Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Story Of Drumming

About this time last year, just as we were moving to the Center of the Universe, I rescued a youth-sized drum kit as it was going into a dumpster. We gave it a place of honor in the bullseye of our new outdoor classroom, purchased 8 real drumsticks, and started banging away. I kept the sticks up high enough, I thought, tucked into the back of the windmill, that the kids would only get their hands on them with an adult's help, but within a month or so, they all, even the 2-year-olds, not only knew where they were kept, but had figured out how to get them down whenever they wanted.

Over the course of the next several months, the drum sticks began to disappear, one-by-one, buried, I suspect, in the sand pit or perhaps dropped into a crack between logs or maybe even tossed over the back fence into the blackberries, but we kept on drumming with the few we had left. A couple of the kids drummed so enthusiastically that they'd torn through the plastic drum heads -- in fact, I don't think there was a single drum that didn't have at least one side torn through, but we kept on drumming. Marcus had carefully dismantled the high hat then promptly lost the little parts, but we kept on drumming. The weather was taking its toll. We'd never expected the drum set to last forever, of course, given that it certainly hadn't been manufactured with a Pacific Northwest climate in mind, but we kept on drumming.

In the beginning people asked me, "Aren't you worried about it getting stolen?" No, I answered, not really. Easy come easy go. It came from a dumpster and its destiny was a dumpster. Besides, I have other plans for that spot. Early on a neighbor complained, saying that she worked a night shift and the drums were waking her. We agreed to not play the drum until after 10 a.m., but shamefully, we didn't really uphold our end of the bargain as a few of the kids really didn't feel like their day had begun until they'd laid down a solo.

And then one day, early this spring, it was gone. I'd seen it on a Sunday evening, our tattered and battered and weather-warped drum kit, then not on Monday. Bummer. Kids stood in disbelief, staring at the empty platform where it had once lived, "Where are the drums?" Gone. A few asked if they'd been stolen and I answered, "Maybe so." I held out hope for a few days that it would return. A group of parents had been working on the outdoor classroom during our spring break and I wondered if maybe one of them had decided to take it home for repairs or cleaning: it's the kind of community we are. But by the end of that first week, the reality had sunk in for all of us. The kids moved on, more accepting of the loss than the adults, who continued to speculate about where it had gone, the leading theory being that some teenagers had commandeered them as a kind of hijinks, but close behind that was the idea that a neighbor (not necessarily the one who had complained) had had enough and helped our drum kit to an early demise.

The kids have already begun to make the new drums their own, adding a garbage can
lid cymbal and a sauce pan lid drum head, along with natural stick drum sticks.

A few weeks ago, R. told me, "We're making new drums for the school." We still had our Thunder Drum, of course, an overturned galvanized steel trash can, so I assumed he was somehow talking about that. "Great! We need new drums."

"That's because the old ones got stolen." 

A few days later, he said, "The new drums are almost ready."

And then it arrived, built to be hit as hard as you want, painted against our rain forest climate, designed to be awkward to steal. R.'s family had taken it on unbidden. We're down to 3 store-bought drumsticks, but we made many more by breaking sticks to the right length because everyone wanted to play.

I put a lot of time and effort into this blog. If you'd like to support me please consider a small contribution to the cause. Thank you!
Bookmark and Share


JoAnn Jordan said...

I love this, Tom! Wish my daughter was still young enough to enjoy this type of thing.

Unknown said...

That is a really cool drum set! We use cans of all sorts, spoons make nifty drumsticks, too! Our set isn't mounted, but the kids have a lot of fun making their own music!

Stehanie @PlayingToDiscover.com said...

What a cool DIY drum set--and what a cool family to make and donate it! Also a good teachable moment for the kids--while there are those out there who would steal, there are also those who freely give.

SuzanneF said...

This made my day! As a classical musician, stories about kids and music are always going to be a home-run.
We have two young boys who expressed an interest a few months ago in taking drum lessons. We didn't hesitate to sign them up for lessons and get right down to it. They loved it, and we're delighted parents watching them enjoy something so much. But over the past few weeks, whenever another parent got wind of us allowing them to take drum lessons ("...starting early, aren't you?" "...all that noise!"), we realized that there's a real stigma that parents seem to have against certain instruments in the home. Where does this come from? Totally unnecessary fears that kids are going to be in a rock band and do bad things? But it's really made me think about what other fears have gotten in the way of helping my sons find their interests and explore the world.
Thanks for your wonderful writing and all the reminders to keep the doors wide open for our kids.