FSU musician competing nationally

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Johnathan Jena on the drums. (Photo by Joanna)

By Jared Zanghi

Every year, Guitar Center, the world’s largest musical instrument retailer, holds a “Drum-Off” to determine the top undiscovered drummer in the country. There are roughly 7,000 people who compete every year.

Fitchburg State senior Johnathan Jena is one of these top competitors, and he is on his way to New York City on Nov. 11 as a semifinalist in this contest.

“The point where I’m at right now, I’m one of 30 remaining,” Jena said.

The contest revolves around what he describes as “a three-minute, free-form drum solo.” Jena has said that the judges look for originality, technique, and the drummer’s ability to make everything flow. Seeing where Jena stands right now, it is safe to say he he has these attributes.

This competition has provided an exceptional opportunity for the musician, and it has also put him in a position for some amazing prizes and experiences.

Explaining how he got to this point, Jena said, “The very first round is store prelims. The top two people make it to store finals, and I was one of the top two. There are 30 people in the store finals, and I won that. Quarterfinals were in Natick, and I was fortunate enough to win that, so now I’m going to the semifinals in New York, Times Square, where I will represent four states.”

“The winner goes to San Francisco for the grand final. Those are held in January. It is a huge event. They have bands playing; professional drummers are there,” said Jena.

The winner of the finals in San Francisco receives $25,000, full endorsements from drum companies, a signature line of drumsticks, an interview with Modern Drummer magazine, along with several other prizes. But Jena is not thinking about that right now.

“It’s not about the prizes, it’s about the fun for me,” said Jena. “I’m just really excited to see where things go. This is the farthest I’ve ever gone, obviously, and I’m really grateful. I’m just having fun as it goes.”

Jena had first competed in this annual contest when he was a senior in high school, but he lost in the store finals at the Guitar Center in Nashua. This did not deter him though, and he has continued to work on improving his skills.

Jena has been drumming for 12 years and credits his success in the contest to being a well-rounded musician, as well as the support of friends and family.

“I play a lot to be as well-rounded as possible,” said Jena. “What sets me apart as a competitor is the diversity of my routine. It all flows really well. There’s a lot of technicality in it, a lot of musicality, and I think finding the balance here is key.”

Jena enjoys playing all sorts of music to increase his abilities. With his band he plays mostly rock and progressive metal, but he is also involved in jazz band and orchestra at Fitchburg State University. He plays piano and loves composing music.

Until the semifinals start, he will be working on his next routine and hoping it matches what the judges are looking for. So far, it has truly been an unforgettable experience for him and an experience that he hopes is not ending just yet.

“I am really excited about how far I have come, and it is such a wonderful experience to play with many who love music as much as I do. No matter what happens on the 11th, I am simply grateful to be where I am. After all, as long as I do my best and enjoy the experience, I know I can I never truly lose.”

For more information on the Guitar Center Drum-Off, visit the site.

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