Providing members a safe environment to grow and develop as musicians, performers and young adults is the top priority for the Music City Drum Corps, according to Executive Director Kent Baker. At its recent April rehearsal weekend, Music City dedicated time to train its members, staff and administrators about this important topic.
Shelba Waldron, who works as a consultant nationally on bullying, harassment, risk management and youth development, addressed these issues with Music City’s drum majors and members of the Music City Youth in the Arts board of directors.
Waldron, who is a regional director for Nashville’s Martha O’Bryan Center managing afterschool programs in the city, also brings a personal connection to the marching arts. After high school she marched with Star of Indiana and Pride of Cincinnati, and in the years since aging out has been teaching at various high school and world-class programs. She has also judged WGI and at multiple circuits thought the country.
Drum Corps can take a page of best practices from other youth organizations regarding risk management and safety, according to Waldron.
“Physical, emotional, financial, and data are the major areas of consideration for risk. We as an activity are very well versed in the concepts of the protection from heat and physical pain, but don’t usually discuss how physical safety also includes the protection from adult to minor sexual assault or adult to adult sexual assault,” she said. “It is common and expected that any quality program create a culture of reporting that is safe and confidential.
“Emotional safety is the concept that every youth and every performer has the right to participate in drum corps without the fear of humiliation or verbal abuse. And most nonprofits today are having conversations regarding the protection of data and the need for policies on the collection, storage and destruction of sensitive information,” she said.
While most youth programs share similar concerns, there are factors less common within the drum corps activity, Waldron said.
“Drum corps face levels of risk that other youth serving organizations never have to consider, with travel and the intermixing of minors and legal adults rising to the top of the list,” she said. “Another risk unique to drum corps is the travel itself. You simply can’t run a drum corps without travel and the sheer miles logged per summer is a top reason for concern.”
The starting point for ensuring members are protected is a commitment to best practices from the organization’s leadership, according to Waldron.
“The easiest and most effective way of creating a culture of safety is for the board of directors to believe in it and take responsibility for it,” she said. “This includes creating policies and procedures, reviewing those policies annually, and then expecting all staff members and volunteers to adhere to those policies. There should be no exceptions to the rule.
“It’s crucial to understand the culture of safety stems from the top, and if the those leaders ignore their duty to this, then they can expect the staff to do the same.”
Recent events within the national drum corps community have elevated awareness of safeguarding youth, prompting discussions and actions Waldron says are overdue.
“I am encouraged by the efforts underway, but to be honest I’m very frustrated it has taken this long,” she said. “When you think about the immense responsibility a drum corps takes on, the number of youth served a year, miles traveled, extreme heat, and the nature of competition, then safety should be the most important topic of conversation.
“I have worked with and for youth since I graduated from college in 1993. I’ve seen how quality controls create youth success, but have also seen how the lack of quality controls can cause major injury and even death,” Waldron said. “We can focus on risk without sacrificing our programs. This doesn’t have to be arduous. In fact, forecasting and managing risk should make everyone feel better about the job they are hired to do.”
According to Director Baker, Music City is committed to maintaining an environment that is protective of its members.
“For generations, drum corps’ priorities were focused on advancing design and performance. It is to our shame that we as a culture didn’t put students’ safety and well-being first and foremost,” he said. “We are finally aligning our priorities to recognize that our performers are, and have always been, our most important responsibility.”