I had to really think about if I wanted to write this or not; however, so many people have approached me privately and many rumors seem to have gone around. Like many of my previous posts, I have decided to write something down in order to get some personal clarity for myself. I am going to try to explain why I decided to leave the Pensacola Bay Concert Band. I think the best way for me to explain where I am now, I should first explain how I got here to begin with.
Looking way back
My first marimba was given to me by my grandmother as my early high school gift my sophomore year. After I decided not to pursue music in college, I spent about 2 and a half years only playing solos on that marimba and occasionally playing in church, as I never joined the bands at college or university. However, when my friend Ashe asked me to help her the Pensacola Civic Band during my junior year of college, I joined. Due to conflicts, I dropped out of the Civic Band shortly after beginning graduate school. While my house was being built and I was still living in Gainesville, I emailed Gary (the long time percussion section leader of the Civic Band) mentioning that I would be returning to the area, no longer a student, and was interested in joining the band. Gary replied to me,
We are constantly in need of mallet players. There are four in the section right now … So do let Don know when you’re here!
I did not rejoin the band immediately after I moved back, and I imagine it had something to do with settling in and then my daughter who was born a couple years after I moved back. I was also much more involved in amateur radio back in those days. Although I can’t think of any specific details, I think I heard that the Civic Band filled up after I moved back. I cannot remember if I was told this or if I actually had tried to join.
In 2015, my dear friend Heather joined a brand new band I’d not heard of, which she referred to as the “bay band” and encouraged me to join too. Not knowing anything, I asked if they actually needed help, because as I knew, percussion sections only need so many players before people start getting tacets.
When I joined, I found some things a bit unusual. The Pensacola Bay Concert Band did not meet in a band room at a school or college, but at a church. I could immediately see that their resources, particularly in percussion, were limited. The church owned two timpani, the band recently bought a Majestic aluminum glockenspiel and 3.5 octave padouk xylophone (without wheels), in addition to that, they had a 1960’s bass drum with a loud rattle sound when struck and a dented unbranded head on top of a rusted stand. They also had a nice pair and Sabian clash cymbals but without any bag or stand for them. Greg, the band’s founder, made it very clear that they were very proud of their percussion equipment. I asked about the other percussionists, mallet players, and section leader. My first concert, Greg told me to play “all the bell parts” while someone else would play “all the xylophone parts”. This probably wasn’t the best plan, I knew nearly every song would have a bell part, but not all would have xylophone parts. I found out that the percussion section was already 9 people in a 60 member band. Of those, I found that actually, 3 of those 9 people were not actually percussionists at all. They played other instruments and were helping out in percussion. Of course, there was no one song in the entire concert that required all 9 percussionists at the same time. At most, only 5 or 6 would ever be needed. The result was many of the players sat down a lot with nothing to play. I was “safe” because I was told to just play all the bell parts. The xylophone player, was not a percussionist, and although clearly competent as to which notes were which, did not play with any sort of technique–was not holding the mallets correctly and could not play rolls. It wasn’t really a huge problem, I guess; someone just needed to teach her proper technique and give her exercises to build up wrist speed. At that point in the game, I really wasn’t in any position to rock the boat, so I just played my own parts. By the concert, some people left or moved to other instruments, and there were 7 players remaining in the percussion section, but still one or two people sitting out in any given song. I committed to playing the concert, but I decided long term that this wasn’t the band for me. I was happy to have somewhere to play, but it seemed like the band didn’t really have anyone running percussion that knew what they were doing, and also, since they didn’t charge for tickets or membership and had no school or college sponsoring them, I didn’t think they would ever have decent, concert percussion equipment.
Shortly before my first concert, I sent an email asking to join the Pensacola Civic Band,
… a friend of mine got me into the Pensacola Bay Concert Band. I enjoy playing in a group again, but I would prefer more challenging music and more frequent performances.
However, the reply I received was,
Unfortunately, we are flush with percussionists at this point. Things may change and I will put you on the waiting list.
As an aside, I was never contacted again after being placed on that supposed Civic Band waiting list. About 2 years later, I happened to be asked by chance to join the Civic Band by one of my former band directors, who saw me in an orchestra pit and said the Civic Band was in need of more percussionists.
