If Mike Mangini had not been asked to progressive metal band Dream Theater late last year, what else would he be doing?
He'd still be a college professor, of course.
But instead of serving as associate professor of percussion at the Berklee College of Music–a role he served in Boston for 11 years–Mangini has filled the shoes of Mike Portnoy, one of the founders of the over 20-year-old band, and arguably one of the best active drummers in music.
The New England native is well up to the task and will be on display, with the rest of the band, when they perform at the Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown on Oct. 11. The band is presently on tour promoting their 11th studio release, "A Dramatic Turn of Events," the first with Mangini behind the skins.
Mangini, 48, is no stranger to the road. However, this is the first time in over a decade the drummer has been able to dedicate himself fully to one thing–the band.
"I wanted to make a family," he said, marrying in 2005, the same year he was offered a full-time position with Berklee, where he had been since 2000. "I wasn't able to for one reason or another get that done. Once I moved back home I could be in the area for a long time, I could network. Meet, get married, have children."
Just because he was at home and teaching doesn't mean the drummer stopped drumming. During his tenure at the college, he also worked on numerous projects, including the drums for the band Annihilator, and on a Rush tribute album, among other projects. Now, Mangini said he felt he could get back in a full-time band.
With Portnoy's departure from Dream Theater late last year, the timing not be more perfect for Mangini. "I was looking to get in a band," he said. "I had to wait for the right time and opportunity, and it just matched."
Mangini has been more than busy, listening through, and performing the tens of hours of recorded Dream Theater music.
One of the aspects of "A Dramatic Turn of Events" Mangini said he appreciated most was what he called "the flow.
"This is important: they composed this with no drummer," said Mangini, who had not joined the band when they began writing the new album. "This is (guitarist and founder) John Petrucci that always came up with the riffs. He's still here. This is back to John showing up with bags of riffs, as he always did. Except this time, no drummer to steer it in different directions. It was what the writing has been now with no drummer."
Mangini calls this one of the greatest Dream Theater albums in a long time.
"When I write on a keyboard, bass or guitar–which I don't play well but can write on–when I compose, it's good to have only chordal structure and a sense of feel without drums. It changes things," he said. "Those guys composed with no drummer. And all the ideas flowed with such ease. I couldn't believe it."
About a year into his time with Dream Theater, Mangini said the fit has been a natural one.
"We're very much the same," he said. "We talk music, the show, practice, we share things with a common ground. That's special. I feel like I'm with people I've known for a long time. I don't have to try hard to be someone else.
"I go to bed every night and say 'thank you,'" Mangini said. "I'm really grateful for this opportunity with all the things that make it so."
Dream Theater will be performing at the on Oct. 11. For more information, including ticket information,