BKPE 2017 – you have healed me.

Image of the percussion ensemble in competition
The Cave

It is 3:00 in the morning and I am sitting in a slightly better than a 2-bit hotel in Dayton, Ohio – a place I come once a year, almost every year.  I don’t have relatives here.  I don’t come here for work. I don’t come here for a vacation.  I have gotten here via plane, driven my own car through the night, and ridden on a bus I swear was out of control. I have had good times here and bad times.  There have been successes, failures, and growth – laughter, tears, and dancing – struggles, missteps, and triumphs. And always I am thunderstruck at what a group of kids can do.

I am at the World Guard International Percussion Finals is Dayton, Ohio.

And I beyond proud of this cobbled together family of 40 kids, the amazing adults that lead them, and their astounding director (who BTW is snoring as I write).  They may not know it yet or understand what has happened, but they have achieved a greatness today that will follow them always.  I know this because I have watched it happen year after year, for almost 30 years now. 

For those of you who don’t know what WGI is all about, I am going to send you to a website to see for yourself.  In spite of being a writer and making my living with words, I can never quite explain what is indoor percussion.  I usually resort to something like this:

“So you know what a marching band looks like?  Okay, you take the guys out on the field with the drums, and the group that is usually up front with the keyboards and stuff and you put them in a basketball stadium where they march around and play music while wearing costumes and makeup and sometimes jumping off of things and sometimes things go wrong and sometimes things go right and at finals there will be thousands of these kids involved that aren’t out on the street making the kind of trouble that makes old men swear at them and cops wish for a different life.”

Now you see why it’s easier just to go to a website and see for yourself.  Try this one: 2016 Percussion videos.

Okay, now that you understand a little more what I am talking about, I want to tell you about this group – this family – that make up the 2017 Blue Knights Indoor Percussion Ensemble.  My husband is their director, my friends are their instructors, and I put them in you-can’t-wash-them, they-are-way-to-warm, the-metal-gives-me-a-funkyrash costumes.  It has been a long time since I was solely responsible for making 40 uniforms.  But that was my fault for designing something that was unique to each of them – but it also let me get to know them all, at least a little bit. They’ve been fun to tease, to push, to shock, and make laugh. And I think they have healed me. Those of you who have been following my blog (oh ye mighty few) have read about the difficult time Mike and I have had over the past couple of years – from the lost jobs, the lost house, the lost items in the flood, the lost strength, the lost… we have struggled to find our way through. But we did!  I love my new job (a tale for another time), and I love being home in Colorado. But it wasn’t until just now (at 3:00 am in Dayton, Ohio) that I realized I needed to be involved with an ensemble again. I needed to feel what it meant to put your “all” into something like this – something that lives and breathes because of kids – because they give me hope.

Over the years, Mike’s ensembles have had all different levels of success. Some have won (irrespective of a medal) and some have not. Some crapped out on themselves, and some have gone the distance.  But these guys, they are something special. I keep trying to put my finger on just what makes them so… (see, I can’t even find the right word)… just SO. There have been a few groups of the years (and they know who they are) that have had that something… SO.  They are the ones that still smile at us when we see them in the lot – or the ones that invite us to their wedding even though we haven’t seen them in years – or the ones, who in the middle of warming up their own group, turn and throw themselves at us for a hug – or the one that showed up to help us unload our moving van on a snowy January day. The one who told us he was glad to finally have the chance to pay us back for what we gave him all those years ago in the ensemble. But you give to me…to us.

This group didn’t medal today.  They didn’t even make semi-finals, something I desperately wanted for them and truly believed they deserved. I watched them dig down a little bit deeper than before and pull up something great. I am awed by your strength.  

We all hear about how our leaders suck, or so-and-so is doing such-and-such to him-and-her.  Or that we worry about the future because of those-rotten-good-for-nothing-kids-that-don’t-care-and-will-amount-to-nothing. Well, I can say, if our future is in these kids’ hands, AWESOME. I admire their leadership.

I watch you comfort those around you when your own pain is apparent. I am moved by your kindness.

I heard you tell me it’s nice just to have me there at rehearsal.  I am tickled by your acceptance.

I listened to you tell each other that not one of your instructors would put winning above someone’s health.  I am honored by your trust.

I saw the intensity of emotion when you said you just played the best show of your life.  I am changed by your passion.

And I noticed when you moved your mind to next year and saw what possibilities lay ahead. I am fortified by your vision.

And I know that you have healed that part of me still broken by life.

I thank you, and I am proud of you – you are so…

…I have no words.

 

You have the power to help restore a little sanity to the world.

UD Drumline

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.

Jun 6

“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!

Saying Good-bye to the UD Drumline -Video Link

Petition to Bring Back the Upper Darby Drumline