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Quick thinking makes patriotic cymbal player a YouTube sensation

Updated: June 4, 2013 9:50AM

With the “bombs bursting in air,” one of Andrew Pawelczyk’s cymbals went crashing to the floor.

As the band from Eisenhower Junior High School in Darien continued playing the “Star-Spangled Banner,” Andrew barely missed a beat. Without his instrument, he simply stood and saluted the flag until the patriotic song ended.

His instinctive “cymbalic” gesture — now a YouTube hit — has made the 14-year-old from Darien an instant celebrity.

“I’m very surprised at all the attention it’s getting,” said Andrew, who usually plays the drums.

In his four years in band, nothing quite like this had happened. The cymbal’s leather strap broke in the middle of the national anthem, the opening song of a 90-minute, end-of-the-year band program on May 18.

“I thought, ‘Should I get another one or just stand there?’ So I stood there and saluted the flag,” Andrew said. “I wanted to run away. But I felt better after I saluted.

“My family is very patriotic. My grandfather was in the Korean War. He taught me to salute the flag,” he said.

“It was a night to remember,” said Andrew’s mother, Heidi Pawelczyk. “When I saw the cymbal fall, I thought, ‘Oh, no . . . ’

“But he’s always been the kind of kid to roll with the punches. He’s good in a crisis. He did what came naturally. He stayed cool, calm and collected. He figured he couldn’t go wrong if he saluted. I’m just glad he didn’t utter any naughty words.

“It is kind of crazy that this has become such a phenomenon. People are looking for something good,” she said. “This came from the heart. It restores your faith in young people. But I don’t think he understood the significance of it. He doesn’t realize what it meant to people.”

The video, taken by a parent who is a band booster, has elicited a lot of comments and emails.

“People said I did a good job, that it was really funny,” Andrew said. The video showed his fellow drummer laughing, and Andrew admitted he was “laughing internally.”

John Damore, the band director “had one of those, ‘Oh, crap’ faces,” Andrew said.

Damore was standing directly in front of Andrew and saw it all happen.

“His eyes got really big,” Damore said. “He looked at his hand and he was still holding the strap. He was like, ‘What just happened?’

“He knew he couldn’t pick it up. I gave him a motion to stop. He gave me a deer-in-the-headlights look. I was relieved that he had such a great recovery.”

According to Damore, it was a “classic Andrew move.”

“He’s a very silly kid. He doesn’t care what people think — in a good way. Whatever happens, happens,” he said.

Damore also was relieved that his band played on.

“When he saluted, I cracked up,” he said, adding that a few kids were laughing through their instruments, but 90 percent of them stayed with the music.

Andrew has played drums in the band for four years, with percussionists taking turns with the cymbals, which are owned by the school.

The evening also included an awards program during which Andrew received the Louis Armstrong Award for jazz.

He already is practicing with the Marching Mustangs of Downers Grove South High School, where he will be a freshman next school year.

If there’s a lesson to be learned here, Andrew said, it is “get better cymbals.”

Damore said he wished the video had played a bit longer because at the end of the national anthem, the crowd gave them a “huge standing ovation.”

“The kids were wondering why people were going so crazy after the Star-Spangled Banner,” he said.

Andrew shrugged it off, he said, and went on to play for the rest of the concert.

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