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Drums from a distance

Colin Haider takes deep breaths before taking a test to help him concentrate.

It's a skill he learned as an African Drum Band player.

Now a sixth-grader at Crestview Elementary School, he knew about the African Drum Band when it started at the school while he was in first grade.

"You learn what it's like to perform before an audience," he said in an interview, Feb. 21. "You also learn about the culture."

"You learn you are not the only kind of people," said Mariah Schumacher, a sixth-grader who has been in drum band since fourth grade.

"I heard about it at an open house and read a little about it," Schumacher said.

"Then I heard him play," she said, speaking of Marc Anderson, a lifelong drum musician who has taught drum music originating from Ghana and the Caribbean for 16 years.

Anderson has taught Crestview's drum band since it started and also teaches at the World Cultures Magnet School in St. Paul. The two sites share a partnership and will play together three times during this school year.

The two groups also attend college-level drum performances and perform together.

Each year more than 75 Crestview students apply for drum band but only 25 are accepted and very few kids drop out, according to Dianne Olson, African Band teacher liaison.

Drum band is performing today, Feb. 27, at Fort Snelling to help celebrate Black History Month. It will also perform at the Minnesota Department of Education Integration Conference in March.

Drum band has become so popular that there are also bands at Cottage Grove Junior High School and Park High School.

All are funded through the district's Office of Equity and Integration. Crestview's drum band also receives grants from Target Corporation, according to Olson.

"The kids are fortunate to be able to study with Marc," Olson said. "As a professional musician, he has the talent and skills. It's a tremendous opportunity for the kids. He travels all over the world and our kids benefit."

The songs they learn on drums, which were made in Ghana especially for the students, come with culture and history lessons about the countries where the music is played.

The band room fills with drum sounds for 45 minutes on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The door can't hold back the sounds from people in the front hallway.

All eyes in the circle of kids are on Anderson as he demonstrates how to play a song.

"It's really funky if you play it in time," he said, reminding them to sit up straight. "If not, it's a mess."

Some instructions about drumming are more about how to get the most out of education and find success in life.

"It's hard to focus all the time," he said. "I'm hard on you because I know you can do it. If you want respect, don't waste your time. You're doing something no one else in this school can do."

The group played the same song with fewer mistakes.

Anderson, after class, said he got involved in teaching 16 years ago because he wanted to give something back to the community.

"It's challenging and I like doing it," he said.

Kids have energy, Anderson said. When they apply it, they make choices that lead to success.

"Music is one way to do that," he said. "It trains their ears to hear."

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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