Katie Munro’s music classes at Balboa Elementary in north Spokane have a cadence set by African drums thanks to a $2,000 Making Music Matter grant from the Washington Music Education Association.
Munro has been collecting the drums, called tubanos, since she began teaching at the school three years ago. “We started with one,” she said.
She’s gotten other grants, and the school’s Parent Teacher Group bought five last year. Now she has enough of the bright leaf patterned drums that all her students can play.
On a recent snowy morning, her sixth-grade music students knelt down before rows of drums of different sizes, their hands poised in the air. The different sizes create different tones. The 14-inch drums are bass, the 12-inch drums are altos and the 10-inch drums are sopranos.
On Munro’s signal, their hands began beating in a growing rhythm. “Low, high, low. Low, high low. Do you feel it?” she said.
Each group of students beat their hands on the top of the drums in a different rhythm, melding the sounds into an upbeat, toe-tapping song that filled the room.
Christian Walters plays an alto drum and said it wasn’t too hard to learn to play. “I like them,” he said. “I like how they sound. The feel is just really good.”
Hunter Shay produces deep tones on his bass drum.
“I think it’s fun to play them because I like the noise it makes,” he said. “Once you get the hang of it, it’s really easy.”
Munro said her love for African music comes from an experience she had while earning a master’s degree at Washington State University. The music teacher she was working with held a world music class for her students.
“It was the coolest thing I had ever seen,” she said. “The kids were in it. They were dancing, they were singing. It’s been this real fire within me to teach kids about this other culture.”
Munro teaches her students about musical notes, but that’s not all students need to learn to make music, she said. “There is so much about music that has to do with feeling, and I can’t think of a better way to do that than African drumming,” she said.
She’s been on the lookout for additional funding for more drums and heard about the WMEA grant, which is partially funded by people who purchase specialty music license plates in Washington. “It was pretty long process,” she said.
Tobano drums aren’t the only things she bought with the grant. She also bought glockenspiels, maracas and cabasas.
“What we didn’t spend on drums we spent on other African-related items,” she said. “We did get quite a few things.”
Munro teaches music to grades K-4 and also to fifth- and sixth-graders not enrolled in band and strings. The instruments she purchased are appropriate for all ages, as are all her instruments. The students love the drums and xylophones in particular.
“They love coming to music because we do so many instruments,” she said. “It always changes.”
Some of her students recently played the tobano drums at a recent school assembly. The drums and other instruments will also be on display during the school’s annual Spring Fling concert, which is designed to show off everything the students have learned that year.
“It’s quite the culmination,” Munro said.
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