Saturday, October 11, 2003

Marching band refuses to yield

By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] The newly constituted, 28-member Taft Senators Drum Line takes the field before the start of Friday night's football game.
(Tony Jones photo)
| ZOOM |
WEST END - After a long silence, the beat is back.

As the 28-member Senators Drum Line made its debut at Taft Information Technology High School's homecoming football game Friday night, Anthony G. Smith beamed. "It's like an old memory coming to life," he said as the burnished gold drums moved past him. "Music is supposed to be part of a school."

Now the school's principal, Smith is a 1973 graduate of Taft who drummed his way to a college scholarship - and it pains him to think that the school went without music for so many years between then and now. He's not even sure when there last was a music program at Taft - which was withering from neglect and the effects of poverty in the neighborhood.

But, for many who attended Friday's celebration, the return of the music is a sign that Taft is getting its groove back.

"They may live somewhere around here in poor housing, but these kids are experiencing something rich - and that has an impact," said Mike Ballard, a Norwood businessman who graduated from Taft in 1972.

Friday's debut was the product of three key ingredients: the students' enthusiasm, Smith's determination and Cincinnati Bell's support.

The drums-only band was attired in green shirts with gold letters. The band has been rehearsing for only a month, but had the crowd dancing, jumping and smiling.Band members arrive an hour before the school's 9 a.m. start - and often ask if they can practice after school, too, said Trina Carter of Bond Hill, the drum line's director.

"I just want to keep playing - but we've got to stop sometime," said Eric Barnett, 15, a freshman who serves as the drum line's section leader.

Vonitia "Nish" Wise, 17, of Golf Manor, said rehearsals are harder than most people might think, but worth it. "It's giving our school some positive recognition - and it's making me overcome my fears," she said. "I'm having so much fun, I feel like I'm on American Idol."

Smith said some people doubted the school could handle a 28-piece drum section. But he said, "I wanted the drum section to be that big, because then the other parts of the band would have to be big to go with that." By 2005, he hopes to have added woodwinds and brass sections, and "to have a whole 125-piece band."

Pam Williams of Springfield Township, the group's assistant director, said increased emphasis on more class time in recent years meant extracurricular programs such as band were cut. "But without it, the kids are hungry," she said. "They want to do other things. Now, the kids really feel like they belong to something."

Resurrecting the band took $100,000 - with Cincinnati Bell spearheading the fund-raising.

Jack Cassidy, president and CEO of Cincinnati Bell, said he first heard the drum line play two weeks ago, and "I don't mind telling you, I cried like a baby."

But the Chamber of Commerce invited Cincinnati Bell to visit the school and see what happened. The prospects looked bleak at first, but Cassidy said Smith made him into a believer.

"The guy looked me in the eye and said he'd do certain things - and then he did them," Cassidy said.

Besides making donations and securing other supporters, Cincinnati Bell employees have volunteered to spruce up the school and have mentored students, Cassidy said.

"Kids who have self-confidence, kids who have experienced success will make a difference," he said, "and these kids can be part of the success of Taft High School."


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