May 10, 2003

Haunted by Images of a Discarded Drum

Filed under: Art and About Music — admin @ 2:46 pm

It is a tale almost too terrible to tell, but I will recount it for you. It was the morning of Pleasant Hill Bayshore’s special garbage pick-up day in my neighborhood. The sun glistened off the car hood as the family drove Daddy down to the BART station. I have been known to find treasures in other people’s trash, so I glanced at the piles of unwanted items stacked on the sides of the road as we drove by. We rounded a corner and there it was, a bass drum disrespectfully propped up against the blue garbage can. It looked like it was in perfectly good condition.

I gasped. My mind starting racing. I could hear the garbage truck only a half a block away. What should I do? It took everything in me not to pull over right then, but we had to get my husband to his train. We were only a minute from BART, but it felt like an eternity. I pulled up at the curb, said a hasty goodbye, and waited impatiently while my toddler tried to talk his Dad into staying home. Finally, the farewells were complete and my heart raced as we exited the station and went on our rescue mission.

As we neared the house with the drum, I became distracted by the proximity of the garbage truck and overshot the driveway. Desperately, I looked for a suitable place to turn around. As I was turning, the truck was pulling up in front of the drum. Just as I finished the maneuver, only about two doors down from my target, the garbage man leaped out of his truck and started to do his job. By now, the owner of the drum had come out to her driveway to make sure all her so-called trash was picked up.

The drum was the first to go. As if in slow motion, the garbage guy unceremoniously heaved it into the truck. I had a chance to inspect all sides of the instrument as it fell from the sky and it really did seem like it would still be able to produce a satisfying boom-boom-boom. I sat paralyzed in my car. I was self-conscious about retrieving the drum in front of the garbage crew and the homeowner. I also didn’t want to leave young children alone in the car on the side of a rather busy road. I decided to stay put, and watched with a heavy heart as the truck pulled away, the drum perched defiantly on top of the rest of the rubbish as if to shout, “Remember me.”

I do remember that drum. I have fantasized about how it came to live with that family, and why the decision was made to abandon it. Maybe a son played that drum in high school, a son who moved out years ago and never reclaimed his instrument. Maybe it was purchased as a cheering accessory for some big football game. Maybe the homeowner and her husband were college sweethearts who got married the day after graduation and the drum was one of those possessions that got thrown into the car as they moved from the dorms into their first apartment. It has probably occupied the corner of one attic after another.

I am not so naïve as to believe that this drum had a future in an orchestra or a band. My interest in it was for my son, who loves to explore his natural impulses in rhythm, tempo and dynamics by banging on anything that crosses his path. He has percussion instruments aplenty, but nothing as booming as a bass drum. In fact, my husband and I have endured raised eyebrows over the past two Christmases when we have told friends and family that we gave our toddler percussion instruments as a gift. They seem to be in the “If thine enemy offend thee, give his child a drum” camp when it comes to giving children a potential noisemaker. As my husband puts it, this is the kind of attitude that causes problems for early music adoption in our culture. If you expect it to be noisy, to you it will be noisy. But if you think of it as music, you might discover that the next John Philip Sousa lives under your very own roof. Our son, for instance, enjoys adding a backbeat to Mozart’s “Piano Concerto No. 20 in D Minor.”

Salvaging instruments for play and experimentation by younger folks was not my idea. I’ve borrowed it from Sandro and Mary Sandri of Lafayette, who were kind enough to let my son tag along on an interview last year. To keep Tyrian entertained, Sandro pulled out a $10 guitar he had purchased at a flea market for his grandkids to play with. It was fascinating to watch Tyrian explore the potential of that guitar. I came right home and asked my mom if she would dig out her old guitar, which is now a part of Tyrian’s private music studio.

I wonder if the former owner of the discarded drum has any grandchildren, or hopes to have some one day. I wonder if she knows anyone with young children, or if she might have had a minute to spare to call local preschools or daycare facilities to ask if they would be interested in providing a loving home for her drum. It is too late for her drum, but it is up to the rest of us to ensure this instrument did not die in vain.

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