Local kids drum to
Ancient beats
Posted May 19, 2006
Lindsey Gooding
The University of La Verne’s West African Drum Ensemble, under the direction of Steve Biondo, hosted a Kids Music Club Concert in Founders Auditorium Saturday; 3-year-old Charles Hoynes enjoyed experimenting with the djembé, an African drum provided by the music department.

The West African Drum Ensemble proved that the “rhythm is going to get you” at its performance May 13, held in Founders Auditorium as a part of the music department’s Kids Music Club.

The interactive and lively performance featured 15 students drumming their hearts out on instruments known as the djembé and dunun in an attempt to recreate the sounds of the Malinké people.

“We’ve come for the last three years in a row,” said Kay Hoover, audience member and ULV alumna. “We brought four kids this year and every one of them was spellbound from watching it; it must be something about the rhythm and the live performance.”

The concert lasted almost an hour and concluded with a number that could put the grand finale of any July 4 fireworks show to shame. Nearly 30 children ran to the foot of the stage to jump up and down, dance and twirl to the beat of music that dates back to almost the 12th century.

“I was really glad to see a lot of younger kids this time; it gets them involved in music,” said Steve Biondo, music department coordinator and founder of the West African Drum Ensemble. “They really don’t get a whole lot of this in school anymore because they are taking away all of the music programs.”

Studies show that child involvement with instrumental music is an investment that lasts a lifetime. According to The National Association for Music Education Web site, an analysis of the U.S. Department of Education data found that students who participate in instrumental music during their middle school and high school years raise their proficiency levels in various subjects, particularly mathematics.

Biondo is contributing to the appreciation of music by students of all ages through teaching rhythms that originated from what was once the Mali Empire.

“I teach the students the traditional way – the way my teacher taught me. You don’t read any music; you play the part and show it to them and they repeat it,” Biondo said.

At the end of the concert the younger audience members jumped up on stage to pound the skins of the drums and learn about the history of West African drumming in the process. The Kids Music Club, which was started in 2004, is inspiring a whole new crop of future African Drum Ensemble hopefuls.

“We were trying to come up with different ways we could present music to kids, something that would allow them to have fun and learn at the same time,” Biondo said.

Yet, it wasn’t just the children who were entertained from the afternoon’s events.

“It’s really good to see the parents enjoying it too, it’s nice that everyone gets involved,” said Michael Stallings, a three year veteran of the drum ensemble.

Students in Biondo’s ensemble are not only educated on the basic techniques for drumming, but gain a cultural perspective as well. They are taught the significance, background and tradition of each of the selected pieces.

The West African Drum Ensemble will perform 8 p.m. Monday in Founders Auditorium. The concert is free to students and $5 for general admission.

Christine Collier can be reached at ccollier@ulv.edu.

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