Learning about other cultures through the steel drum

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By Lindsay McLaughlin, Alternative Therapies Coordinator, The Pathways Schools

The Pathways Schools held its third annual Student Art Show on April 30. The event is a showcase for student creativity and artistic expression and is an opportunity to recognize standout partners, such as family members, Pathways staff and board members, businesses and agencies who employ or provide internships for our students, teaching artists who carry out residencies at our schools, and many others. This year’s Community Partner of the Year was Young Audiences teaching artist and musician Kevin Martin of Rockcreek Steel Drums for his dedication to bringing steel drum music and the vitality of Caribbean culture and history to our students.

During his residencies with students, Kevin teaches the basics of the steel drum, melody, rhythm, and so much more. Our students learned about another culture and saw a different way of seeing the world and themselves. Kevin has an ability to connect with students through music. That ability, along with his patience and consistent encouraging attitude, has made Kevin a sought-after teaching artist here at Pathways.

A couple years ago, our Pathways teachers and therapists were looking for ways to bring music into our schools so I asked Young Audiences staff to recommend a musician who could connect with our students. Thus Kevin came to us. He has completed no fewer than five residencies at Pathways in four of our six schools during the past two years. Next year, he is scheduled for a residency at a fifth school.

We are very grateful for Kevin, his commitment and talent, and also for organizations like Young Audiences that advocate for and make it possible for artists to come into our schools, work with our teachers and staff, and enhance the education and indeed the lives of our students and staff.

There’s a bigger picture here as well. As Pathways educators, we know that the best learning often doesn’t take place behind a desk. Our students thrive in a variety of learning environments, including museums and libraries, to job sites, such as ships sailing the Potomac tributaries and production studios at local television stations. Similarly, they learn best using a variety of means, like while playing a steel drum or molding a mosaic tile. This is because as human beings we need many avenues to take in the world and to release the prodigious power of our imaginations. This is what art does for us. It is an accessible way for us to connect our minds to the world that surrounds us. It gives us a way to communicate who we are–our ideas, thoughts, new understandings, and what we perceive

This is why it is critically important that we keep the arts vibrant in our schools for our students. How much better it is to experience the vitality of Caribbean culture through a steel drum compared to a textbook. How much better it is to feel the edges of a mosaic piece and use it to create an image with personal significance than look at a geometry chart or the dictionary entry for “symbol.” Art is how information becomes tangible and how knowledge becomes understanding. This is the sort of transformation that artists who come to work with our students facilitate every day. In turn, they are supported by dedicated arts educators and advocates who ensure that they are able to do what they do, particularly local and state arts councils and nonprofit organizations like Young Audiences.

Art–human expression in all its forms–should never be on the margins, whether we are talking about our communities or our schools. Thanks to the efforts of artists like Kevin and organizations like Young Audiences, it isn’t. Congratulations to the Pathways Community Partner of the Year Kevin Martin.

Learn more about Kevin and his program offering for schools.

Steel drum residency shares the power of music with school community

By Jennifer Brumbalow, Imagine Discovery Public Charter School music teacher

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In my experience as the music teacher at Imagine Discovery Public Charter School, a Young Audiences artist-in-residence program is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for teachers, the school community, and students. The in-depth program, which includes a series of sessions with a Young Audiences professional teaching artist, benefits students in ways you cannot imagine, including building self-esteem, developing critical thinking skills, and instilling a love for new cultures and art forms. It makes your school’s existing music or arts program stronger as your students take ownership of their own education.

Imagine Discovery was awarded a Maryland State Arts Council (MSAC) Arts in Education Artist-in-Residence grant thanks to the grant writing assistance and expertise provided by Young Audiences in November 2012. The grant helped us fund a steel drum residency with Young Audiences artist and steel drum musician Kevin Martin. To kick off the program, Kevin performed an inspiring assembly to teach all students about Calypso music.

Our goals for this residency were to educate students about a new culture and expose them to a new type of instrument not traditionally used in our school. We hoped students would develop an awareness and appreciation for the steel drum and a desire to play and listen to Calypso music.To prepare for Kevin’s residency, our students studied the history and evolution of the steel drum since its invention in Trinidad.

During the course of several weeks, third-grade students worked with myself and Kevin during five sessions. Kevin helped students learn to play six Calypso songs on the steel drum. Kevin also taught students about the various types of steel drums—which he makes himself—as well as other indigenous instruments of Trinidad. Kevin covered the history of Calypso music which traces back to the traditional “talking drums” of Africa.

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Some of the most rewarding and exciting skills that the students gained during this residency were how to improvise to music and take pride in their work as they practiced—which took both hard work and patience. Pairs of students were assigned to each drum and learned to collaborate to prepare for the culminating performance of the residency.

As a conclusion to the residency, the third-grade students performed during a school assembly in November. Parents, staff, community members, and students were invited to attend this special performance. Some students overcame their stage fright and performance anxiety to experience the value of sharing a new-found skill with their parents, classmates, and community. It was amazing to see the deep personal connection that some of our students had to the music since they have parents or family members who are from, or live in, the Caribbean. This gave them a sense of pride in having their heritage represented in a positive and meaningful way.

As an arts teacher and the primary music teacher at Imagine Discovery, I feel that our parents and community showed an outpouring of support for the arts and this residency because of music’s power to touch each person’s life in a profound and personal way. Music and the arts can transcend all social, economic, and cultural barriers individuals may face.

A heartfelt thanks to the amazing third-grade teachers at Imagine Discovery who showed support and enthusiasm by encouraging their students during each step of the residency. They participated in all sessions and activities and provided critical help and feedback to myself and Kevin during classroom instruction. The continued support of the Imagine Discovery administrative team made this residency a greater success for teachers and students. Thank you to Imagine Discovery’s PTA who matched funds with our Maryland State Arts Council grant to make sure this educational privilege could come to our school. Our students would not have been able to participate without the generous financial support of our PTA and its members.

Young Audiences can help your school apply for a MSAC grant to bring a program just like this to your school. Learn more about our grant funding opportunities here.