Junior Dean Sinclair plays drums in five campus ensembles and two student bands. Dean Sinclair | Courtesy

Junior Dean Sinclair used to drum on pots and pans when he was a kid. While his parents noticed he was playing in time, they assumed that was just something kids did — until Sinclair’s younger brother started doing the same thing, without Dean’s sense of rhythm.

“My parents were always listening to music around the house,” Sinclair said. “I heard noise, so I tried to make noise back.”

After 16 years of making noise, Sinclair’s natural sense of rhythm has made him a beloved member of the pep band, jazz combo, orchestra, percussion ensemble, and Big Band. He also plays for rock bands August Hotel and Deaf Davy and the Wineboxes.

“Oftentimes, he may have never even heard the song that we’re covering,” Deaf Davy and the Wineboxes singer junior Mark Naida said, “And based on the progressions and the rhythms of the guitars, he can pick up what the drum’s supposed to be and oftentimes he’s right. He just has an amazing ear for it.”

Rock music is Sinclair’s favorite thing to play, he said.

“Say a guitar player or piano player is playing something,” Sinclair said. “I’m not able to make chords and notes the way we think of them, like scale-type things. So for me, it’s much more fun to play with those tonal instruments.”

His passion for rock music also inspires his fellow musicians, Naida said.

“It’s Dean’s joy that comes through a lot of the time,” Naida said. “As a singer, I’m singing and then I hear him, this whisper in the background because he’s screaming over the drum set, and he knows all the words to all the songs and I never do.  He’s one of the greatest musicians I’ve ever met and just has such a love for it.”

When Sinclair first came to Hillsdale, he knew he couldn’t bring his drums with him, and for the first time since he was 6, he wasn’t sure he would be able to play, according to Naida.

“One time he was speaking about how, coming to Hillsdale, he wouldn’t have his drum set,” Naida said. “And he started kind of tearing up over that, that there could be some limits on him doing the thing that he loves to do most in the world.”

Sinclair’s head snaps up and down as he plays, keeping time with the music and getting the audience engaged.

“I’m doing my best to be a showman, so I’m trying to be moving around and to be as visual as possible,” he said. “The other guys, they get to stand, they get to move around … I’m trying to do my best to get an audience involved, or as hyped as I can from sitting in the back, where it’s probably difficult to see me sitting down.”

Sinclair also plays with rock band August Hotel, made up of guys from his hometown near Chicago, Illinois. When Sinclair won a middle-school talent competition for a drum solo, the judges connected him with Ryan Lammers, who took third in the competition for a guitar solo. The judges suggested the two boys jam together sometime, and their parents exchanged phone numbers.

The drummer and lead guitarist for August Hotel have been playing together ever since. After working together for almost 10 years, Sinclair and Lammers have an instinctive recognition of each other’s style, Lammers said.

“We’ll be working on a new song, and we’ll kind of be playing through it for the first time, and figuring out our parts, and we’ll instinctively go for the same kind of feel at the same time,” Lammers said. “We just know what should happen there … I’ve played with other drummers for various things and it just feels weird, because it never syncs up the same way.”

The band is currently working on recording an extended play, or EP, a short album which features four songs. Sinclair said he wrote two of the four.

Staying involved with August Hotel while at a college more than three hours away has been difficult, Sinclair said. But he still travels home to play for gigs, and is helping to create the EP.

“We just have to be conscious of [Sinclair’s travel time] when we’re picking what we’re going to do,” Lammer said.

Sinclair’s passion and skill have been a huge asset to campus music as well, Pep Band Director senior Hank Prim said.

“His skills are off the charts,” Prim said. “He’s a phenomenal musician to work with, because he knows what he need to do and he knows how to do it. I can ask Dean, ‘Hey, can we aim for something more like this?’ And he just does it … he’s just super in tune to what’s going on and can use his instrument to drive the rest of the band too. His humor is infectious, everyone loves him, and obviously everyone looks up to him greatly because he’s an awesome musician and an awesome drummer.”

  • FridayNightEcon

    How can someone make such good music from just a box? And he’s just a nice guy to hang around with, too.