Twelve Drummers Drumming

Trip Start Aug 21, 2010
Trip End Dec 31, 2010

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Flag of United States  , New York
Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Morning: Arrived to the school and was pointed in the direction of the auditorium. As we were walking down that way, we came across two custodians. Our word was the first they had heard about this assembly... We told them that our screens would take up the entire stage, and their eye lit up. Not like an excited child on Christmas morning. No. More like a semi-truck is barreling into the side of a building...
"Are you kidding?" They said as they opened the side door to the stage and showed us the stage that was completely cluttered with set pieces and picture day equipment (oh yes, it was picture day. Right on stage behind our screen during both assemblies...)

We apologized for the miscommunication, but we all knew it wasn't any one of our faults. They proceeded to clear just enough room at the front of the stage so we could put our screens up. Any more room on stage was impossible.
Fortunately, the rest of the set-up was fine. The assistant principal we interacted with was pleasant company, and when we were done, we wished our next two shows could be at this same school again. But alas, we had to venture into another Long Island unknown...

Afternoon: First of all, let me explain that we are doing a bunch of schools in the same district this week. This means: (a) we get to stay in the same hotel for multiple days, and we are relatively close to each of the morning schools. Cool. (b) each school follows similar procedure. The most notable thing here is that the schools run on 43-minute periods. Very short. Our video is made to be about 40 minutes, so it accommodates most every school schedule. But remember, the schools have to have the students filter in at the beginning of the assembly, and that takes time. This week, we have to cut the show short by about 7-8 minutes every time. And finally, (c) communication is incredibly lacking, since the person/group who organized us to be at the schools inevitably fails to communicate our coming to the parties that need to know.
When we started unloading our stuff into the auditorium at the second school, we were stopped by the choir director. He said that his class was going to start in about 25 minutes, and he'll need it completely quiet in there. His class was the period right before the assembly was supposed to start. So if we were going to get this show up on time, we'd need to get it ready in 25 minutes. We told him we would do our absolute best to accommodate that.
We stepped up the pace a bit, but were cut short when a dozen high school boys filed onto stage with various size drums. They were just messing around, as if before a class. Meanwhile, the floor in front of the stage was filled with chairs, a piano sat in the middle of the floor with a huge white board beside it. Kelsey and I just stopped and stared. She went over to the office of an assistant principal who said if we needed anything, or if anything came up, to go talk to him. Well, something came up. I stayed with the equipment as all the drummers just meandered around the stage hitting things with sticks.

Kelsey came back a bit later, apparently having made no progress with the powers in charge. "Okay--hey guys? You have really cool drums, and I bet you sound really good when you're drumming, but we have to set up on this stage, so could you all please move to the side?"

It worked.

With a stage clear (enough), we started our 20-minute sprint pace. In little time, we had all three screens up (thankfully, the stage was big enough to hold it all). As we were doing this, the drum director came in and gathered his boys together. "They said they need the stage." One drummer informed the director. "Oh it's okay, they can work around us."


The drummers drumming set quite the heart-pounding, adrenaline-pumping atmosphere for our sprint of a set-up. When the screens were up, we carried our boxes from one side of the cluttered auditorium to the other and tried to make as much progress with the audio-video as we could. But shortly, drum class was over, and the choir moved in. We had to call it good for now, and after that 20-minute rush, we had 40 minutes of downtime. We sat back stage behind our screens and listened to the choir sing Do Re Mi (prettily, though). Pleased with our progress, we strategized what to do when the choir cleared out. I still had to hook up our speakers, and the three projectors needed to be lined up. And all that needed to be done in the two minutes between class changes. Awesome.
Well, the time came when the choir was dismissed. Kelsey and I stormed out form behind the screens to immediately get back to work. I ran some speaker cables, positioned the speakers once everyone had gone out the door that they were to be blocking, and helped Kelsey with some finishing touches with the projectors. Just when the final line up fell into place, the announcement on the intercom invited all the eight-graders down to the assembly. Whew.

Never before has there been such an intense sprint, followed by twice as long of a down-time, followed by another three-minute sprint. All for a show that wouldn't even have the time to run through to the end. Twice.

It was a hard day. And it's a hard region. Long Island is tough. Now, first of all, we have interacted with some very pleasant people. The security guard at this afternoon school, for example, was refreshingly friendly. The assistant-principal this morning was also fun. But on the whole, this region is characterized by a "stay-out-of-my-way" mentality. The culture is one lacking in patience and mercy, and it is evidenced in all aspects of life: driving, customer service, education. In order to survive, you need to dehumanize others in your mind, reducing them from people with lives and schedules and backgrounds to obstacles that are in your way. That way you don't feel so bad when you cut them off or when their duty interferes with yours.
Do you know how many times we felt like we were in the way, a nuisance, or an inconvenience today? Several. It's draining to feel like you're always in the way. The culture and overall essence of this region nonverbally communicates "What you're doing is not as important as what I'm doing." It's hard to respect, and it's hard to function in it, even for a couple days.

If you'd live here longer, you'd get hardened to it. But is that a good thing? Perhaps it would be helpful. Less shocking. But it would also be easy to assimilate into it. Like I said, you have to take those measures to survive this culture. And that's not okay. A culture that preys on patience and is a stranger to mercy is one that is in desperate need of redemption.
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