Crisp snare drums bring the rain – and the bass drums bring the thunder. The nervous silence that once whisked through the air is interrupted by the clash, thump and pound of the Approaching Storm marching band.
Created as an alternative to street gangs, drugs and violence, Approaching Storm showcases the talent of youth from East New York and Brownsville. The southern-style ensemble has won 22 straight competitions – and soon could be headed to Washington for the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama.
“In the beginning, it was hard to compete in New York because our different style, our format and of course the people that could not accept what we were doing to their bands,” said Sergio Carter, 40, the outspoken director of the Approaching Storm marching band.
‘Beating on Encyclopedias’
Carter founded the band three years ago with no funding.
“We had no drums, no nothing,” he recalled. “We was beating on encyclopedias, practicing out in the rain, we really didn’t have no housing. And they expected these kids to quit.”
The band slowly raised funds for drums and uniforms by performing on streets, including Brooklyn’s bustling Atlantic Avenue, asking for donations.
“We hustle for an hour and a half and we play for an hour and a half,” tenor drum player Luis Figueroa, 16, said of the routine.
Now 40 members strong, the band has weathered the storm, performing across New York, Virginia, and the Carolinas. The community-based band, made up of youths ages 10 to 19, is full of personality and character.
“Nobody’s really the same,” Carter said. “They all come from East New York or Brownsville, so when it was time for me to teach, I had a rough group of kids. And that’s what it comes out to be. Hard work. Tough kids. Tough attitudes. Tough playing, then tough winning.”
Carter’s guidance and influence on band members appear to be having a lasting effect, even as his tough love approach often blurs the lines between director, mentor and father.
Five former members of Approaching Storm have earned band scholarships at universities across the country, including Clark Atlanta, Virginia State and Morgan State.
“I eventually hope that me being a dancer in the Approaching Storm marching band will lead me to being a dancer in a HBCU [Historically Black Colleges and Universities] college band,” said Tuesday Hawkins, 18, who is set to graduate high school next year.
Meanwhile, band members are hoping they’ll be picked to play the Inauguration.
“If they do not get chosen, I would take them for the experience,” Carter said. “Then at least they have a chance to be a part of the process. To see the visual of it. The aura. For these kids, just seeing the magnitude of people will incite excitement in the child.”