Fix The Damn Bass Drum Drumhead!

bad-drumDISCLAIMER:  The picture was taken at a parade.  The city?  Doesn’t matter.  The state?  Doesn’t matter.  I purposely turned the color picture into black & white to help NOT identify the school’s uniform.  I purposely cropped the picture to not include the student’s face or even gender.  I want this photo to focus on the bass drum – not the student or even the school.

Since July 3, 1989, I have taught high school music.  I have been through my shares of highs and lows.  I still go through highs and lows.  At the time of writing this “blog-entry,” I am going through a low.  I am so used to going through lows that I know that highs are around the corner.  I appreciate TD Jakes take on life.  About life he says think about a woman and her pregnancy.  When does the pregnancy hurt the most?  Right before the delivery and OF COURSE – the delivery itself.  Right before the most important blessing in the soon-to-be-mom’s life, she will experience some of the greatest pain in her life.  Well, that is very similar to our lives.  Aren’t there times in your life where you go through some level of pain only to then receive some sort of positive?  You have to go through some pain before you receive a blessing.  People ask me, “How do you deal with the negative?”  Privately?  Poorly.  I cry.  I yell.  I become quiet.  I go into a room in my house and have “quiet-time.”  Publicly?  Depends on who you ask.  I believe that I do OKAY with dealing about negative issues.  I let folks know that I do not feel well and give me space and I feel, in their own way, they appreciate my candor.  I cannot thank my wife, son, and daughter for their support when I am under attack.  Yes, “under attack.”  I also give God a GREAT / HUGE “THANK YOU!”  God gives me so much comfort by always being there.  I cannot, nor should I, always count on my wife, son, and daughter to be there; that is too much pressure.

Now, I go to the picture of the bass drum.  How the hell could any adult allow a child to carry an instrument that looks like that bass drum?  That is a strong question.  In over twenty-five years of teaching music at five different high schools, I have experienced some terrible instruments.  I have experience dated music.  So, I have some sense of what that student’s music teacher goes through, but my goodness!!

Here is what gets me when I look at the condition of this bass drum.  On that school’s campus, there is no way that there is a football helmet; pads; uniform; basketballs; baseballs; on and on that look like that bass drum.  I can assure you that where I work, that football program has not one piece of equipment USED IN A GAME that is the equivalent to the condition of that bass drum!  Why?  We will hear SAFETY.  If there is any equipment that can cause damage to a student, the school is liable.  Okay.  We all understand that.  Is there another answer?  The other answer:  BECAUSE ATHLETICS IS STILL NUMBER ONE OF THE MAJORITY OF HIGH SCHOOL CAMPUSES!  The over emphasis on high school athletics will continue and I am saying this as a parent of a football player (who was in band) and a daughter who played soccer / ran track (who was in band).  I believe in high school athletics, just wished the coaches believed in non-athletics.  There are too few coaches attending concerts / plays / recitals or even having their own children participate in the performing arts.

Here is what gets me when I look at the condition of this bass drum.  On that school’s campus, there is a very good chance that no textbook or piece of laboratory equipment looks like that bass drum.  Can you imagine having a math textbook with ripped / torn pages put together with scotch tape?  Calculators with no batteries or batteries that are so old that fluid has leaked on them?  Or nowadays – calculators that even use batteries?  Books for English classes missing pages?  Absolutely not.  Why?  Because, there are laws that public schools need to have proper material made available for all students.  Guess those laws don’t apply to all subjects?

Here is what gets me when I look at the condition of this bass drum.  Where are the parents?  Don’t the parents look at this drum and say, “how come my child is playing music on an instrument that looks like this?”  After all, we know that that same parent will be in the principal’s office railing on the math or English teacher that allows his / her child to learn using such poor quality of material.  The condition of this bass drum does not appear to annoy / anger the student’s parent, otherwise we would not have seen this bass drum at a parade in front of thousands of people.

Here is what gets me when I look at the condition of this bass drum.  Hate to ask, but to be fair:  Where is the teacher?  Again, I don’t want to pick on my colleague, but my goodness!  All of us (music teachers) need to do what we can to ‘fight’ for our students.  When we have equipment / instruments that look like this bass drum, FIGHT!  Do not add to the education culture of hierarchy of importance.  Every subject offered on every campus needs to be treated with respect / importance.  Apparently, when I look at this bass drum, I see this band’s school’s culture has a hierarchy of importance.  If the school truly believed that band is AS IMPORTANT AS ANYTHING SUBJECT / ACTIVITY, there is no way this bass drum would have been seen on a street, during a parade, in front of thousands of people.  Therefore, I cannot give the entire fault for this bass drum’s appearance on the teacher.  The teacher is part of a school’s culture and there are some teachers / many teachers who do not fight culture.

What does this this bass drum represent?  Music teachers need support.  We need to have administrators have empathy.  There are schools’ budgets based on number of students in a department.  If you are a music teacher working under that budget structure, you will be in trouble.  You will never have enough money to fix a bass drum drumhead.  You will need to inform your students’ parents about costs of instruments and maintenance of those instruments.

What does this bass drum represent?  Schools need to do a better job to demolish, bring to naught, put a stop to, terminate the hierarchy of subjects.  There is no way in a school’s culture of “all subjects matter” that a bass drum would like that in front of thousands of people!  Administrators need to realize and ACCEPT that their schools’ music program is an ambassador for their school.  When we (patron) look at this picture, we see YOUR SCHOOL!  Even the “lay person” looks at this bass drum and says, “that doesn’t look good.”  Also, we cannot hear, “Well, we are just a small school in a small town and we do what we can.”  We set-up the barriers.  I am sure the small-town-struggle is real, but so is your willingness to use the small-town-struggle as a “reason” for failures.  Have a spaghetti feed!  Host a concert.  Talk to your local Rotary / Kiwanis / Lions / service clubs for donations or pancake breakfast fundraisers.  Part of the charm of a small town is y’all can help one another because there will be a time when y’all are going to need someone’s help.

No student should play on an instrument that looks like this.  It is one thing to see tennis shoes on the feet of the band members (which can be seen this picture), but to play on an instrument that looks like this?  Not acceptable.  When I am criticized for the passion I have for the music program and my students, I simply look at this picture and say, “If I don’t fight for my program, who will?  If I have to fight the coaches / colleagues so my students can have the funds for instruments or the field to rehearse on, bring it!  If I have to fight with parents so we can get money for instruments or money to maintain the instruments, bring it!”  I don’t enjoy fighting.  I don’t believe there should be fights for what is right.  Negotiation is better than fighting.  I don’t enjoy being called names or being shunned for doing what I consider is part of my job.  What I do enjoy is seeing and hearing the students make music and that makes up for the loneliness of doing what is right.  Seeing people along a parade route, in a stadium, in a concert hall in awe of my students’ performance helps to ease the pain of the name calling and being ostracized.  Whatever it takes LEGALLY – MACHIEVELLIAN – for my students to reach the level of excellence, I will do.  Hate to have people not like me, but GOD LOVES ME; MY WIFE LOVES ME; MY CHILDREN LOVE ME – I will live.  If you love me, thanks — and if you don’t love me … you don’t know me.