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The beat goes on: A photo, a shared passion and the exchange of a drum kit

Drum set

Finn Johnson, 13, plays a beat on a floor tom as Jesus Soriano, Cindy Soriano, Mary Gaworski, and Finn's mother, Lesa Maher, watch in Johnson and Maher's yard in Livingston on Monday, Jan. 3, 2022. The drum set was donated by Mary, her husband Clancy, and Cindy after they saw a photo of Finn busking for money to buy a new drums in the Daily Chronicle.

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Clancy Gaworski never heard the sound of 13-year-old Finn Johnson’s pounding drums echoing through the streets of Livingston.

It was a photograph in the Chronicle of Finn busking for money to buy a new drum set last summer that caught Clancy’s attention. He and his wife, Mary Gaworski, were reading the newspaper when he perked up and announced his plan.

“He saw that picture in the paper and said, ‘You know what, if this young man is trying to earn the money to buy his own, I want him to have mine,’” Mary said recently, sitting in the dining room of her Bozeman home.

Clancy always did what he said he was going to do. He and Mary had that conversation in August. Over the next few months, Mary and her daughter Cindy Soriano worked to connect with Finn’s mother, Lesa Maher. Scheduling conflicts, missed calls and unexpected events kept pushing the meeting back.

Shortly after New Year’s Day, Finn got his drum set. Mary and Soriano drove to his home in Livingston, and set the drums up, wrapping a bow around the kick drum.

But Clancy wasn’t there. He died in October. He was 74 years old.

Drum set

Mary Gaworksi reflects on her late husband, Clancy, whose ashes reside in a chest in the background of the image, at her home in Bozeman on Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021.

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In December, Mary walked down the hall from her dining room, which was glowing with the reds and greens of family Christmas decorations, just a few weeks before the exchange. She opened the door to a room that she had tried her best to avoid since her husband of 45 years died: the drum room.

Clancy would sit in that small back room, bouncing on his stool and playing his drum kit with his earbuds connected to the stereo. Mary’s treadmill — now occupied by boxes and some hanging clothes — was set up in that same room.

She would ask him to play a beat for her to walk to. Sometimes he would play too fast.

“What’re you doing?” she would joke. “You’re going to kill me!”

Drum set

Mary Gaworski sits behind her late husband, Clancy's, drum set on Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021. Before he passed away, Clancy and Mary were determined to donate his drums to a young musician they saw photographed in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle busking in Livingston for a new drum set.

His love of drumming had been with him since he was a teenager. He got his first taste when he attended a military academy in his native Illinois, where he played snare drum at the school.

Clancy soon became a well-respected carpenter in Illinois, eventually moving to Bozeman in the 1970s and landing a job with Martel Construction. His thumbprints can be found everywhere in the valley.

Drum set

Mary Gaworski shows a photo of her late husband, Clancy, on her phone on Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021. The Gaworskis saw a photo of a young drummer in Livingston busking for a new drum set in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle and decided to offer Clancy’s drums for free.

His final job before retiring in 2012 was upgrading the end zone at Bobcat Stadium, Mary said. She pointed to a book given to him as a retirement gift, saying that his life was a timeline of jobs. The only photo of Clancy in the entire book was of him smiling, leaning against the newly completed railing above the end zone; the other pages were filled with buildings that were finished under his supervision.

The love of drumming never left. It stayed with him through his career, through raising four daughters. He was known to pound his palms and fists against the dashboards of his friends’ cars, leaving behind dents as a physical reminder of his rhythm.

But for most of his life, Clancy never had a drum set to call his own.

wild

Finn Johnson, 12, plays a pared-down drum set on Main St. in downtown Livingston as his friend, Jonathan Sells, 12, takes a break from skateboarding on Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2021. Johnson was busking to raise money for a new drum set.

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Finn’s mom, Lesa Maher, said that he was always a “music kid.” He would watch “Scooby-Doo” and would perk up to the different theme songs.

His favorites were the episodes that had more punk rock themed opening music, similar to Green Day, one of his favorite bands.

She said Finn would get in trouble at school for rattling away, making drum beats with his palms and fists.

He’s had lessons for ukulele, bass and piano, but drumming came from within.

“He’s never had any drum lessons at all, he’s a total natural drummer,” Maher said.

Maher bought her son his first drum set when he was 3-years-old for Christmas. People called her crazy for doing that, she said. But she has always wanted to expose Finn to things that he has a passion for.

Finn grew out of that kit, and continued to accumulate different pieces and parts over the years. He got a hi-hat from his grandparents, and snare drums here and there. Finn’s kit was a DIY creation, similar to Eddie Van Halen’s handmade Frankenstrat guitar.

Maher said her son has never had a cohesive drum set, and that he’s always mixed and matched pieces together. He used the case for his snare drum as a kick drum, acquiring a pedal from his friend.

