The three of us began writing songs that we hoped to release to the public, and eventually landed on a name for the band: Clubhouse. As we were finishing up our first single, we met two fellow music lovers, Ben and Mike, and quickly invited them into the band.

The summer after our first year in college we had our first rehearsal with all five of us, and it was as effortless as we could have dreamed. During our four years at Ohio University, Ari and I pushed each other harder than ever before, pursuing excellence in both coursework and undergraduate research while simultaneously working on music. It wasn’t always easy. We would often take entire weekends to drive home to rehearse with the band, or sometimes even miss a class to get to a performance on time. We would stay up late, until 2 a.m., writing music just to get up at 5 to work on homework. While this sounds unsustainable, and was, in many ways, we did it because we loved it. Plus, we made sure to always save time for friends and social events, so that we didn’t ever feel like we were drowning in “work.” Ari and I graduated summa cum laude, and the band had released over five songs, gained over a million streams on Spotify, and even performed at nationally renowned music festivals.

Both of us were unsure of what our next step would be. We had decided to apply to graduate school simply because we knew it was an option. However, Ari and I had spent most of our lives putting academics first, and, for the first time, we felt like we had the opportunity to prioritize music. So, when acceptance letters to graduate school came, Ari and I tentatively attended a few tours, with music in the back of our minds the entire time. We eventually decided to write an honest letter to The Ohio State University. We told them that while we appreciated their time and interest, we wanted to put music first, and we felt that we could not accept their offer while knowing this. As a wonderful surprise to us, the professors at OSU responded with a thoughtful, understanding letter and presented us with an opportunity to begin our graduate studies while pursuing music as a career. Sounds like the best of both worlds, right? Naturally, we accepted, and began working in the labs at OSU in the summer pursuing our PhDs in Material Science, while continuing to work on our music with the band. 

Everything seemed good. Then, one day, we received a message from Max, telling us that the doctors had found cancerous tissue in his leg. They didn’t know much at the moment, and more tests were to be done. It was as if time had just stopped. All we did, all day, was think about what the results might say. Waiting is the worst part. And, eventually, we received the news. Max had been diagnosed with osteosarcoma (bone cancer) and had a large tumor on his knee and femur. He immediately began chemotherapy, which would be followed by a surgery to remove the tumor and replace the bone with titanium, which would in turn be followed by more chemotherapy. We tried our best to be his support team, and as time went on, things started to feel more positive. Anytime Max was out of the hospital, we would write music with him until 2 or 3 a.m. We’d get up the next day, and he’d go into the hospital and we’d go in to work. It was this way for a while. Things were starting to feel better, and it felt like Max was beginning to be on the upswing. Then Ari and I received news that our mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer. We were devastated. In the span of just four months, both my best friend and my mother had been diagnosed with cancer. It was, and still is, a difficult thing to fully grasp. But, like always, time marched on, and these two individuals showed me how strong someone could truly be. My mother pushed through a double mastectomy, and Max finished up his chemotherapy.

The band has released two songs since Max got out of the hospital and has another two songs on the way. Ari and I are still moving forward in graduate school. My mom is still excelling in everything that she does—both at home and as an incredible writer. And, out of all of this, I’ve learned some things about myself and about life.

I have learned that you can decide the life you want to live by choosing those with whom you surround yourself. My family pushed me to continuously set the bar higher for myself. This was exacerbated by the fact that I had a twin brother who was right there with me. My bandmates and I are all motivated to take our music to the next level. My friends are the most genuine and encouraging group of people I have ever had the pleasure of getting to know. All these people have helped me create a massive support network, ensuring I keep myself accountable and manage the balance between life, academia, and music.

 

I have learned that one can persevere through some very difficult times—and maybe even come out stronger on the other side. Everyone experiences some tough times in their lives. Sometimes, out of those hardships comes something good. For me, it was a realization that the people in my life are so precious, and that life itself is not something to be taken for granted.

Pursue your passions without procrastination. If you love something, do it. Go for it with your whole heart. Your friends and family will support you and push you if you openly express your passion. You have the ability to make this life whatever you want.

Find music from Clubhouse at www.clubhouseband.com.