Students March to Beat of Different Drum

Written by Patricia Villers, Published by New Haven Register, October 21, 2002 .
Reprinted with permission.

ANSONIA A classroom at the Howard F. Tinney Community Center came alive with Afro-Caribbean drum music recently as 10 Ansonia youths followed Gerard Hector's instructions on how to play Djembe drums.

The students, who are in the fifth through eighth grades, sat in a circle and slowly got the hang of it.

Hector and Neal Joseph, natives of Trinidad , are members of Ajali, a folk group. The musicians have been artists in residence at the Ethel Walker School in Simsbury since September 2000.

Hector and Joseph have been building and playing drums for many years. In Trinidad they both performed with Cocorite Ujamaa, a Calypso folk group, and The Emancipation Cultural Performers.

"No rings on please, that can break the skin," Hector warned as they formed their drumming circle.

"Sing the melody in your mind," he urged. "Say it to play it."

Last week's session was the first in a 12-week program called "Drums Not Drugs" sponsored by the Valley Substance Abuse Action Council. It is funded with a $10,000 grant from the Katharine Matthies Foundation.

The initiative promotes cultural diversity, self-expression, leadership, self-esteem and group worth.

Eighth-grader Julia Almestica, 13, is a native of St. Croix .

"This is nice because we learn different music and different culture," she said. "We learn how other cultures express themselves."

Julia said she previously tried beating the drum when the musicians gave a demonstration at the center two weeks ago.

"We learned to hit both sides to count out beats (and) we learned to hit different places to get different sounds," she said.

Before they played, the youngsters had to pass a manual dexterity test of sorts. They wrapped bands of red fabric on two metal rings that circle the drum shells carved out of wood from the Ivory Coast in Africa .

The next step was to cover the fabric by knotting black cord in a pattern.

"We do the bottom (ring) first, then the top," Joseph told sixth-grader Kenyon Beene, 12. "We need to have the same number of notches on the top and the bottom."

Kenyon patiently pulled the cord over and through, under and through and spaced the knots apart to form a pattern of braiding.

Drums Not Drugs is an interactive program designed to give students a positive after-school outlet.

"We've just received another grant for a second (similar) program in the spring," said Pamela Mautte, VSAAC director. Funding comes from the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, she said, and will give 10 other children the opportunity to learn drumming skills.

Drums Not Drugs Program Articles

Feb. 13, 2003 Youths drum to a different beat since taking program New Haven Register
Jan. 17, 2003 ‘Drums Not Drugs’ rekindles King’s dream
New Haven Register

Jan. 6, 2003 Grade school drummers chosen for poster kids
New Haven Register

Nov 05, 2002 Valley group gets 2 grants to curb substance abuse
New Haven Register

Oct 21, 2002 Students march to beat of different drum
New Haven Register

Oct 14, 2002 Drumming away boredom
New Haven Register

Drums Not Drugs Receives Accolades for their Performance
Drums Not Drugs Performs at Regatta 200
Drums Not Drugs celebrates at Long Lane in Middletown, CT