Grant funds multi-cultural enrichment music program

Djembe drummer Dennis Pryor teaches a third-grade class at Ordway Elementary School Friday as part of a multi-cultural enrichment program in music. - Connie Mears / Bainbridge Island Review
Djembe drummer Dennis Pryor teaches a third-grade class at Ordway Elementary School Friday as part of a multi-cultural enrichment program in music.
— image credit: Connie Mears / Bainbridge Island Review

A gaggle of third-graders passed the threshold into the colorful music room at Ordway Elementary School on Friday, March 23. The chairs were set in a circle instead of the usual row formation of other classrooms. A drum waited beside each chair.

"When you look at their faces, you can see how proud they are to be sitting behind a drum," said Ordway music teacher Kathleen Ramsey.

The braver children touch the drum instantly. Others would need a little coaxing and encouragement to embrace the drum and the power it evokes.

"Even if they've never played a drum, when they hear it, they remember the beat — that first beat — in their mother's womb, their mother's heart beat," said Dennis Pryor, who was invited to teach drumming to six classes at Ordway that day.

Starting from that place of common ground — ba bum, ba bum, ba bum — Pryor introduces single beats, then works up to polyrhythms of overlapping syncopation.

"Like in life, sometimes we don't get to the harmony as quickly as we want," Pryor said.

The class , however, is not about performance or perfection. It's about participation.

"Music is a healer," Ramsey said. "Kids are under a lot of pressure, being tested, tested, tested. You can see the anxiety."

The drumming relieves some of that, Pryor said. "Drumming puts them in a state of entrainment, where the body systems balance out, calm down and find harmony. Pounding is a stress reducer."

The class was funded by a grant from the Bainbridge Schools Foundation and the Parent Teacher Organization, as "Multicultural Enrichment," a part of Ordway's music program.

Three other musicians have shared their talents and passion with the students this year. Chilean artist Felipe Cañete shares Latin-based folk songs in "Sing with Señor." Lummi and S’Kallam singer Chenoa Egawa and Navajo and Cheyenne drummer Alex Turtle shared a variety of songs from North American tribes.

Many of the drums used by the students this week were on loan from the Commodore School. Pryor also brought a selection of African djembe drums.

All children, from kindergarten through fourth grade, have participated in one of the classes.

The classes expose students to music of other cultures. While American music focuses on performance and often competition — think recitals and American-Idols — music in other cultures are rooted in the history of place and provide a way to be included in community, Ramsey said.

The experience also helps the child in other ways, Pryor said.

"When we don't get in the way of the process, somehow a change happens within the child, something larger than ourselves. It builds confidence," said Pryor, who also leads an adult drumming circle at the Grange on Sunday afternoons.

"Listening — that's a huge lesson," Ramsey said. "It gives a richer experience. We're talking about real life here. Real life. Look at the words on the banners on the wall: listening, celebrating, dancing, singing."

"Through the music, in my observation, they become more rounded persons, with no sharp edges. You can't hear the beat without starting to tap your toes, clap your hands, or to start singing."

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