BY PHIL HOOD
Tom Stewart doesn’t play drums, but he wants to make sure every kid in America has the chance to. He’s the president and co-founder, with his wife Kimberly, of Carl Stewart’s Drums For Drummers, a non-profit that collects donated kits, refurbishes and reheads them at a warehouse and shop in Southern California, and delivers them to music teachers and band directors in public schools.
We talked to Tom about the amazing mission of Drums For Drummers and how it has grown since it’s founding in 2014.
You have a goal make sure every school has a good drum set. Is that for all of America or just Southern California?
I thought at first we were going to stay local—just Southern California. When we put the website up (DrumsForDrummers.org) we started getting not only drum set donations from all over California, but also drum set requests from schools all over the United States. I realized then that this could be a nationwide project. We try to keep it local due to shipping costs, but we also try to facilitate the exchange of drum set donations and school requests outside California.
In the United States, there are 26,407 public secondary schools, and 10,693 private schools. Can you estimate what percentage of those have a music program or need a drum set?
We started Drums For Drummers with this mission: To place donated drum sets into underfunded schools with music programs. According to the National Association for Music Education, 90 percent of secondary public schools have music education, but in my experience many don’t have drum sets, and the amount of band, orchestra, and other types of instruction can vary a lot from school to school. Even the well-funded schools have only one drum set, and it’s very difficult to teach with just one drum set alternating between the instructor and the student.
How do schools get in touch with you?
Most of the schools contact us through our website, fill out an application, and I follow up with them on the phone. We usually wind up dealing directly with the band director/music teacher rather than school officials. This helps to expedite getting a drum set into a school’s music program because the director/teacher works directly with their school or district on the paperwork requirements.
Last July, I had a phone call from one of the district supervisors of Anaheim’s elementary schools. They told me there had not been a music program in the elementary schools for over 20 years and that they were changing that. They wanted to add drum set to their music program. I asked how many sets they were interested in? They replied, “twenty-three, please.” I asked if we could start with 10 and they agreed. Last November we placed the 10 drum sets in Anaheim elementary schools.
What do you do if the donated drum set is on the East Coast?
When that happens we have been connecting the school’s band director with the drum set donor. When we get notified that someone wants to donate their drum set to our organization, we reach out to schools near the donor’s city and see if they have a need for a drum set. We then connect the drum set donor with the school. The donor and the school work out arrangements for pick up or delivery. It functions sort like an organ donor network. We have placed many drum sets this way.
Your dad inspired you to found Drums For Drummers. Tell us about that.
My dad Carl Stewart was a lifelong jazz drummer. He started when he was six and played into his late 80s. He played a lot of community theater, variety band, and jazz gigs all over Detroit. Everything I learned about jazz I heard from my father. When he passed away, his grandson Brian was teaching at Silver Valley High School in Barstow, California. He asked if he could have one of his grandpa’s drum sets. Knowing that he didn’t play, I asked him what he wanted the drum set for? He said that his high school had a rock band and the drum set was a wreck.
I asked Brian to send me a video of the rock band so I could check it out. He did and the drum set that I saw this student using was so in such bad shape that I couldn’t believe he could even play on it. It was about this time that I started hearing stories about how underfunded the schools were for music programs and especially instruments. I realized if I gave Brian my dad’s drum set, that would only help one school.
“The satisfaction of selling your kit for a few hundred dollars pales in comparison to the joy donors feel when they pass on a kit knowing that it will impact students for years to come.”
I decided that I was going to get Silver Valley High School and others in their same situation a drum set. I went on Craigslist to see if I could convince someone selling their drum set to donate it to the school. I found a donor and about a month later Kimberly and I delivered the drum set to the Silver Valley High School. I thought that if this donation thing worked in Barstow this could probably work all over Southern California.
What’s been the most challenging part of launching a charity to place drum sets in schools. Is it finding the drums or finding the customers or something else?
Connections. I would say beyond a doubt the biggest challenge has been finding schools.
Before we launched this idea, Kimberly and I looked into the feasibility of this project. We made an appointment with Brock Kaericher from Remo and had a conversation with him. He told us, “I don’t think you’ll have trouble finding drum sets. I think where you’ll have difficulty is in finding schools to place the drum sets.” And was he ever right! Getting a drum set is a piece a cake compared to finding schools that need one.
He pledged Remo’s support and we wouldn’t be able to do this if Remo wasn’t backing us. Every set that goes out of our shop is refurbished and outfitted with brand new Remo drumheads, tuned, tweaked, and ready to play.
Last year at one point we had over 100 drum sets in our warehouse. We were running out of room, and for the second time, had to move to a larger warehouse. It hasn’t been until this year that the word has gotten out locally in Southern California that drum sets are available from our organization.
If we could fix one thing that would improve our operation it would be to have a national registry of elementary, middle, and high schools. This way if a drum set becomes available in Louisville, Kentucky, we can look up schools near Louisville and contact the administration and/or the band teacher directly. The schools can work out an exchange between the donors for pick up or drop off.
How do you get the drums refurbished?
We have a group of volunteers that have been donating their time to fix up drum sets. As more teachers find out about our program, we couldn’t possibly meet the demand without these volunteers. We have drummers come in that are adept at tuning drum sets, others love to take the drums apart, fix broken pieces, put the kits back together and hand them off to the drum tuner. We don’t have an assembly line yet, but we’re moving toward that. We need a few more volunteers.
At this point in our operation, we’re not resetting bearing edges or any major reconstructive work. We have a lot of marching drum gear that needs serious work and when we get more help, we’ll bring those down from storage and start working on that project. Our volunteers have been fantastic!
Do you get donations from all over?
We get donations from all over the United States. We’ve even had donation applications from the United Kingdom. Not just one or two, probably about 10 so far. It’s pretty amazing. We still get the majority of our drum set donations locally, but more and more we have been getting drum set donations from all over.
How has the support from the drummers that you’ve met?
The support we get from drummers has been great. Everybody loves it. My goal is to start having band concerts, clinics, drum-offs, and talent showcases. This is when we will start asking some of the big-name drummers that we’ve met to participate in these events.
From exhibiting at the drum shows and PASIC we have met a lot of big-name drummers. Most of the drummers that we have met in Los Angeles have been more than happy to donate drum sets from their collections, and we feel very fortunate.
Do you have any inspiring stories you’d like to share?
There was a woman in Queens, New York that contacted us after her husband passed away. She wanted to donate his drum set, in his name, to a local school. We found a school in New Jersey, and the music teacher drove to Queens and picked up the drum set. The teacher secretly set up the drum set in her band room and invited the kids in to see it. It was a total surprise for the kids and they were out of their minds with the kit. When the donor saw the video she contacted me and let me know how special it was to see her husband’s set having such an immediate impact on a group of kids.
The satisfaction of selling your kit for a few hundred dollars pales in comparison to the joy donors feel when they pass on a kit knowing that it will impact students for years to come.
Contact Drums For Drummers at DrumsForDrummers.org or call Tom at 949-689-5364.