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Teaching The Rhythms Of Life
Story and photos by Robert F. Smith, Editor

Tuesday, May 05, 2009 9:14 AM


Last week, music students at Flood Brook Union School in Londonderry enjoyed a week that will likely change the lives of many of them. Why? Because in one week the school s third and seventh grade music students became performing musicians.

That happened when one of the world s leading percussionists, Tony Vacca " who has performed with Sting, Senegalese Afro-pop star Baaba Maal and jazz trumpeter and World Music legend Don Cherry " spent a week s residency at Flood Brook. Athletic and fit and looking and moving far younger than his 58 years might indicate, Vacca is a musical force to be reckoned with and a living testament to what he teaches about the transforming power of his music. In the classroom he is an inspiring and demanding teacher, and the students loved him. I m a representitive of awe, he says in regard to the power of percussion. I am an agent of awe.

A classroom experience with Vacca is an astounding event that proves exactly what he is saying. Imagine a music room with 16 third graders, a couple of teachers, Vacca and a few dozen percussion instruments - rattles, bells, bass drums, djembe drums, congas and more. Even after only a day or two of instruction, the results are amazing. The students are separated into three or four groups, each group has instruments and each group of instruments is given a particular rhythm to play.

With Vacca directing the class using his own set of percussion instruments, his hands, body language and a two-toned whistle, 16 kids pounding and banging on stuff - which should just be every teacher s nightmare - suddenly is transformed into a percussion orchestra, and the result can be so exciting it can raise the hair on the back of your neck.

"For Flood Brook to have a world class musician like Tony Vacca here is really special," said music teacher Mike Turk. "It s great for him to meet the kids and work with them."

And it s not just music that Vacca is teaching. Along with it is history, culture, mathematics, respect, discipline and life lessons, all taught with humor and wisdom.

"I m trying to use focus," Vacca said after the class, "to get them on the edge, to get them to push it."

Vacca is as much poet as he is musician, and he sees percussion as literally a physically, emotionally and spiritually transforming force. "We are rhythmic creatures living on a rhythmic planet in a rhythmic universe," Vacca writes in a handout he gives his students. "From my point of view, music is the human organization of sound into a story-like format that speaks to us. It s part magic, part science and part cosmology.

This sound is a force that embraces us, soothes us, excites us, transports us and connects us. No human being, nor any human civilization, has ever been without music. I m not even sure we can say we created music. It s more like we are created from and by the same forces that are what music is."

The music students at Flood Brook who worked with Vacca felt that transforming power of music up close and personal, as did anyone who heard the classes or enjoyed the student performance with Vacca at the end of the week.

It is not an experience that will be forgotten, either by those who heard the concert, or those who performed it.



 
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