Eisenhower band donates drums for special needs program

Justin Antos had an idea last summer for the Eisenhower High School marching band’s competitive 2022 program, titled “Tribal.” But the performance would require extra drums, which he didn’t have.

“The show opened up with this very intense primal drum groove. And I knew I needed drums to have that vision come to life,” said Antos, band director at the school in Blue Island.

He bought 10 new floor toms from a company in Pennsylvania, and they served their purpose well in helping the routine come to life, impressing judges along the way.

Eisenhower took home several awards for its performances using the new drums. Some of those awards included best percussion, best auxiliary, best visuals and best general effects during various competitions.

“It was a very successful season,” Antos said.

But with the season ending in mid-October, the band was not going to be needing those drums anymore.

It didn’t take them long to find a new home.

District 218 Adult Transition Program staff member David O’Leary was starting up a Drum Circle music club for the special education students who graduated from Eisenhower, as well as Richards in Oak Lawn and Shepard in Palos Heights.

“I originally checked to see if Dr. Antos had any extra small handheld percussion instruments,” O’Leary said.

By November, he got much more.

Ten big drums were donated and the students have been banging away and having a ton of fun ever since.

Eisenhower band director Justin Antos takes a selfie as his students work on refurbishing drums for members of the school district's Adult Transition Program.

“I knew we were going to donate these drums somewhere,” Antos said. “I didn’t know where they were going to end up. My intention was always to donate them or sell them. It just so happened that David O’Leary mentioned to me at the perfect time that he had this music club, and the bells went off.”

Antos didn’t just hand over some drums that had taken beatings during the competitive band season. It took a village — one might say a musical village — to work on getting these drums back into top shape for the Drum Circle group.

Antos had a chat with longtime friend Dan Cerullo of Guitar Center of Country Club Hills, and he donated some items to help get the drums in proper working order.

Then, Eisenhower band members got to work.

“It gave an opportunity for our percussion class to refurbish the drums, so they went ahead and changed out the drum heads and changed out the hardware,” Antos said. “We talked about how to tune drums and they were the ones who basically refurbished and prepped the drums that we ended up donating.”

O’Leary said the drums are meaningful to his group.

“Music is connection and communication, and for many of our students, this is a major part of life,” he said. “The students started with clapping, shaking bead jars, and counting to four. But they immediately started pounding away when received the drums and drumsticks from Dr. Antos.”

O’Leary said a heartwarming moment came when a student came up to him and told him “I never played a real instrument before.”

Sometimes, he said, the group gets a little out of control when banging on the drums. But he doesn’t mind.

“Playing music needs to be a little out of control sometimes,” O’Leary said.

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He has also taken to social media to share the experience with the world via Instagram.

“Nothing beats being at the drum circle, but watching the videos and seeing the pictures is really amazing,” O’Leary said.

Antos agrees.

“You can see the kids’ faces light up when they make music,” Antos said. “So anytime I can be a part of that, and our kids can be a part of that … if you’re not using music and music education to make the world a better place, you are doing it incorrectly.”

Antos thinks the drums are in a better place, too, and will be for a while.

“They served us well and I just hope they can serve the students in ATP as well,” he said.

Jeff Vorva is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.

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