TIM GREGORY, a visiting artist at Jeffers Hill Elementary School, teaches music with a twist - and a shimmy and a wiggle - to the beat of a "kalimba." Don't even try to sit still during class.
Gregory's lessons are derived from his travels through Africa, where he visits villages to learn about cultures through music and dance rituals. He returns to Maryland to share his experiences and ever-growing instrument collection (which includes a kalimba - a hand-held "thumb piano") with Howard County schoolchildren through the Howard County Arts Council's Artist-in-Residence program.
Gregory spent two weeks teaching at Jeffers Hill last month thanks to grants from the council and the school's PTA, said Sarah Bluth, a music teacher at Jeffers Hill.
"He got the kids so excited about music," Bluth said. Gregory worked with third- through fifth-graders, she said, allowing them to "have a hands-on experience and learn about cultures through music and dance."
He peppered his lessons with a bit of anthropology, geography, linguistics and intercultural communication. The children took particular delight in watching video footage of the tall, strawberry-blond Gregory learning dances with African villagers, Bluth said. Watching him helped the children see that "it's OK to make mistakes."
Different cultures have long intrigued Gregory, 37, a native of Randallstown. He began with a passion for maps and exotic objects.
"I used to love to go to Pier One just to touch and feel everything," he says. He made his first trip abroad at age 17 as an exchange student to Sweden. He returned to the United States, earned a degree in international business and economics, and has been traveling - and sharing - ever since.
Gregory's residency at the school culminated in two interactive performances Feb. 6, one featuring third-graders and the other fourth- and fifth-graders. The stage displayed a mosaic of colorful artifacts from Gregory's collection. The show took place on the floor in front of the stage, near the spectators, to resemble a village.
"It's more of a sharing rather than a performance," Bluth said.
Gregory took the audience on a musical journey through Africa, comparing and contrasting customs, lifestyles and languages of some of Africa's 54 nations. While children demonstrated dances to the sound of lively beats, Gregory provided explanations, vocabulary and tidbits about life in Africa. The pervasive rhythms caused all to shimmy, shake or sway at least once during the hour.
The intent of the program, in addition to learning about music and other cultures, is to encourage youngsters to be open to new ideas and different people.
"Never be afraid to try something new," Gregory told audience members as he engaged them in a Zambian "cheering up" dance. "Life can never be boring if you try new things."
Out of Africa
The east Columbia library is partnering with the east Columbia-based book club Twelve-In-Twelve for a series about the experiences of Africans migrating to America. The five-part reading and discussion program, "Long Gone: The Literature and Culture of the African-American Migration," will be presented by Jennifer Jordan, associate professor of literature at Howard University.
The program will be held from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on alternate Thursdays, beginning this week.
Books for the series are available at the library's front desk. Registration and information: 410-313-7700.
Two Oakland Mills High School students are finalists in the Fox 45 Champion of Courage Essay Contest. Tony Webb, a freshman, and Dawn Ziegenfuss, a sophomore, each won a $50 savings bond. The subject of the essay is tied to the teachings of Martin Luther King Jr., said English teacher Joslyn Wolfe, who encouraged the students to enter the contest.
"They had to choose either someone who shared the teachings of Martin Luther King or choose a role model they thought was someone worthy of praise," Wolfe said.
Ziegenfuss wrote about her mother, and Webb about his father.
All 23 finalists read their essays for a television taping. Ziegenfuss' reading aired last week and Webb's will be broadcast Feb. 21 and 22 on Channels 45 and 54.
The best television presentation will win $2,000 for the winning student's school. Ziegenfuss and Webb will be honored with the other finalists on Feb. 24 at an awards luncheon at the Inner Harbor Hyatt Regency.
Dean Kreh, co-owner of Wilhide's Unique Flowers and Gifts, recalls a Valentine's Day request that was above and beyond the usual dozen red roses. About 10 years ago, a customer asked Kreh to deliver flowers to his sweetheart - with a marriage proposal.
"He wanted us to deliver the ring with the flowers," Kreh said.
Kreh was worried about taking responsibility for the diamond ring, so he arranged a compromise with the customer. "We designed the arrangement," taking care to securely attach the ring, Kreh said. The customer then delivered it himself.
The ring was safely out of Kreh's hands, but there was a downside - he never got to hear the answer.