Catching on to different beats

Percussion program exposes Bellows Spring Elementary pupils to world culture

October 01, 2006|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Cathy Ormond, the music teacher at Bellows Spring Elementary School, teaches a unit on West African drums. Sometimes, 27 kids at a time are pounding away on the drums and other instruments in her portable classroom.

Though her room gets loud, it doesn't match the volume in the school auditorium during a recent visit by the Luis Garay Percussion World, a group of four artists visiting the school for the day.

The show, called The Passion and Inspiration of the Drum, showcased Latin and African sounds and introduced Bellows Spring pupils to a variety of percussion instruments.

The floor of the school auditorium almost seemed to vibrate as Garay and the other musicians played instruments that included bongos, congas, a xylophone and even a whistle.

"I'm glad the PTA brought these guys in," Ormond said.

The pupils seemed glad, too. During an earlier assembly, the musicians entertained children in kindergarten through second grade. The afternoon session was for pupils in grades three through five.

In both cases, Garay invited pupils to the front to play instruments and accompany the band. Those instruments included congas, bongos, timbales, a steel drum, a slanted drum called a djembe, and more.

"Let's go," he said. "We play samba."

Toward the end of the show, he invited several teachers and parent Laurie Lerman, the cultural arts chair for the school PTA and the one who brought the band to Bellows Spring.

"I like to try to bring to this school things that kids ordinarily wouldn't be exposed to," said Lerman.

She said she heard the band, which is based in Silver Spring, at the Howard County Performing Arts Showcase, held every spring at Howard County Center for the Arts.

At the showcase, selected artists perform, so that organizations such as schools can decide if they want to hire them.

Lerman brings in five or six programs a year, she said. This year, the lineup will include a puppet theater and opera.

On Thursday, the kids were enthralled with the energy of Garay and his band. The musicians wore black shirts embellished to look as if they had bright orange and yellow flames along the bottoms. The drums were just as colorful.

Garay, who was born in Argentina, urged kids to clap to the music. "Listen first, por favor," he said, as he demonstrated the sounds he wanted the children to imitate.

Once the music started, though, the clapping soon stopped as it became clear the pupils could not keep up with the frenetic rhythms.

"This is awesome," said Rich Lucas, the school's band teacher. "I think it's great. To have the kids get excited and expose them to world culture is fantastic."

Beth Ivey, a school counselor, said she attended both sessions.

"I just love to come and watch the kids' reaction to the performance," she said. "The little ones really got into it. They were so cute."

The big kids got into it, too. Most were swaying and clapping as they sat on the floor and listened. Even the teachers couldn't seem to keep their toes from tapping and their torsos from swaying.

Two girls sitting on the floor were bopping to the music while their fingers plugged their ears.

Toward the end of the hourlong show, Garay walked around the room, pointed at pupils and teachers and directed them to the front of the stage. He gave kids maracas, bongos and other instruments to play, and he put teachers to work playing drums.

Brionna Cosby, 10, and Keysha Bright, 10, played maracas. Nicholas Collins, 8, a third-grader, played bongos. "It made my hands hurt a little bit," he said.

Noah Josephson, 7, also in third grade, played maracas. "I like hearing the music," he said.

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