I was pretty disappointed by the rejection, but seeing as I had no other alternatives, I decided to commit to continue playing in the Pensacola Bay Concert Band. The size of the percussion section got more manageable in my second concert, as some people left and others returned to their wind instruments. I also got my dear friend Ashe to join, which was nice to have a friend to talk to and a very competent percussionist as well. I decided at some point I would try to form my own percussion group with Ashe, so I slowly started building my own percussion arsenal, which included my old marimba, a set of Musser steel bar glockenspiel, and a vibraphone. I used my own glockenspiel in the band very quickly, because the bars sounded much better and I could use brass mallets on them if I wanted to. Ashe and I split mallet parts in a manner that made more sense and was more balanced. Any accessory percussion instrument parts I got, I went ahead and purchased the instrument myself to play, such as slapstick, triangles, tambourines. However, other than that, I left the rest of the section to it self and let the section leader handle whatever issues came up. This all changed when the section leader suddenly left that band and Greg asked me to be the new section leader. At that point on, my mindset about the band shifted from something I happened to be participating in on Monday nights to something I was going to build!
As a section leader, I was much more hands on than the previous section leader (not meaning to say anything negative about him!). The way I prefer to run a percussion section is pretty simple, but efficient. The first thing I do is get all the music for a particular concert, go line through line and map out how many players are needed for each and every song. By doing this, you very quickly have a good idea what instruments you need to have or borrow, and you get a good view of what skills and numbers are needed for each and every song. I would also roughly put down what parts I think each person should play. I would do this such that everyone would have the opportunity to play each instrument they wanted to at least once. This prevents the situation I see so many sections get into where one person plays all the snare drum parts and no one else ever gets the chance to improve. At the same time, anyone had the opportunity to trade parts. I also tried to keep tacets down to a minimum. The goal was that everyone would feel they had a reason to come out every Monday night, and not feel like they are sitting around doing nothing.
To be clear, for that band, I supported the band’s mission. I would take any percussionist, no matter the skill level, no matter how much I would have to work with them, no try outs. However, I did believe in a percussion section for percussionists. I believed with some rare exceptions, all my section members needed to have experience playing percussion, even if they had not played in many years.
Frankly, I feel like I did a good job, as I never got any complaints that people were unhappy with their parts or being bored. Players often told me they were happy. There were even a number of concerts where other people would tell me, “wow, the percussion really pulled us through that song.” That was what I liked to hear. However, I quickly began to notice problems creeping into my hopes for the section. The band became more and more dependent on using instruments that I had purchased. They received two additional timpani in 2017, but after that, they never purchased another percussion instrument until after I quit in 2022. I would ask for some things, big and small, a tambourine, a triangle, a pack of cymbals or stands or a drumkit, a vibraphone was my dream so I could bring mine home. I was always told that they didn’t have anywhere to keep more percussion equipment, and they couldn’t afford them. I accepted these answers week after week for 5 years, I would provide my own percussion equipment for all percussionists to use. Spending hours every Monday afternoon loading my car and setting up the section 90+ minutes before every rehearsal.
So what made me decide to stop…
Not being prioritized
I am not going to say that I am not biased, I know that I am biased. That said, in a well oiled concert band, the percussion section is probably going to be one of, if not the largest expenses of a band. Although tuba players may or may not own their own instruments, it is almost certain the the percussion instruments of a concert band are going to be provided by the band. Percussionists are generally expected to bring their music and their own sticks and mallets and that’s about all. And although many will bring their own favorite triangle or tambourine, it is very unusual that a percussionist in a concert band is bringing his own chimes to rehearsal. There are certainly exceptions to this, namely in pit orchestras, but it was incredibly strange that I was supplying nearly all percussion instruments for the entire band on a seemingly permanent basis without any plans for the future.
And while I’m at it, I should probably mention that I only started receiving special thanks mentions for providing the band’s percussion equipment in concert programs since Nov. 2018. I had been providing percussion instruments for 2.5 years by that point. They only started including my name in special thanks after I became their webmaster. They originally only were going to list me as the band’s webmaster, until I specifically asked for special thanks for providing percussion equipment every week.
Costly and backbreaking duties
I’m going to add up how much in dollars I was providing the band at a typical concert:
Chimes: $1,000 (I restored them myself. Priced new is ×10 this.)
Bells: $250 (I restored them myself. Priced new is ×6 this.)
Drumset: $400 (not always, but often)
Field Drum: $140
Temple Blocks: $250
Various triangles, tambourine: $500+ at any given concert
Various equipment stands and hardware: $250+ at any given concert
I also purchased and donated bags and stands to the band directly.
In addition to the costs of purchases, I also had to deal with wear and tear on my own instruments from being packed in my car often and being stored and played on at the church.
