Frank Corbin says he supports the Helix Charter High School — including its marching band. But the school's electronic metronome is driving him crazy.
"It sounds like somebody is banging on a big metal fencepost with a hammer and it goes on for hours," Corbin says.
The high school is in a kind of bowl, with residences — including Corbin's — climbing the hillsides around the school. The noise from the metronome swells up the hill while the marching band practices. Corbin, a retired audio engineer, emphasizes that he supports the school, the marching band, and the community.
"They do great things at that school and I'm not trying to give them a hard time. It's that metronome," he says. "I've offered to help them figure out a way to give everyone the beat without having to make that clanging noise so loud."
It's not the first time residents near the school practice field have complained about the metronome. In 2012, a man living nearby complained that the noise was disturbing his dying father.
Corbin doesn't see it as a my-way-or-the-highway problem.
"Of course they need to keep the beat while they practice and of course they have to practice," he says. "I just want to help them find a way to have the beat without everyone within a mile listening to it."
On Saturday, October 18, the marching band practiced from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. for the Mount Carmel Field Tournament, a prestigious competition that is set for October 25. The metronome, played through an amplifier and speaker like those hallway-clearing fire alarms, sat on the field and ran intermittently throughout the practice.
"We get that it's an annoyance, but it's a necessary tool," says Helix band director Mitchell Way. "Ours is particularly bad because we rehearse in a bowl and it amplifies upwards." Way says the band has to position the metronome so it blares from back to front and play it loud so people in front can hear the sound that isn't absorbed by clothing and bodies nearer to the metronome.
"We can't rehearse anywhere else — for competitive purposes we need the stadium or we get a skewed perspective on what we sound like," he says. "I totally feel for [the residents] — I don't like the noise either — but it's just not possible to do this another way."
Councilwoman Ruth Sterling has talked with Corbin and describes him as a reasonable man with a reasonable concern.
"He made it clear he had nothing against the school or the band," Sterling says. "I don't think he is cranky neighbor. He has legitimate concerns about the tone and volume, and I like it that he wants to work with them to solve the problem.”
Not everyone hears that. According to Corbin, mayor Art Madrid scolded him at a recent city-council meeting, telling him that the school has been there since 1951. But the electronic metronome is a recent development, Corbin argued.
"I made some suggestions, like putting speakers around the field and pointing them inwards," Corbin says.
Way said that marching-band season runs from July to Thanksgiving, unless the football team goes into playoffs. The marching band is one of the best in East County and won the Mount Carmel competition the past two years.
"The stadium is part of the problem — it's low and the sound just bounces over the top," Way says. "But we have to rehearse in the stadium or we won't get our sound right for when we play in stadiums, which is what we do."