August 16, 2015
Saturday, 6:30 p.m.
Letter #396: Battle of the Bands
When I was first given the job of Music Tutor last December, we had no keyboards, no official room for them, and no idea of when any of it might become available. The only thing we did have? A multi-purpose room full of band equipment, including electric guitars, drums, microphones, and speakers. I was told that all I had to do was get a band together, and I could get rehearsal time in the so-called “Band Room.” I even saw sign-up sheets in hallways, where guys could state their interest in joining a band or in learning to play in a band.
At the big concert in mid-December, only one band played, with each of the members taking turns at singing lead in his own preferred style. Our choir got to do a few Christmas songs, but we noticed that the band guys didn’t seem like they wanted to share the equipment.
Thus, it was surprising to me when an announcement was made at the concert for “anyone who wants to form a band.” Supposedly, your band would be given time on the institution’s band equipment. Supposedly. That day, I pulled a band together and then tried for months to get us practice time on the equipment. At every turn, I was met with resistance and hostility.
I could have easily gone into my boss’ office and simply asked him to make sure my band got rehearsal time, but I didn’t. The inmates who were in the only other band kept acting as if they needed to use the room full-time. Even when we needed to practice on the equipment before the Kairos concert or before graduations, they refused to let us use the room. They’d claim they were getting ready for a concert, but the choir with our accompanists have been the only group to perform anywhere at the prison since the December concert.
I decided to not make a big deal out of the other band’s attitude. While they had a strangle-hold on the band equipment, I focused all the more on the keyboard program, developing the guitar program, and beginning the vocal program. I made clear to the members of the Community Choir and my band that I did not want to hear disparaging comments about the band room or its current members. I’d get asked by so many music students about when they could use the band equipment, and I’d keep a good attitude while replying that it wasn’t up to me. Even when discussing the overall music program with my boss, Mr. Lohman, I’d only say good things about the guys who monopolized the band room.
Eventually, when generous families and people of faith donated our ten keyboards, and when we were given a room to set them up in, I met with the guys from the band room and offered to let them come over whenever they wanted to use our keyboards. They never took me up on the offer, but it sure was fun to see the stunned looks on their faces, shocked we were willing to share.
Recently, three of the band room bullies got returned back to California, leaving quite the void and bringing about a change of systems and leadership regarding the equipment. Lohman laid down new rules, and before I knew it, I was asked if I knew of any bands who may need rehearsal time. I identified four bands immediately, then offered to draw up schedules and band lists in a neat, organized way so that everyone would be in sync.
Then, one night, it finally happened for the very first time: I actually got to use the band room with one of the bands. Over nine months after I’d first been told I could use it, the moment was a long time in coming, but I felt God’s blessing on it too. I was there, not because I’d pushed my own agenda or forced others to let me in, but because I was supposed to be there, and everyone was welcoming. In fact, one of the original band guys is always designated to be in the band room, no matter which band is practicing, just to assist with setting up and taking down equipment. It is like renting out a music studio with an audio engineer, and I couldn’t be happier.
I met with all the church musicians and gave them one of the two-and-a-half hour practice times every week, as a brand-new band, which will allow them to prepare for and perform at future concerts, and I’ve been asked to play keyboards and arrange music for two of the other bands besides my own.
The new turn of events has me scrambling to fit everything into my schedule, shifting piano students and computer access times to make sure I made all my appointments, but I’m thrilled for this new day for our music program here. Now that the band room is accessible to so many deserving guys, creativity and expression can flow in new ways, giving renewed hope and meaning to participants and inspiration to those they bless with their music.
I still can’t believe I get to do all this. All glory to God! Thank you for praying for me.