Each Monday, I would get off work by 3PM at the latest and load my SUV with equipment, drive 40 minutes and get to band between 4PM and 5PM to unload my SUV and set up the percussion section, usually alone. After rehearsal, I would pack up my SUV, drive home 40 minutes, and unload alone. Most band members get into band rehearsal 10 minutes before start. For me, band on Mondays was 7 hours of work. Concerts were typically more work for me than rehearsals. I don’t believe any other band member put in as much physical work as I did, possibly including the founders and conductors their selves.
In addition to the physical work, I put in a great deal of time planning the percussion for what parts they needed to play at rehearsals and performances. Again, I would go line by line to decide what instruments I would need to bring each week, how many people were needed, and what people should probably play. This required me to have knowledge of each player’s skill levels and proficiencies. I would also try to expand on that and occasionally give mallet parts to people who don’t normally play. I would spend time with those who needed it and show them how to play particular instruments and how to play their parts. This was especially true if we got members who had not played in many years.
Each time someone would leave the band or someone would join, I would have to revise the parts and try to redistribute parts based on the new players. Although I think this is a very hands on way to run a percussion section, it worked very well at keeping people happy, and it certainly made sight reading time easier and covering parts when someone was gone. Any time a conductor asked “who is playing the X part”, I was always able to answer. I also kept and organized a special percussion folder with additional copies of music for lost parts and absences. This is the way to run a percussion section for a band of non-professionals, but it was a lot of work.
Since May 2018 I am also the band’s webmaster and web host. I took over this job when the previous webmaster left the band on bad turns and did not turn over any of the previous website’s design or assets. From scratch, I created a new wordpress site (similar to this one) and registered 4 new domain names at my own yearly expense. Every week I would post site updates, member directory updates, calendar event updates, and handling user accounts for band members, answer support tickets from visitors and serve unofficially in public relations, assist with facebook groups and page, and handle PayPal donations and bank transfers. Since leaving the band, I am still technically the web host. Although the band is no longer sending me updates, I still answer support requests from band members. I am unsure when the band is going to transfer off my web hosting, but I will provide them the band’s 4 domain names, and I am giving them the site’s installation and my custom code. I will continue to host the site, as it is, until they make some sort of decision on what to do next.
I was also in the band’s wind ensemble, where I played cajón at nursing homes almost every Saturday before COVID-19.
It became very apparent toward the end that people didn’t have any real clue exactly how much service I was providing the band, not just in my own section. I literally knew the names and faces of every band member, given some time for new folks. I was aware of and tried to resolve issues not just in my own section. It wasn’t like I was just taking attendance every week.
Being a primary stakeholder in the band but not being involved in decision making
Now that I’ve explained all the work I did, I should also mention that I was the band’s percussion section leader and the band’s webmaster and nothing more. I was never part of the band’s board or any sort of larger parliament or committee; I don’t know if that even exists. I was asked to be section leader, I was not elected. In contrast with the Pensacola Civic Band, where each officer and board member was elected by popular vote of the entire band; it seems the Pensacola Bay Concert Band never had votes on board members. The President was always Greg, the Vice President was always Tony, and all other board positions were whomever they asked. Decisions on money, venues, instruments, when and where to hold rehearsals, COVID-19 restrictions, what percentage of the band was going to be playing flute, etc were seemingly never decided in a democratic manner.
Which is fine… maybe… except that in matters concerning Percussion, I was the primary stakeholder in terms of all the work and costs mentioned above. Again, the band did not make any purchases or sacrifices to stock up on percussion equipment. And why should they? Daniel would take care of it for them. There were a number of concerts were the percussion was placed in questionable position (not enough room or split up oddly by the configuration of venues). In many of these cases, it would have possibly made more sense to inconvenience other sections, but I was not asked or consulted. Daniel would take care of it for them.
There were also a number of times where I would be pressured to take on additional members when all parts were already planned out and covered. Taking on additional members would mean taking parts away from existing members and sitting them down. I would occasionally do this, but only when I expected someone else would quit anyway. The conflicts began when Greg would try to press upon me to take non-percussionists that for whatever reason didn’t want or could not continue to play their wind instruments. And although I would take trusted non-percussionists on a song-by-song based level, I wanted to keep the Percussion section for percussionists. This is namely because wind instrument players have more opportunities that percussionists. A band will take 12 flutes, but a band with 12 percussionists is unheard of. At most there is enough music to keep 5 or 6 percussionists happy. With only two adult community bands in the county, that’s only 12 chairs for the region. There is absolutely no reason to pad a percussion section with musicians that have skill on wind instruments, unless chairs are empty.
