Drumming up the Fun

What do plastic bags, empty tubes, and crumpled up newspapers have in common?  (Hint: the answer isn’t garbage.)  Give up?  They can all be used as percussion instruments.

On Wednesday, January 23, students at Center School in Mattapoisett were treated to a special assembly by members of the New England Percussion Ensemble, who strive to educate young children on the history and role of percussion instruments from around the world.

“It’s not just a demonstration of percussion.  There is a strong threat that runs throughout the whole show focusing on human communication,” said the group’s founder, Bob Otto.

Otto has been a percussionist his whole life.  His passion for drums led him into a career in musical education and performance for almost 20 years until he decided on a change.

 “I wanted to explore the performance end of education,” he said.

For the last 22 years, Otto has been a central figure in the formation and success of the NEPC, which has a branch that serves Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and another in Connecticut and eastern New York state.

Otto was joined by two colleagues, Ed Sorrentino and Abe Finch, both of who have extensive backgrounds in the study and teaching of percussion technique.  The trio led the students on a journey through history and explained where different types of percussion instruments originated and how they are used in music of all sorts.

 Among some of the instruments they demonstrated were the marimba, vibraphone, African talking drums, claves, trap set, and wood blocks.

“In my mind, learning and fun go hand-in-hand,” said Otto, who has performed thousands of concerts like these over his years with the NEPC, usually for elementary and middle school audiences.

“They love it.  They go walking out of here with their feet off the ground,” he said.

The program was brought to Center School by the PTA as a way to expand students’ understanding of the elements of music.

 “We try to bring in different kinds of music,” said PTA arts and humanities chair Deborah Nettles.  “There is such a wide variety of percussion instruments.  It’s a really great learning experience.”

Center School students are ideal for this sort of presentation because many of the children will soon be picking up musical instruments of their own, Nettles said.

Judging by the hand-clapping and dancing that erupted from the crowd of hundreds of young students, it’s safe to say some of them may have found their future forte.

“This is very interesting.  It keeps the kids excited,” said Nettles.

By Eric Tripoli

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