Think of the most traumatic thing that ever happened to you in your high school years. For me, it's a toss-up between Melanie Triantafilou never loving me back and that one time the police showed up to my house when the pastor of our church was there.
But the kids at Tulsa School of Arts and Science (TSAS) have pretty much all of us beaten, because their school burned to the freaking ground.
Sure, when you're a kid, the burning school is up there with snow days in terms of things kids pray for, but having it actually happen, well, then you start to think about what was in your locker that you might have wanted to see again, and if you're an artistic student, you have to think about your musical instrument, or the painting you did last week, or your brushes, or your camera, or the script you just got but hadn't started memorizing yet.
TSAS director Eric Doss jumped immediately to the good news when first asked about the blaze and its aftermath.
"Actually, and here's the greatest thing that happened -- the band and orchestra were actually able to save all their instruments," Doss said. "That's the only part of the building that wasn't touched. We went in with the firefighters after, and all of the instruments came out."
Band director Zach Roddy did what any loving guardian would do -- he took them to the hospital to get checked out, Doss said during a recent school afternoon.
"He took them to Saied, and they're all in playable condition. They're playing music with them right now," he said.
The other arts departments weren't so lucky. The photography department was pretty much a total loss, as was the visual arts area, and other arts branches are still in the dark.
"With the exception of a couple of the electronics and amps and a couple of acoustic pianos that got messed up by smoke and water, we were able to get everything else out," Roddy said. "Now they all smell like smoke, but they were in their cases. So our new music room now smells like smoke."
While some might dwell on the misfortune of smelling smoke every morning, it's not a problem in Roddy's eyes.
"We feel like we kind of carried the fire into our new building," he said. "But we're so happy to have all the instruments."
There was loss, to be sure.
"Really, our approach to arts is the same as everything else," Doss said. "We're assessing our 'right-now' needs, like what we need for classes today. And we've gotten a lot of donations, like supplies and monetary donations, too. Like we've had tons of watercolor sets donated. And people have shown up with a violin or a really pretty trombone just because people know we need things."
Anyway, Doss continued, talking about just holding on and sallying forth.
"We're trying to get back to normal, and we're getting there. In fact, I think they developed film today," he said.
So: what's the worst that can happen? Well, your school can burn down. It's tough. And Doss is a bit given to understatement at times.
"It's not fun, and we're a little ways from getting things stable," he said. Doss, by the way, is a very laid-back man. "It's emotionally draining on the teachers, and it's hard on the students, but we're getting through."
The best part, though, is knowing that the city of Tulsa is there and wants to help.
"Knowing that some things are there, and knowing that people want to help replace things helps lift our spirits," he said.
Tulsa's own Saied Music Company has certainly stepped up to the plate in that department, according to Roddy. Non-musicians might first think about the instruments in a fire. What they might not think of is the sheet music. Schools amass hundreds of thousands of printed pages for their bands, their choirs, their orchestras, and those pages are flammable. They're made of paper, you know.
And sheet music isn't cheap.
Saied to the rescue.
"Before we even got into the new building, Saied Music had already contacted the publishers about some music we'd ordered over the past few years and gotten us new copies before we were even settled in this new building," Roddy said. Now that's an example of the community reaching out to help.
"I'm always looking for the positive in things," he said. "Even when we were moving in to this building. We were already here in the new building while the old one was literally still burning, and I was thinking, 'How is this going to be better? How can we make things be even better?' And so yeah, we're getting more stuff donated, and people are stepping up to help us out."
Not that a school teacher would ever go on record saying that his school burning down was a good thing.
However, Roddy finds good things coming out of it.
The band needed additional instruments (what band program doesn't?). Now people are donating instruments. Maybe those electronics cords and cables still sitting in a burned-out building had shorts in them. Roddy's going to get new ones, so hey, no more buzzing guitars.
"Now we have a common, sort of shared perspective," he said. "Now we talk about what it means to give back to the community, and we now kind of really know what that means. Since the music department survived and pretty much nothing else did, it's up to us to make music and sort of make things better for everyone else."
And they're making things better just by surviving.
"We have people all the time now coming by and saying things like, 'I can't tell you how happy I was that out of all this, we have this ray of light that the instruments survived,'" Roddy said.
The rebuilding process will be tough. Roddy said that some kids are dealing with the fire and the change well, others not so much. Doss talked about the crushing losses across all manner of disciplines at TSAS. But both men are looking to the future, and doing so with hope.
"In the long term, we had insurance," Doss said. "So we're doing inventory right now. Sometime in the future, we'll be able to replace everything." That's a plus.
Roddy is a bit more existential. Currently housed in the former Sequoyah Elementary School, TSAS and its students and staff face the future with hope, knowing that although their new digs might not last past this school year, they're going to land on their feet.
"TSAS is inside of us," he said. "You know, a church isn't a building, it's the people who go to that building, and that's the way we feel about TSAS. So we're going to be fine wherever we end up."
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