This summer we delivered African drumming workshops for schools in Lincolnshire, South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire, Greater Manchester, Derbyshire, Lancashire and Staffordshire. We were out on the road almost everyday and while some great experiences were shared with the staff and children from each school, there were some golden episodes that really stood out. One example was when we delivered a whole afternoon of African drumming for the Y4 class at Coit Primary School in Sheffield. Here is Steve Rivers' account of the workshop:
As I had already had a really successful session with this class previously, I decided to offer them a more challenging rhythm to learn. It was an African drum break routine from a new hybrid Guinean rhythm called Ziku. This drum break requires a group to be able to hear a signal from the soloist (myself) and then rapidly switch from a groove into a 'call and responce' routine. Needless to say the class had to learn the drum break very slowly at first. Most of the class were making good progress. However the real challenge was making sure everyone was able to respond correctly and in time, in order for the drum break to make any audible sense. This can be extremely challenging with any group, so it was hardly a surprise when some of the class began to struggle.
Three quarters of the way in to the drumming session and it felt like we had 'hit the wall'! We practised the routine again and again and it felt like we were going nowhere. I considered my original plan at the start of the session - what was I thinking of! Some of the class seemed as if they were getting a little tired and frustrated, so I decided to present everyone with the following options- would they like to persevere; skip it for now and go back to it later; or would they like to 'scrap it' and try something else? I fully expected them to say 'scrap it', and so was surprised when they unanimously said they wanted to persevere. I warned them that if we did continue we might not manage to completely grasp the break by the end of the session (we only had 15 minutes left and had already spent an hour working on it). They said they were not concerned about this and they wanted to 'carry on regardless'. By the end of the session, the class still hadn't completlely achieved the original sound, but they certainly had become more unified and determined as a team, which you could definately hear in their playing. Their sense of team spirit and determination was incredibly powerful.
For me this session was a huge learning curve. All too often teachers in our profession can become focused on the end result of a workshop - afterall everyone wants to have a sense of achievement at the end of a lesson. I have become very used to children giving up and being discouraged when confronting something that is challenging and this can often influence the music material I decide to teach. However, after working with this class, I realise that you cannot assume anything - these children were totally committed to the sense of practise and the process of repeating something until you get it right. Drumming workshops in schools are about giving children a sense of achievement and making sure they are having fun - when you have thse components the memorable experience stays with them for the rest of their lives. you have to be careful about offering challenging material because you must ensure that the chidlren have a pleasuable experience. However, as this story clearly demonstrates, children's sense of achievement does not always mean having something perfected by the end of the session. If a class are sompletely sold on the idea of achieving something which they know is challenging they can often gain a huge sense of satisfaction just through the process of perseverance alone! This class are an inspiration to us all!
Is your school planning a topic on Africa to coincide with Black History month? If so, an African drumming workshop can provide your pupils with an amazing educational experience they will never forget!