BY NICOLAS GRIZZLE
It was 40 degrees below zero. The trip was delayed 24 hours due to a cracked runway. But last week, less than a month after playing at the NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four championship game with the University of Michigan band, Aaron Ginns set a world record for northernmost drum solo and northernmost concert performance.
“It’s kind of like that old boxing saying, everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face,” says Ginns, reached by phone after settling in from his return trip back to Michigan. “I had a bunch of things planned, but it is really cold up there. So I ended up improvising as long as I could.”
They only had about two hours on-site before they’d have to return, so he got to work right away unloading and setting up the drum set. Ginns wound up playing for about 10 minutes for a crowd of 30, including scientists from the research station and the Russian pilots who had flown the cargo plane to the site.
The witness statements, as well as several photos and videos, have been sent to the Guinness Book of World Records for verification, which is expected to be granted soon.
For the record, Ginns was not paid to do this. The recent college grad (the music major just graduated this weekend) had the opportunity to accompany a scientific expedition and, being the adventurous type, jumped at the chance. “I always bring a drum pad everywhere I travel to keep practicing, and I asked if I could bring drums,” he told Drum before the trip. “They didn’t say no.” He called DW, who happened to make just the right kit for this gig — the brand new LowPro travel kit. The trouble was timing.
It needed to get there fast, and DW didn’t have one on hand at the factory to ship out right away. But Drum magazine did. We had just finished our review of the LowPro and it was, serendipitously, packed up and ready to ship back. DW PR maven Elizabeth Lang called us and asked if it was possible to get the kit to Ginns for this trip he was leaving for in a few days. It was sent the next day from Drum’s offices to Ginns for this expedition. But getting to the northernmost point on the planet brought on more challenges.
There was only one way to get to the North Pole, which was via Russian cargo plane that shuttles equipment and scientists to and from the small Norwegian island of Svalbard. The pilots were skeptical when they heard a drum set was coming along; there wasn’t much room, and there were very strict weight requirements. The 29-pound kit takes up less room than a bicycle when packed up, so that problem was solved. But the runway at the North Pole — a 6- to 15-foot-thick sheet of ice — had cracked, forcing them to wait another 24 hours while seawater was pumped into the cracked area and frozen back together.
When the plane finally landed after a two-and-a-half-hour flight, Ginns, in a parka, snowpants, hat, two face covers, giant boots, gloves with hand warmers inside and “the biggest mittens you’ve ever seen,” wheeled the drums from the plane to the North Pole marker and got to work.
“Amazingly I was able to set it up in like two minutes,” he says. “I’m not sure what other drums would have worked.” The four-piece kit has 3” shells and packs easily into a rolling suitcase. The bass drum’s internally mounted bipod stand provides structural support for the whole kit, minus the snare, which has its own lightweight stand.
After the quick setup, he took his mitten off to play but kept the gloves — because, after all, he’s not that crazy. He jokes that it wasn’t surprising to have such a crowd for the event, even in perhaps the most remote location in the world. “In all honesty, I was the only show in town,” he says with a laugh.
“I was kind of waiting for one stroke on the snare drum and everything to break, just because the temperature was so extreme,” says Ginns. After all, with wind chill, it was minus 40-degrees. “But everything worked. They sounded great out there, and it went pretty smoothly.”
After playing through March Madness and into the Final Four championship a month ago, traveling to the North Pole and setting a world record a week ago, and graduating college a few days ago, what’s next for this world traveling drummer? “After you do the North Pole, it comes to mind to do the South Pole,” says Ginns. It makes sense, as he’s already played drums on five contents and needs only Antarctica and Australia to round out all seven.
But first, he plans to take on a whole other world with a move to New York, where he’ll ply his trade with some of the best and most well-known musicians on the planet. Though the future is never certain, it’s safe to say that this drummer is going places.