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Drum up fun from around the globe

The Baltimore Sun

Students crowd around music teacher Nellie Hill and hold out their hands, telling her that their fingers still are vibrating after spending 45 minutes pounding on drums.

That's one of the sensations students experience as part of Lime Kiln Middle School's World Music Drumming group.

"I feel more like I'm playing when I'm using my hands, not sticks," said eighth-grader Paul Del Riego, who is participating in the group for the first time. "I feel like I'm more in the music. The sound that it makes is just really cool."

"You just put the life of your hands and put them in the drum to make an excellent sound," added 13-year-old Sam Kobren, who is in his second year with the group.

Hill, vocal music director at the Fulton school, is a World Music Drumming instructor and a drum circle facilitator. She was instrumental in bringing World Music Drumming into Howard County schools.

This year, the program, which teaches listening skills and teamwork and heightens students' cultural awareness, became a required component of the county's middle school music curriculum.

"The World Music Drumming curriculum is the core for everything I teach," Hill said. "If the kids can do rhythm, listen to each other -- which is kind of crucial -- if they can follow a part or create their own part, then they're set up for everything else" in music.

This year, 34 Lime Kiln students opted to participate in the World Music Drumming group during their enrichment period. Hill also teaches the program in her general music classes, devoting the first three weeks of each quarter to drumming.

She said that the curriculum is a good fit for middle-schoolers. "It allows them to move and express themselves, which they need a lot of in middle school. It's creative. It's something different, and it's opening another world, not just to the cultures but to listening, to dance."

Drumming also gives middle-schoolers a positive way to manage the stress of their school day.

"Instead of your brain running 400 miles an hour on what you're worrying about, the No. 1 thing you're thinking about is your hands and the sounds coming out of your drum," Hill said. "Everything else gets put to the side for a while."

Hill allows students to choose a drum based on what type of sound appeals to them. "They kind of gravitated toward a drum" at the beginning of the year, she said. Hill seats students in sections, based on whether they choose a low-, medium- or high-pitched drum.

When students come in for drum group, they choose their drums and sit in a circle around the room. Hill does not have to call class to order. She simply plays a rhythm on her drum, which the students repeat.

With its focus on world music, the curriculum does more than teach percussion techniques. Hill brings in drums from all over the world, many from her collection.

"When I do World Music Drumming, I'm bringing in many, many different cultures," Hill said. Students learn about the culture of each new instrument and song that Hill shares with them.

Kevin Stanley, 14, listens to and plays rock music. The eighth-grader is in his first year of drum group but has played percussion for several years.

"Now I can do African music," he said. "It opens you up to a whole new spectrum of music."

Learning the names of the drums is like speaking another language. There is the Ghanaian kpanlogo, goblet-shaped djembe from West Africa, a type of conga drum called a quinto and others. Most are played with the hands.

Hill teaches her musicians how subtle changes in the way they strike the drum can change the sound.

She said students "pay more attention to what they're doing" when they use their hands to play drums.

"Sticks sometimes separate you from the music," she said, but in World Music Drumming, "the music is in your hands."

During class, the drummers watch each other to get their hand motions and rhythms right. Students "love the teamwork" that drumming requires, said Lime Kiln Assistant Principal Virginia Ober.

She says she likes the World Music Drumming curriculum because it engages students.

"It's a contagious thing. It makes everybody start tapping their feet, wanting to join in," Ober said. She added that when the drum group is playing, "We'll be walking down the hall, and the pace picks up."

Hill holds a community drum circle on the fourth Tuesday of each month -- 7 p.m. this Tuesday -- at Lime Kiln. It is free and open to the public.

"That's my gift back to the community for all they give to me. They give me the gift of music with their kids," Hill said.

Information: www.worldmusic drumming.com

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