Monday, September 17, 2007
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The potential for water damage in marching percussion is really twofold: Shells/Hardware and Heads.
Rain can do damage to the shells (warping) especially if it is an unwrapped finish. The stained finishes, that are so popular now, are at greater shell risk than the wrapped finish drums were. The manufacturers take care to seal the shells, but the seal can break down over time. Thoroughly dry the shells with a towel (including the inside of the tenor shells) as soon as the drums are in a dry place. Hardware is another potential problem if the drums are not dried when they are stored. The longer the water sits on the metal hardware (especially the threads of the tuning rods) the greater the potential for rust and tension related failures (like tension rod or lug stripping). If you use metal washers on the tension rods against the rim, rust can occur between the rod and rim that makes the tension uneven and negatively affects tuning. Throughly dry the hardware with a towel or paper towel (because of grease) before storing the drums (especially in cases).
The drumheads are another matter entirely. Different materials respond to moisture differently. In my experience, Kevlar (batter and snare) and the smooth white bass drum heads stand up to water better to rain than most tenor heads. If there is a tremendous downpour, I might have to change the Kevlar heads if they sound like they are waterlogged. Although all are very weather resistant, in my experience the Remo Falams have a higher tolerance to water than the White Max or Cyber Max. The biggest damage to the smooth white bass heads tends to be the glue in the hoop. Sometimes we would experience bass drum heads pulling out of the channel in the upper (higher tension) bass heads after rainy weather. The tenor heads tend to be more vulnerable to retaining water and "deadening" the tone. I usually replaced all my tenor heads when they were out in the rain. We might practice with the "rained on" heads the next day, but we replaced all of the tenor heads before the next show.
Hope this helps...
When we are on the road, I try to keep the drums as dry as possible. When the rain hits, we get out of it. I know that everyone does not have that luxury. Rain should not hurt the drums that much. Drum covers will definitely help. The heads on the other hand will need more attention. The biggest problem will be the tenor and bass heads. The snare heads, assuming they are kevlar, should be the least of your problems. Heads will go dead after they are wet. Some worse than others. If you have new heads to change...this is obviously the best thing to do. If you do not have plenty of extra heads...dry them as soon as possible. You do not want water to set there in the rims. I am a stickler on the battery having the best sound quality as possible by staying in tune. In a perfect world...change the heads.
Unfortunately, there are times where performing in the rain is inevitable in the marching percussion medium. To me the most obvious damage occurs to the sticks and mallets. The beads on wooden sticks tend to swell, chip, and fray. This impacts the sound production and longevity of the sticks. They'll need to be replaced much sooner than sticks that are not exposed to rain. One alternative is to use nylon beads if this is a persistent problem. The nylon tip sticks sound different and play differently, but the tradeoff may be worth it if you encounter a considerable amount of rain, or moisture, frequently.
Felt mallets and wrapped keyboard mallets also get damaged rather easily when exposed to rain. At UMass we try to save our older mallets and keep them for use as “rain mallets”. This might help you save on unnecessary wear and tear to your good mallets.
After any rehearsal or performance in the rain make certain all the drums are wiped clean and dried before storing them. This will minimize any warping of the shells and rusting of the metal parts on the drum. Also, make certain to remove all moisture from the snares and snare unit before storage. If you encounter a rehearsal or performance where you know rain is a possibility (or a certainty), you may consider wrapping the drums in trash bags. This may sound silly, but it does protect the equipment from excessive exposure to water.
The front ensemble equipment is also a concern. Get tarps to cover the instruments until it's absolutely necessary to remove them for playing. If the equipment does get wet, make sure everything is wiped dry before storage. I'd also suggest that the vibraphones and bells not be exposed to rain if at all possible. You'll need to make the call, but sometimes it's better to do without in order to ensure the longevity of the instruments.
If you take the precautionary steps mentioned above, and act responsibly about caring for the instruments it should not be necessary to change heads after a rain performance. Of course, the condition of the drum head will also impact your decision about the need to change a head.
Hoping this helps. Good luck!
Thomas P. Hannum
For more very helpful Questions and Answers like this, please visit the Percussive Arts Society "Ask An Expert" Archive. The site contains many very helpful real-life situations and is very relevant to the challenges we all face.
John Eubanks was a true music educator. Even though he tried his hand in private business, he always returned to his first love of teaching. John served 3 school districts in Southwest Missouri for more than 15 years. He retired from teaching in 2005. Sadly, John passed away on Friday, September 14th. He was only 57.
John leaves behind his devoted wife, Kathy, his mother and brother, two beloved dogs, and numerous friends and former students. We are grateful to have known him and are proud to have been his friend. All of us who loved him will miss him.
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