“He’s playing three modified snares and a suitcase, he was making his own thing,” Maher said.

Drum set

Mary Gaworksi reflects on her late husband, Clancy, whose ashes reside in a chest in the background of the image, at her home in Bozeman on Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021.

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It wasn’t until Clancy’s retirement that he got his own kit.

It was a serendipitous moment when Jeanie Williams, Clancy’s eldest daughter from his marriage with Mary, found a black drum kit for sale eight years ago.

Williams was driving through her neighborhood when she came across a garage sale at a friend’s house. She used to babysit the kid who owned the kit, and she knew right away that she wanted to buy it for her dad.

She called her sister Cindy Soriano and asked if she was in. The neighbor wanted $200 for the drums.

“I don’t care how much it is, I’m in,” Soriano said.

Drum set

Mary Gaworski and her daughter, Cindy Soriano, pose in Gaworski's back yard in Bozeman on Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021. Gaworski and her late husband were determined to donate a drum set to a young musician they saw a photo of in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle busking to purchase new drums.

They bought the kit and went to work putting it together. Williams and Soriano tipped off their mother about the drums. They made plans to have the kit waiting for Clancy once he and Mary returned from a camping trip.

As he walked through the house, Soriano and Mary waited for him to notice the drums. It took a few passes by the room before he saw the gleaming, black kit.

“Jesus Christ, what in the hell did you two do now,” Clancy said, grinning from ear to ear.

Mary said he would play whenever he could, bouncing in his seat and pounding his sticks to favorites like “Kaw-liga” by Charley Pride and “Wipe Out” by the Surfaris.

Drum set

The late Clancy Gaworski's drums are set up in the corner of the room where he played them before he passed away, pictured at the house his widow, Mary Gaworski, still lives in Bozeman on Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021.

The drumming stopped when Clancy was diagnosed with interstitial lung disease around 2018. The disease causes scarring of the lungs, making it difficult to breathe and get oxygen to the bloodstream.

The last time he played the drums that Mary or Soriano could remember was shortly before his diagnosis. The whole family was in town, and his daughters begged him to play. Soriano said she stood in the doorway and bawled while “Kaw-liga” played from the stereo.

“The four girls got one more time out of him,” Soriano said.

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When Clancy said he was going to do something, he did it. Mary said her husband wanted to find out who Finn Johnson was.

Soriano found Maher on Facebook, and a conversation began. But after a while, it seemed like the kit would never make it to Finn.

Mary was worried in early December that they had put too much pressure on Maher to accept the drums. She recalled an email exchange where Finn’s mother said that she felt like she was holding the family up.

Maher wasn’t avoiding getting the drum set on purpose, but her busy schedule made it difficult to find time to set up an exchange.

“I felt like if they wanted to give the kit to another kid, they should,” Maher said. “But their dad was clear that he wanted Finn to have it.”

“I would not know who else (to give it to),” Mary said. “Clancy’s wishes were that Finn have it.”

Finally, after nearly five months, a date for the exchange was chosen.

Soriano, her husband and Mary loaded the drum kit up and headed to Livingston. They set the instrument up in the driveway and waited for Maher and her son to get home.

When the pair pulled up to their house, Finn was confused about all the people on the porch. He hopped out of the car to investigate, and when he made it to the fence, he saw it.

When the thank yous, the hugs and the handing off of Clancy’s drumsticks ended, Finn ran up to his room to create his own cohesive drum set.

Drum set

Finn Johnson, 13, excitedly carries drums up to his room in Livingston on Monday, Jan. 3, 2022. Johnson was photographed in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle this past summer busking for a new drum set, when Mary Gaworski took note and offered to give her late husband's drum set to the young drummer.

Drum set

Jesus Soriano helps Finn Johnson, 13, put a cymbal on a stand, as Mary Gaworski becomes emotional at Johnson's home in Livingston on Monday, Jan. 3, 2022. Gaworski, and her husband Clancy, saw a photo of Johnson busking to fund a drum set in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle and offered to give him Clancy's drum set. Clancy has since passed away.

Drum set

Finn Johnson, 13, and Mary Gaworski hug in Johnson's living room in Livingston on Monday, Jan. 3, 2022. Gaworski donated her late husband's drum set to Johnson after seeing a photo of him in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle busking in downtown Livingston to buy a new drum set.

Drum set

Finn Johnson, 13, plays a drum set in his room in Livingston on Monday, Jan. 3, 2022. The set is a combination of drums he had previously acquired, along with a full kit donated by a Bozeman family who saw a photo of him in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle this summer busking to fund a new drum set.

Chronicle staff photographer and Report for America corps member Samuel Wilson contributed to this story.

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Alex Miller is the county and state government reporter and can be reached at amiller@dailychronicle.com or by phone at 406-582-2648.

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