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Lessons drummed into Falls pupils 'Rhythmic Landscapes' percussion program opens up youngsters to different cultures

NIGARA FALLS -- Keneddi Eddings, Daleen Hernandez, Mariah Casilio and Connor Gilmore are 10-year-olds who can locate Guinea, Mexico, Brazil and Japan on a map.

And it has nothing to do with the 60th Street Elementary School fifth-graders studying subjects like geography, social studies or history.

That information came in the form of an art program called "Rhythmic Landscapes" the pupils experienced last month.

The program -- taught by artist Deb Jascinski -- introduced them to percussion instruments and percussion music that were developed along in different cultures and different countries. The teachers provided the youngsters with background about each country, and why things were developed the way they were.

It's one of many programs being run in city schools by Western New York Arts In Education Inc., a group that specializes in using the arts to enhance learning in core subject areas like English Language Arts and social studies. During the past five years, Arts in Education has been contracted by the school district to work with students to help them to realize learning is fun. Students have been exposed to music, dance, theater, architecture and the visual arts, said Margaret Kaiser, the group's executive director.

"The programs motivate them to learn because it engages them with hands-on activities that draw them into learning. They get to understand what they are seeing and get a broader view of the world around them and their place in it," Kaiser said. Consequently, she said, it also helps improve each pupil's academic performance.

Several city schools participated in the percussion program, including five classes at 60th Street School. The program culminated in a concert in Niagara Falls High School's Performing Arts Center. The concert featured three professional percussionists -- Ringo Brill, Bagriel Gutierrez and Tiffany Nicely -- who performed compositions from Guinea, Mexico, Brazil and Japan.

"Rhythmic Landscapes" appears to have had a positive impact.

After a final class held by Jascinski, 10-year-old Daleen said, "I liked it because you got to use the instruments and express yourself in class. And we got to learn about a lot of new places. I think my favorite music was from Mexico. I haven't heard a lot of Mexican music before, and I thought some of it was pretty cool."

Keneddi said, "I liked it because we got to learn a lot about different drums I never heard of before, like the doundouns from Guinea in West Africa," a location she can point out on a map.

"We got to play and hear different kinds of music and got to go to a concert," Mariah said. "One instrument I really liked was the balafon," a type of wooden xylophone with gourd resonators that has been played in West Africa for more than 5,000 years.

Connor, who plays trumpet in his school band, said, "I liked the kind of songs we got to do and the different instruments we got to play. I figured out how to stay with a beat" by playing drums from different countries.

During one class, the pupils each took a percussion instrument and played it to represent a character in an African story that Jascinski had read to them. For example, the lion was represented by a deep drum beat.

Jascinski said the program has a good impact.

"We immerse them in a work of art," she said. "In this case, it was the concert they attended. But it wasn't just something they went to see. It was something they experienced. We prepared them for it in the classroom by immersing them in the style of the music they'd be hearing. They got to use all the instruments. They learned what countries the music and instruments came from, why those countries use them and the history of how they evolved, and all the different type of rhythmic patterns that exist in different cultures."

Manning Fogan, the 60th Street School principal, said the program helps students on multiple levels.

"It exposes them to cultures and experiences outside their communities, things they might not otherwise encounter," Fogan said. "That's because kids just tend only to know their own neighborhoods. This offers them a different perspective and opens them up to other ideas so they get a broader world view. They need to have that because it has become obvious we all need to know as much about what goes on in different countries today than ever before."

Most importantly, Fogan said the Arts in Education programs "tie in to what we are doing in school. That's important because we have a lot to cover and there's not much time to do that. So when you can have a teaching artist come in and talk about music from different countries . . . and discuss those countries, it ties into music, geography, culture, social studies and a lot of other things they need to know for their more traditional classes.

"That makes it invaluable for kids because it supports what they are doing in their other subjects. They even have to write reponses to what they've seen and experienced at a performance, so it supports our writing program. They learn new vocabulary and terms they would not normally be exposed to. They get to know the globe.

"Countries are no longer just strange foreign names," Fogan said. "Now it's a place on a map and they know where it is. And by being involved in a hands-on experience, it makes learning fun. That's what's good about it."

e-mail: pwestmoore@buffnews.com

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