As a brief aside, I wanted to mention that COVID-19 was a huge influencer over my decision. The band closed down in March 2020. A small ensemble played Christmas music in the church parking lot in December 2020. I played with two other musicians for easter 2021. The full band resumed in June 2021. The Pensacola Civic Band also resumed in July 2021. However, unlike the Civic Band, which held a majority vote to continue playing with a smaller band, the Pensacola Bay Concert Band held no such votes, but shut down in July 2021. Restarted again in October 2021, and shut down again in January 2022, and resumed again in late February 2022. In addition, band members were told to provide proof of vaccination before restarted. And although I myself was vaccinated and boosted very early, it did go against my libertarian principals to ask section members to provide private medical records on demand. I didn’t feel strongly about the vaccination requirement either way, except that these decisions had been made without input from band members themselves.
COVID-19 was extreme, and although I don’t want to get into many details, the time away from the band and music gave me time to reflect on everything I was doing for the band and the general lack of recognition or say in decision making. I also realized that I kept doing the work because I felt like I needed to do it for the other percussionists (people I increasingly didn’t know anymore because people kept quitting and the band was not meeting), and because I was anxious that if I quit, I’d end up in a situation where I had no where to play at all.
Because of COVID-19, the May 2022 concert was exceptionally difficult for me, being that it was originally supposed to be a May 2020 concert. We first received that music in December 2019, and between then and the time I quit, I had five percussionists quit, one new percussionists join, two other percussionists sit in and quit, one of the percussionist who quit rejoin, one percussionist taken off the waiting list, and another new percussionist on the way. Each time this happened, I had to redo all my plans. It was frankly a nightmare, but I finally had a plan that looked like it was going to work!
And more decision making…
In the last Christmas concert, I had planned to take a percussionist that hadn’t played in years that had been on the waitlist for some time, but Greg asked me to take a wind player who was unable to play his primary instrument anymore. I decided it was best to accept the help and not take the percussionist off the waitlist. In so doing, I committed to teaching this person some simple percussion tasks, and I gave him all the little toy parts of sleigh bells and triangles and cymbal rolls. Of course, this meant that I could not give other people those parts. I tried to make it very clear that although I was taking this player, and I believe these were my exact words, I didn’t want the percussion section to end up being the band’s rehab for injured wind instrumentalists. That player played the Christmas concert, but was unable to continue afterward. Don’t get me wrong, this guy had a great attitude, and I never minded working with him. He started with the band before me, and had a long history with the band. He was also just happy to get to play whatever we had to give him, and I made sure he got to play every song I could work him in, and I would have been happy if he stayed longer. In response to him having to stop, I did take the other guy off the waitlist, and he started on what ended up being my last rehearsal. I also recruited a second mallet/aux player to help out for another player who had quit. This was an old friend who hadn’t played since high school and had been asking me about wanting to play again, was going to start in March, but didn’t when I said I quit.
And about that time, Greg pressed upon me to take another injured wind player with no experience on percussion. This wind player was to play mallet percussion. At first, it seemed like a request… I declined, stating this was a totally different situation because all percussion parts were already being covered, and this wasn’t a simple sleigh bells or triangle or cymbal roll arrangement. Additionally, I was already the band’s principal mallet player and there was no need for a dedicated mallet player beyond myself and the one I had just recruited. I also had a bad experience with his person previously. Another huge reason was because the percussion section had already taken on 2 players who hadn’t played in over a decade, and taking a player with no experience at all would be too much for me to work with at one time. I explained all the reasons why I could not take the additional player at that time. However, I finally just had to just flat out say “no.” Shortly after, I was informed that this player would be doubling mallet parts with me on the band’s bells while I played my bells, period, end of discussion. Why were they trying to make my already hard job harder? How on earth was I going to make this work? How was I going to cleanly play doubled parts with someone that had never played mallets before 3 months before a concert with music we had had for over 2 years? And what was I to tell the person I had just recruited? “We don’t need you anymore, sorry!” To be very clear, this was not a good decision for me as the mallet player, this was not a good decision for me as the percussion section leader, this was not a good decision for the other percussion members, and this was not a good decision for the band as a whole. This decision was some sort of attempt to make everyone happy, and it was simply not a good decision.
