Drum roll, please: Hundreds of drummers gather for school music programs

More than 500 drummers joined legendary musicians from the bands Yes, Queensryche, Death Cab for Cutie and others on May 13 in Woodstick 2006, one of the world's largest gatherings of drum-playing in one place.

The Donn Bennett Drum Studio's fourth-annual charitable event attracted drummers to the Qwest Field Event Center, where local and regional musicians joined artists such as Yes' Alan White, Queensryche's Scott Rockenfield, Prince's John Blackwell, Aretha Franklin's Bernard Purdie and Death Cab For Cutie's Jason McGerr to support funding for the Seattle School District's music programs.

With current limitations of educational funding and the decline of state support, many school programs are cut back or eliminated. Music programs are often among the first to go.

"Music is one of the early intelligences that are recognized as a little kid. Through that, you can lead to more discoveries," said McGerr of Death Cab For Cutie. "You get discipline out of it, you get passion, you get a creative outlet and all those things are things that music programs provoke and endorse. [Music] is a vehicle for just overall development in a human being, and I think it's so important."

Helping local schools

Participants were encouraged to raise pledges for the cause, with drums given away as prizes. These included a seven-piece Mapex drum set, a Sabian Vault cymbal set, a Gibralter Rack system, a complete set of protection rack cases and a complete set of Evans G2 drum heads worth a total of $5,000, given to the person who raised the most.

Eric Conan, from Tillicum Middle School in Bellevue, came in first place, raising a total of $2,522.

Runners-up received individual drum pieces and equipment totaling a $1,000 value for second place and $550 for third place.

"I was going to this for all four years [of the event].... Last year, a kid won a cool drum set, and it didn't seem like too much. And then my grandma said she would match me for whatever I raised, so that was a big motivation," Conan said.

Fifty percent of the proceeds will go toward hiring elementary-school band teachers, 30 percent will help Seattle Public Schools purchase musical instruments and 20 percent will go to Network Services, a nonprofit agency that helps local homeless families find jobs and housing.

Starting at 'the bottom'

Woodstick was the idea of Bennett's longtime friend Chris Kimball, a fellow drum musician. Kimball was affiliated with the Tacoma Rotary Club No. 8, the original sponsor of Woodstick.

The event was originally held to raise money for polio research in finding a harmless, risk-free vaccination. Since that vaccination (Inactivated Polio Vaccine) has been found, they have been donating the majority of the money raised to Seattle music programs, including the one at Olympic Hills Elementary School in North Seattle. For every $10,000 raised, they are able to greatly assist one elementary school.

"What we are guaranteed is that the only thing this money will go to is hiring elementary-school band teachers," Bennett said. "Seattle School [District's] music department has [said] that the most effective way to help this problem is by starting at the very bottom of the music programs.

"If they don't get kids started in the fourth or fifth grade, then they're obviously not going into middle school and high school programs," he added.

Seattle resident Bill Ibsen, drummer for the Seattle band Twink the Wonderkid, said that attending Woodstick was both exciting and gratifying.

"The fact that I got to sit there and play my drums for about five hours and it was for a good cause, it was a little bit of heaven. You don't get to do that every day," he said.

Setting the beat

Classic-rock station KZOK 102.5 FM was represented by the band Spike and the Impalers, who opened the show by leading the crowd in Queen's "We Will Rock You."

The group was joined by 17-year-old Ian Crawford on the guitar, who displayed great talent when the band later played AC/DC's "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap" and The Kinks' "You Really Got Me."

"I think it's a great cause, and I'm here to play my guitar and have a fun time," Crawford said.

Orchestrator Sam Blumenthal, otherwise known as "Crazy Sam," and White, of Yes (also formerly John Lennon's drummer), guided the hundreds of participants in a series of rhythms and songs including Lennon's epic "Imagine" and "Instant Karma."

"I played a lot of music in high school. I do a lot of charity [for music programs] when I'm not touring, and I think it's absolutely important," White said.

Music in schools

Many students from Northwest schools participated in the event, hearing about it through Seattle radio stations KZOK and 107.7 FM The End.

The Donn Bennett Drum Studio also has been heavily affiliated with the Seattle School District's music programs, and students from schools such as Eckstein Middle School and Roosevelt High School and nearly 100 others have participated as a result.

Parents attending the event said that music serves a valuable purpose in their children's lives. This generation of children does not have the same musical opportunities as those of their parents, it was noted.

"When I was a kid, we had music at school," Queensryche's Rocken-field said. "I play drums because [of] music and school.

"My kids don't have some of that stuff being offered to them," he added, "and I just think the more opportunities they have, the better off they're gonna be."

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