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Do You Hear the Beat?

Kelly (Bemidji Pioneer) Originally published March 2004
Editors’ note: Schoolcraft Learning Community is a K-8 charter school in Bemidji, Minnesota. This article was reprinted with the permission of the Bemidji Pioneer newspaper.

Conga and bongo drums, vase-shaped dumbecks and top-heavy djembe drums, resonated with the pressure of student hands on Wednesday, as 17 eighth grade students at Schoolcraft Learning Community learned to drum.

A State Arts Board K12 Challenge Grant enabled Schoolcraft to host professional musician Mick LaBriola for a week-long workshop. LaBriola, originally from Chicago, where he studied at American Conservatory of Music in Chicago, has lived in Minneapolis for the past 20 years. A skilled drummer, LaBriola works with a number of groups including Ensemble Espanol, a flamenco group, based out of NEIU (Northeastern Illinois University) in Chicago; the Maroons, a Caribbean group; Karibuni, a group with musicians from central and South Africa; and Maqam, an Arabic quartet. LaBriola brought his musical influences into the classroom, teaching the students a variety of rhythms.

Of the 17 eighth graders, fewer than one third had experience playing a musical instrument.

The rest were able to pick up the rhythm by a call-and-repeat method. LaBriola would play, and the students, seated in a circle, would echo back the rhythm. Even the most rhythmically challenged of the group seemed to be picking up on the beat by Wednesday, the third day of practice. “His work here has been splendid,” said Karen Bradley, teacher, “The kids are
asking for more.” Every student had an instrument to play. Aside from drums, there were percussion instruments such as the cowbell, triangle and shaker.

The rhythms they played together incorporate influences from Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Turkey, Bulgaria, Spain and the U.S. “Drumming isn’t just about drumming, it’s about a lot of things… culture andmusic,” LaBriola said. “It has a lot ofprofound implications other than music.” LaBriola said he is interested in teaching cultural awareness through his teaching workshops. “It’s a way of sharing and breaking barriers that exist between cultures,” he said. “It’s also a way to exchange positive energy with each other. Art is a peaceful exchange between people. In order to play with people you have to have cooperation.”

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