It was at that time that I decided to resign from the band. It seemed as though we had reach an impasse and there were unresolvable creative differences. Although I can be very flexible, I have a set way I like to run a percussion section and I produced good results. I am loyal and will put in the work and cost to get the job done. In so doing, all these years I have been unable to use my own instruments to start my own percussion ensemble as I had originally hoped. Every time I would sign up for a paid gig, it was as if I had to borrow my own instruments from the band. I would have to try to coordinate how to use my instruments for a gig without disturbing the band too much. By continuing to not purchase percussion instruments, the band was continuing to burden me weekly by requiring me to continue load my SUV and causing continual wear and tear. At the same time, I see $7000+ going to a concert venue for only one night while the band hasn’t purchased a percussion instrument in 5 years, when a trumpet player damages my $2500 electronic xylosynth+zynthian set up at the Christmas concert and I get no support or help when I report it, when I have to ask for recognition, when bad percussion decisions are made against my advisement and the consequences of those decisions are left to me to figure out; it seemed clear to me that the band had their own plan for how to run the section and it was time for me to step aside and let them do it.
It was by no means and easy decision for me to make. It didn’t sit well with me for a long time, and it still isn’t fun to think about.
People keep telling me what’s going on in the Band and Percussion, even though I haven’t asked for these updates. People still ask me why I left. People still remark that they wish I would come back. It was my hope by stepping aside and letting them run the percussion that they would begin to see the burdens and needs of a percussion section. The amount of work and coordination required to run the section, without also throwing in that extra horn player that just doesn’t want to play that horn anymore. I’ve played percussion for over 25 years. I’ve played both as a volunteer and with paychecks for 17 groups. I’ve learned the names I’ve needed to learn, and I’ve gained some level of respect from some really amazing musicians in the area. However, I am still learning. And although I know I am by far not the best, it is frankly insulting the idea that some people believe any horn player can just set down their instrument and pick up a stick or a mallet and just take a percussionists’ seat without first taking some lessons or at least buying a book first. This should not happen when a percussion section is full, no more than a lifelong flutist should take a tuba out of a player’s hands. I was hoping that by leaving, the band would start to make real investments in the percussion section, but from what I am hearing, purchases are being made toward electronics and keyboards rather than real concert percussion equipment. For the sake of the friends I still have in the section and the band, I hope it works out for them. They really need a real percussionist advising them on how to run percussion and their purchasing needs. Perhaps more importantly, that person needs to be someone they will actually respect and listen to, and not just someone they see as a worker bee.
It is just such a shame because I put in so much love, sweat, and [every once in a while] blood for the band in my 6 years. Now that I am no longer putting in work for them, well, it is as if I did nothing for them at all… Such is life…
Nevertheless, I do wish them all the best. The band does have a great mission, and it has a very important place in this community.
Daniel L Wells
Pensacola Bay Concert Band Percussionist: August 2015 – February 2022
Pensacola Bay Concert Band Percussion Section Leader: June 2016 – February 2022
Pensacola Bay Concert Band WebMaster: Since May 2018 – May 2022
May 24 – One Last Insult
I came to learn that in the band’s concert program last night, someone else had been listed as the band webmaster, even though over the last 4 months, I had been continuing to host the site at my own expense, install software and security patches, post updates upon request, answer support/account requests from band members, and initiate bank transfers from PayPal donations. This was just one final slap from them and a reminder of why I was right to leave in the first place. They give no appreciation, no credit, no respect, and no support. When I left the band, I wanted to create as little ripple as possible because (1) I still had friends in the band and (2) I believed in their mission. However, it seems I was wrong and should have done more for myself. I probably should have just closed down the site as soon as I resigned from the band, but my professional ethics told me I needed to give them a transition period. I believed this transition period would probably be within a month. I had expected to make myself available to take questions for whomever took it over if necessary for the foreseeable. However, the transition never [as of that point] happened. Upon learning that I received zero credit for hosting and maintaining their website for the last 4 months [not to mention the last 4 years], I let them know that I would be removing the site from my host immediately. It seems they will continue to use my design choice and the code I have written going forward (for which I’m sure they pat themselves on the back for), but it will be maintained by a company at the band’s expense rather than a volunteer’s. Over the last four months, neither Greg nor Tony have communicated with me directly. Instead, the band’s secretary would contact me and ask for demos and ask me to post site updates for them. I would occasionally CC Tony on the replies when I completed the work. Therefore, they were well aware that I was still hosting and maintaining their website. Not providing proper credit for volunteer work is not new for them, so I supposed I should have expected it. Nevertheless, I most certainly was the band’s webmaster up until today.
I really need to stop doing so much work for people for free.