A definition of percussion ensemble:
Tolerance. Acceptance. Inclusion. Embracing. Support. Strength. Friendship. Fellowship. Family. Respect. Belief. Caring. Kindness. Guidance. Comfort. Help. Direction. A place where you are accepted for what you contribute and not rejected for what you are.
In the wake of another horrific event of hate and intolerance, I want to write about a place where the opposite is true. Many of you have read about the recent demise of the Upper Darby High School Indoor Percussion Ensemble. (If you haven’t, please take a minute to follow this link for a quick overview. It will help you understand what the rest of this post is talking about. Parents, students push on to keep indoor drumline in Upper Darby). What I want to share is how this organization and many others like it, offer a place where being different is not only tolerated but accepted and encouraged.
I am a geek. In fact, I am a geek among geeks. I am a misfit, an off-brand shoe, a strange individual, and an oddity. This is a fact and one that I revel in. But I am 49 and it has taken me 45 of those years to learn to love this about myself. For a high school kid, being something different is not okay. It is a time and place where you are supposed to be figuring out who and what you are, but if that person is too far removed from the acceptable norm…forget it. You are probably going to learn to hate high school. But in an indoor percussion ensemble, being odd is not only accepted, it is often celebrated.
I have been involved in a lot of percussion ensembles over the years – both in my own right as a costumer, and as the wife of a celebrated instructor/writer/director. I have seen what these groups offer to the misfits of society – to the “me” of this world. Now don’t get me wrong – it’s not an anything goes kind of place. You have to contribute and want to make the ensemble better. But if you do, you will become part of something that will be there for you when you most need it.
Case in point: Kids with disabilities, special needs, learning disorders, etc. etc. etc. Percussion ensemble is a place where kids find their differences are tolerated, their needs supported, and their bullshit called out. I have watched a kid with Aspergers Syndrome have his behavior correctly and gently redirected by others when appropriate and accepted for what is was when necessary. I have seen individual teaching sessions (student to student) so that a boy with Down’s Syndrom can learn his part and know he contributed to the group’s success. And I have watched someone labeled “slow learner” shake off that label because those around her wouldn’t let it define who she was.
Case in point: Kids suffering from depression, anxiety, self-harm, or simply introverted and shy. Over the years, I have read letter after letter from students that have said they wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the ensemble (students, teachers, supporters, etc.). They have related how when then had nothing, the ensemble was there for them. I have watched a kid hospitalized for a suicide attempt, return to the group, and find love and support – not scorn and derision. And then, I watched the entire group keep a close eye on him to make sure he was safe. There has been losses of parents, siblings, friends, and partners – but with each loss, the group tightened the hold on each other – offering their strength to those in need.
It’s possible over the years that I only remember the good that is created from these groups. It may be that we lost someone along the way. And it’s possible that somewhere, someone felt excluded. But on the whole, these ensembles offer a place where you can learn that to be different doesn’t mean unacceptable – it just means that you bring something unique to the group. I have seen gay and straight, bi and trans; genius and special, gifted and challenged; black and white, native and immigrant – find a home in each other.
So what does all this have to do with the price of apples in China? Well, I’ll tell you. This is where kids grow to be tolerant adults. Where the solution to being different isn’t to pick up a gun and kill, or to run for office preaching hate and intolerance. This is where the great leaders of the next generation are made – where a child is able to discover the true gifts they have to offer, especially if those offerings seem quirky, odd, or unusual. If we remove the safe havens for growth (whether that place is percussion, choir, theater, or any other activity that promotes these same ideals), then we are dooming our future and the future of our kids. Does this seem like I am exaggerating? Trust me, I’m not.
“Friendship depends on trust and trust grows when we live our lives honestly and sincerely, cultivating respect and concern for others.”
Please help restore one of these places. Watch the video that 2 students made showing the importance of this activity. Then sign the petition to tell the educators, board of directors, and administrators how valuable you think this activity is. Even if you don’t have children, or you live in another country, or you have nothing to do with percussion – your signature will help bring back a safe haven for growth, acceptance, and family.
Now go celebrate your own quirky nature – because who you are rocks!