Today we’d like to introduce you to Tom and Kimberly Harding-Stewart.
Tom and Kimberly, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
My dad, Carl Stewart, was a lifelong jazz drummer. He started when he was six, formed his first band when he was in the 9th grade and played into his 90s even sitting in with the jazz trio at his 91st birthday party for a few songs. While serving in the Philippines during WWII, he somehow scrounged a drum set and played with guys that he recruited from other units. After college and continuing into his retirement years, he played a lot of community theater, variety band, and jazz gigs all over Detroit.
When Dad passed away at 91, my nephew, 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.
For decades it’s been common knowledge that music programs and the arts in general in most schools have been underfunded, especially band instruments.
Seeing the deplorable condition of this high school rock band’s drum set really brought that situation to reality for me. I realized if I gave Brian my dad’s drums set that would help only one school. I decided that I was going to get Silver Valley High School and others in their same situation a drum set.
My wife, Kimberly, and I decided to create a nonprofit organization dedicated to placing donated drum sets into underfunded schools with music programs to include after school programs.
We completed the government application and several months later, we received our nonprofit status. Carl Stewart’s Drums For Drummers was officially a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
We began searching Craigslist for a drum set for Brian’s high school and I was hoping 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. It was really motivating to personally witness how excited the kids were.
We thought that if this donation “thing” worked in Barstow this could probably work all over Southern California.
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
A huge challenge for us has been a lack of connections inside the percussion industry and in the school systems. Beyond a doubt, the biggest challenge has been finding schools with music programs that need a drum set, which they all do, but finding them has been the challenge.
Before we launched this idea, Kimberly and I looked into the feasibility of this project. We made an appointment with the CEO of Remo (drumhead manufacturer) and had a conversation with him. He told us, “I don’t think you’ll have trouble finding people to donate drum sets. I think where you’ll have difficulty is in finding schools to place the drum sets”. Was he ever right! Getting a drum set is a piece of a cake compared to finding schools that need one. The CEO pledged Remo’s support to supply us with drum heads. Over the past six years, they have provided us with hundreds of drum heads. We wouldn’t be able to do this if Remo wasn’t’ backing us. Every set that goes out of our shop is refurbished, outfitted with Remo drumheads, tuned and ready to play.
Another obstacle that we’ve encountered is when a band director hears that a free drum set is available for their music program, there’s either too much red tape involved from the district or they don’t believe that it’s going to be a decent quality drum set. After all, “Nothing’s free” “There’s no such thing as a free lunch” and “If it’s too good to be true….”
Stewart Rosen band director at Walter Reed Middle School in Los Angeles and a recipient of a donated drum set was the first to explain this to us. Through a relative of mine at Walter Reed, Stewart contacted us to apply for a drum set for his jazz program. He asked if the free drum set was for real and we said “well, of course it is”. He explained later that he was very reluctant/hesitant to accept a free drum set for fear it would be someone discarding their junk. When he received his drum set, he was amazed at what a high quality set it was.
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 say Louisville, Kentucky we could look up schools near Louisville and contact the administration and/or the band teacher directly. The schools could work out the exchange with the donors for pick up or drop off.
Please tell us about Carl Stewart’s, Drums For Drummers.
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 drums. Even the well-funded schools have only one drum set, and it’s very difficult to teach effectively with just one drum set alternating between the instructor and the student.
I thought at first, we were going to stay local—just Southern California. When we put the website up (www.drumsfordrummers.org) we started getting not only drum set donations from all over California but also drum set requests from schools and people wanted to donate all over the United States and even as far away as London. I realized then that this could be a nationwide project. Due to shipping costs, we have to keep it local. We do, however, work with requests outside Southern California and try to facilitate the exchange of drum sets between donors and schools.
Most of the schools contact us through our website, fill out an application and we follow up with them on the phone. We usually wind up dealing directly with the band director/music teacher rather than school officials. Last year, I had a phone call from one of the district supervisors of Anaheim’s elementary schools. She told me there had not been a music program in the elementary schools for over 20 years and they were changing that. She wanted to add drum set to their music program. I asked how many sets she was interested in? “Twenty-three, please” was the reply. I asked if we could start with 10. This past November we placed the ten sets into the Anaheim Elementary School system.
What are you most proud of as a company?
I’m proud that we have the kind of organization that people want to volunteer for. Without all our volunteers, we couldn’t have the impact that we’ve had on the lives of all these musicians including the donors and directors.
We positively impact so many lives. 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!
What sets you apart from others?
The drum sets that we donate to the schools stay at the schools. They do not go home with an individual student. We feel very strongly that the donated drum set touch as many students as possible.
Where do you see your industry going over the next 5-10 years? Any big shifts, changes, trends, etc?
