Chance Utter is a sixth-generation Nevadan and longtime drummer. He started playing drums in middle school, was in marching band during his four years at Robert McQueen High School and completed a season with Drum Corps International before enrolling in the music program at the University of Nevada, Reno. It was there he met a mentor whose musical interests would drastically alter his own.
At a gathering of percussion students early in Utter’s freshman year, then-professor Cody Remaklus performed with a group of advanced drummers from the program. The rhythms they played were unfamiliar to Utter—and he found them immediately appealing.
“They were playing batá, which is folkloric, Cuban drums—double-headed, goblet-shaped drums—used in what we know to be Santeria, but in Cuba it’s known as La Regla de Ocha or Lucumí. And as soon as I heard it, it was just one of those things in life where it was just meant to be.”
Before long, Utter’s fascination with batá started to shape his scholastic career. He remembers a pivotal a trip to San Francisco he took with Remalkus and others to study with renowned batá player Michael Spiro.
“And he mentioned, ‘Well, if you really want to learn this stuff, you need to go to Cuba—and if you want to go to Cuba, you should probably speak Spanish,'” Utter recalled. He changed his major to Spanish.
“They didn’t have any world percussion at the university as far as a degree program, but Cody was there, and he kind of pushed me in a lot of directions, toward different teachers and whatnot,” he said.
Early in his studies, Utter realized the importance of understanding the cultural traditions behind his musical fascinations.
“That’s something I try and honor but also struggle with a little bit—because I’m essentially appropriating a lot of these cultures,” he said. “Like I said, I’m a sixth-generation Nevadan, and my family came from Europe, so I’m pretty white-washed as far as genetics go. … But there’s just something about these particular musics that just speak to me more than anything else. I try to go in with the utmost respectful intention.”
He cited the traditions of Cuban Lucumí and La Regla de Ocha as examples.
“It’s being aware that this—religious music, is what it is—came to Cuba via the slave diaspora out of Africa. Realize this is slave worship music. And that’s nothing I will ever be able to understand in more than an academic way, if that makes sense.”
Utter graduated in 2015 and has spent the intervening time drumming and teaching others to drum. His own interests have expanded to include instruments from countries such as Brazil and India.
In January, he’ll head to the California Institute of Arts in Valencia to further study these musical traditions as a master’s student in world percussion. Utter released a solo album, New Beat Generation, in February. Its title is a reference to the Beat Generation literary movement. The tracks blend electronic sounds with traditional Indian instrumentation and lyrics. A song called “Mystic Subs,” opens with a quote from Jack Kerouac’s book Dharma Bums.
“I’m a big Kerouac fan,” Utter said. “I read Dharma Bums last year, and I was really inspired. And I felt like the innocence in his love for Eastern traditions and cultures and religions is just something I can resonate with just based off of how he describes it making him feel."Ω