Friday, December 7, 2012

We're not Berating the Drummer

This is the third response to the city after my presentation last week. Members and staff had problems with me criticizing (or berating) the city. I try to use a metaphor here with my Jazz Band experience. I hope you will also see my first two responses as well.

When I'm making criticisms of Mound's streets, the way a development was discussed, or about a downtown issue, I usually don't blame a specific person. Issues that are raised here are issues that nearly every city in our county is facing. A lot of what I'm writing about is about the system we've built, use and lived in. People that have been educated, worked and live in the system are doing what they believe to be best, of that I have no doubts. They are working hard, and trying to get by just like the rest of us. If I were in their shoes, and an outsider comes along and starts making criticisms, I imagine I might take it personally.

I'm sorry if people at the city do take it personally, I really do respect them. I'm sure the ideas discussed here often seem outlandish, but I know this system we currently have isn't right.

I've spent my whole adult life working with children, and I know how to be encouraging and educational, without putting down or insulting their behaviors or school work. Positive reinforcement is the best way to get a desired behavior. However, there are times when you just need to be more direct, and point out  mistakes directly. When I, as an educator, point out a problem a student may be making, I focus on the problem, not the student. So when my daughter plays "Away in the Manger" and consistently misses the F#(sharp), I will point the problem, and urge her to remember that note. I don't insult her, or mock her that she keeps making the mistake, and to knock it off. I need to remember she's learning, and if she keeps working on it in earnest, I will respect that.

This can be true in the adult world as well.

I play trombone, and rehearse weekly with an adult jazz band made up of many fine musicians, most better than me. When a soloist it jamming along with the rhythm section, and he's hard to hear because the drummer is playing too loudly, it usually is delicately fixed. Often with, "Hey, lets have Johnny play that solo again, and everyone should be sure to listen to him while he plays because I could barely hear him." No one points the finger at anyone, the issue is brought up in a broad manner, and it usually is fixed if everyone is paying attention.

But that doesn't always work, and drummers being... well... drummers, you need to be more direct with them, and point out the problem. "Hey Sophia, could you bring your volume down a notch or two during that section?" And... assuming we are all adults (and drummers being... well drummers) this will fix the problem too just fine.

(This is all thrown out the window if you are from the East coast however. New Yorkers and their like usually dispensed with the niceties stated earlier, and the drummer will be told off straight away she's playing too loudly, and then her feelings will be hurt. She will then play so softly, you'll barely hear her play the rest of the evening until the New Yorker tells her to grow a spine and hit the darn things. That would be berating.)

Now, I don't know how to play the drums, and I couldn't give specifics to a drummer about how to play soft, but I do know when one of them is playing too loud. If I made a comment, the drummer would normally take the cue (perhaps offer a grumbled opinion about my performance) and play soft. I imagine it would be a lot of hitting the heads lighter,  or in different spot. Perhaps they might hit less drums, or a different head altogether. I'll trust them to make the appropriate adjustments.

This reminds me of a quote from Sandra Steingraber's "Raising Elijah" that I read this last year.
"As soon as you know, you can't not know"
When families that live in Mound try to walk or bike to various places in Mound, we know that they are not entirely safe. When we drive through town on Commerce, and see very few people (if any) and buildings sitting vacant for years, we know there's something wrong.

When I go by Caribou, and can't see all the businesses listed on a sign because it's either too low, or the fence in front of it is too high, and nothing is done to correct it, that seems wrong to me.

At the Mound Magic, Kandis Hanson, Mound's city manager, was telling us about the new street lights installed in downtown Mound. She pointed out that on County Rd 15 in Navarre and Spring Park, there are several street lights that have fallen down, and haven't been replaced. Ever since she said those remarks, I've started to notice the six or seven traffic cones that sit where a light pole used to sit along County Road 15. And the ones that remain standing are clearly deteriorating. Isn't it wrong that those light poles haven't been replaced or fixed?

I had a brief discussion recently with someone who told me how he appreciated the discussions happening here at A Place in Mound. He said it was making him see things in a different way that he had noticed before. I think he's starting to sense something isn't right.

These are things we can't unlearn.

Again, it's not just Mound... it's practically every city out there. It's the system we've created.

I don't know exactly how it's supposed to happen, but the City of Mound is playing too loud, and needs to make an adjustment. It's not personal, and we got time to rehearse yet, but my family is out there and something doesn't feel right. Let the soloist play and lets work together and get out of this system and create a new one to make Mound a Place, while letting Johnny shine.


  1. I always appreciate your insight on things happening in our area. Your blog mentioned I the street lights along County Road 15 in Spring Park so I thought I would comment. We have a project in the works that will replace the old lights along Shoreline Drive. As you pointed out, they are deteriorating and are quite an eye sore. We proactively took several down that were a safety hazard, which is why you see cones where a few lights used to be. Street lights are a significant capital investment for any city, so Spring Park is doing it's due diligence to select a light that will be functional and light the corridor as well as be a decorative feature of the streetscape. We are also investigating the energy efficiency of switching to LED lights in addition to lowering the height of the poles. We expect the new street lights to with us for 20+ years so we want to take our time to do the project right and not purchase something in haste. We expect to send out request for proposals this winter and have new lights installed this spring. Spring Park takes great pride in our beautification efforts along County Road 15. We strive to have beautiful seasonal plantings in our boulevard planters, we spray for weeds along the sidewalks, we put up holiday decorations on the light poles and we recently replaced out city entrance signs along County Road 15 at the East and West ends of town. There is always more to do, but we try our best to be good stewards of the tax dollars entrusted to us by our residents and make value based decisions for our city.