Percussion-angst

Originally published online December 16, 2015

I love Christmas music, so I thought I would make music the center of the story this year.  I will confess that I’ve been ‘that guy’ once or twice myself!


Harry stood on the podium and looked over the small group of youngsters that sat before him, instruments in hand. The well-dressed conductor reviewed each section in his mind as he overlooked his equally well-dressed students: Woodwinds, check. Brass, check. Strings, check. He sighed before looking towards a drum kit off to one side and the teenaged boy sitting behind it.  AND percussioncheck.

Simon, the band’s sole percussionist, was a gangly youth wearing a white button-up shirt and suspenders, his unkempt appearance a stark contrast to the other students.  He smiled at Harry and eagerly twirled a drumstick in the air.

Harry took a deep breath. It’s for the children, he reminded himself before addressing the small band: “Okay, boys and girls, I know all of you have been practicing for our Christmas concert in a few weeks, so let’s begin with “Sleigh Ride.” After allowing a few moments for the band members to ready their music and instruments, he picked up a baton from his conductor’s stand and began to rhythmically wave it in the air.

After a few beats, he counted off to begin the performance: “One and two and three and four and one and two and THREE!” The first notes of the song came from the band. After a few measures, Harry smiled; things were going fairly well. Without warning, loud cymbal crashes randomly began sounding. Harry looked over and saw Simon bashing away at his cymbals with abandon.

“STOP!” Harry said. The band stopped playing. Harry began to tap his baton on his stand repeatedly. “Mister Simon, what are you doing?” The director glared at the teenager’s direction.

“Sorry, sir, I got carried away.” Simon shrugged.

“Right, but this is a Christmas concert, Mister Simon. Let’s do our best to follow the music.”

“Okay, teach.”

The director bristled at the youngster’s lack of manners. He ignored Simon’s impudence and addressed the band:  “That was a good start, everyone. Once again, from the top.” He began swinging his baton, counted, and once again the opening of “Sleigh Ride” echoed throughout the rehearsal hall. Once again, Simon began to randomly bash the cymbals after a few measures.

“SIMON!” Harry yelled. The hall quickly fell silent. The conductor stomped towards the overenthusiastic teenager.  Upon reaching him, he leaned forward to stare him in the eyes. “What is your problem, sir?” He loudly asked, making no attempt to mask his impatience.

Simon looked at the floor to avoid the director’s gaze. He held his drumsticks in both hands and fidgeted. After a few moments, he spoke: “I’m sorry, but I have all of these cymbals in front of me! I have to hit them!”

Harry stood up straight and put a hand to his chin. “So you can’t resist temptation, then?” The teenager rapidly nodded his head in response, his dirty blonde hair flying about. Simon then gasped as one by one, he director picked up the drum kit’s cymbals and set them aside. “There we are. No more temptation.” Harry smugly said before walking back to the podium.

Once again, everyone!” Harry said, picking up his baton. He was confident that Simon would cause no further disruptions.  The band started to play.

The performance continued without incident, and Harry was content that all would be well.  In a few measures, Simon was to perform a series of rimshots in order to emulate a horse’s trot. Much to Harry’s relief, Simon initially played what he was supposed to: Tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap! A few measures later, the effect was to be repeated. This time, Simon played tap-tap-tap-tap-ratta-tatta-dum-da-doom-doom! 

“SIMON!” The conductor barked at the youngster, who was furiously banging away at the drums.

Simon stopped, brushed away his hair from his face and quickly blurted: “I’m sorry sir, but I have to hit all of these drums!”

Harry groaned and placed a hand to his forehead. He walked over to Simon and the drum kit once again. “Stand up and take a few steps back” Harry requested with as much patience as he could muster. Simon stood up from the drum seat and took three steps back. Harry grabbed the snare drum, pulled it away from the kit and set it in front of the disappointed youngster.

“But what about…” Simon began to ask.

“IMPROVISE.” Harry flatly replied before walking back to his podium. The rest of the rehearsal went without incident, much to the conductor’s relief.

At the top of the hour, the school bell rang. “We’ll pick up tomorrow, children. Dismissed.” Harry said. The students rushed out of the band hall.

Fifteen minutes later, Harry slumped in a chair in the teacher’s lounge, a cup of coffee in hand. Katherine, the choir director, walked in and took a seat across from the exasperated conductor.

“Sounds like you had quite a day of practice with the junior high kids,” Katherine observed.

“I have no idea what I’m going to do about Simon.” The director wearily said. “He has absolutely no self-control whatsoever.”

“Well, you are going to need a feature song for him, Harry.” Katherine answered. “Each section gets one feature song in the Christmas concert.”

Harry groaned at the prospect. “He’s already a handful without being the center of attention.  Could you write something for him to play that isn’t too involved, because I’m near my wits’ end!  That, that little drummer boy has been nothing but trouble!”

Katherine thought for a moment.  Her face lit up with inspiration: “I think I can accommodate you, Harry!”

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