The COVID-19 school shut down has been a setback for us getting Drum Sets into schools. Hopefully, this will change as we get further into the new school year. We just moved into a new location in Santa Ana. It’s about half the size of the facility that we were in so we’re pretty tight on room. Once schools open back up and the band classrooms reconvene, we can start placing more drums. The schools that have a robust music program are funded by the parents. The more affluent the school, the better funded the music program. Lower socio-economic schools are at an obvious disadvantage. A drum set is one of the most expensive instruments a school can buy and is generally one of the last instruments in a school budget. Through our efforts, we are trying to change that situation.
Is our city a good place to do what you do?
Since our inception, we’ve been in Orange County. We started in Huntington Beach and were there for six years. Just a few months ago, we moved to our new location in Santa Ana. It’s a little too early to tell, but all the indications so far happen to look good for us. We’ve already spoken to the mayor of Santa Ana and talk to him about our nonprofit he sounds very supportive and helpful to us in the future.
On the financial side, one of the difficult things that we faced is that neither city offers financial breaks to nonprofits as far as business permits or certificates of occupancy permits. They charge the same as if your company is a for profit company.
In addition to the city business license we paid for, it cost us an additional $480 just to get a certificate of occupancy for our new rental location. This was in addition to the money that it cost us to move to this new warehouse. Thankfully, there were two students, Albert and Miaad, brother and sister from the Music/Arts School in Santa Ana (OCSA) that we had recently met. They raised the $500 to cover the cities fees! We were so grateful for that help and their generosity. I think Santa Ana is going to be an amazing location for us. We are very close to OSHA and we’ve had several requests from the individual schools in that district for drum sets.
If you had to start over, what would you have done differently?
I would have started with more money. My wife and I are paying for this out of our own pocket. Also, we would have worked on getting volunteers early on to help with fund-raising and contacting schools. This is an ongoing challenge.
Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
Like any business, without support from your friends and family, it’s very difficult to get a business off the ground. There are many people who deserve credit each contributing in a variety of ways, some with just words of advice or encouragement. All of them are invaluable.
I would say the most help we’ve had has been from the people who have donated drum sets. Their generosity and the quality of the drum sets that they have donated is amazing!
Another essential group is our drum techs. These are volunteers that come in to help us work on the drum sets. The time they put in refurbishing drums is a gift. They have tremendous talent and knowledge about how to refurbish them.
Without these two groups, we wouldn’t have a functioning organization.
My Mom, Lou Stewart, has been our biggest supporter. My Dad, her husband, was Carl Stewart. She loves what we’re doing and helps us immensely with correspondence and letters of appreciation to our drum set donors. She networks for us at concerts and music events and has come up with countless ideas that we’ve implemented over the past six years.
My wife, Kimberly, is an amazing partner. She holds the organization titles of VP, Secretary and Treasurer. Without her, there wouldn’t be a schedule, inventory management or even a warehouse. She is my constant encouragement and motivator.
Entrepreneur, Denise Wilson, a former high school music teacher who currently sells business jets, has amazing connections in the music industry and the business world. She provides a lot a great ideas for us and helps to get the word out that we have drums available. We are incredibly grateful for her friendship and helpful insight.
The people listed below have also been extremely important to Drums For Drummers and I’d like to acknowledge and thank them for their support:
Brock Kaericher, former CEO of Remo
Bruce Jacoby, Director of Education for Remo
Rich Redmond, drummer entrepreneur
Albert and Miaad Bushala and their two musically gifted kids who are attending OSHA. They have already opened up several doors to us.
Carol Grace founded Give3,600, a nonprofit organization that connects volunteers with nonprofits. We currently have one of her high school students volunteering with us.
How do you, personally, define success?
Success is when you win by scoring. How that win is defined for us is made up of a lot of little scores. We get a drum set donated, ACORE! That set is refurbished and ready for a school, SCORE! We find a school that needs a drum set, SCORE! Students now have the opportunity to learn to play on a drum set, SUCCESS!!
Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
As it relates to what we are doing at Drums For Drummers, my favorite memories are of my dad playing the drums. When I was old enough to carry his drums, he would let me help set them up at his gigs. I was proud to be “his roadie”. The drum cases were very heavy and it was always a long way from the car to the stage. As I helped my dad set up, I was right next to the other musicians and felt like: “I’m in the band”. It was exciting to be there for set up and then watch my dad play. Tearing down at the end of the show was not a fun. The guy playing trumpet would set his horn in the case and be gone in a minute. My dad and I would be the last ones out of the place and usually had to turn out the lights. Everything I learned about jazz, I learned from my father.
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 donate a kit knowing that it will impact students for years to come.
We have successfully brokered/arranged for over 20 out-of-state drum set donations to go to schools near the donor’s location. This has worked out very well and is the basis for our national registry exchange idea.
- Address: Carl Stewart’s Drums For Drummers
1640 E. Edinger Ave., Unit G
Santa Ana, CA 92705
- Website: www.drumsfordrummers.org
- Phone: 949-689-5364
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com
- Instagram: therealdrumsfordrummers
- Facebook: DrumsForDrummers