Students learn the beat of a different drummer |

Students learn the beat of a different drummer

Eben Harrell
Aspen Times Staff Writer

It started as most family events do: 7-year-olds playing tag through the aisle, children squabbling over seats, a paper airplane launched from the back row.

Then the performance began, and, remarkably, the audience fell silent. If there’s one thing that can silence an unruly group of students, it’s four professional percussionists banging their hearts out on the drums.

Friday night’s concert in Harris Hall marked the first of four free family concerts put on by the Aspen Music Festival. The concert was the culmination of a residency by Percussion Discussion, a drumming group run by Loveland-based percussionist Michael Sherpa.

The group has spent the past two weeks touring valley schools as part of M.O.R.E., the music festival’s educational outreach program.

This year, Percussion Discussion stopped in every town in the valley and taught classes in 12 out of a possible 21 schools from Aspen to Glenwood Springs. At each school, they introduced students to Taiko drumming, an aggressive, dynamic form of drumming found in the Far East.

The first number was a Taiko piece, and it was clear the audience was well schooled in the form. Children stood up and mimicked drumming along, at times getting carried away and smacking an occupied chair in front of them.

This spirit continued throughout the concert. The stage was filled with instruments from six countries, including makeshift drums of upside-down trash cans and cleaning buckets. The group performed some set pieces, but a majority of the performance was dedicated to rhythmic improvisation. The message, it was clear, was that rhythm can be found anywhere, at any time, even in the most unexpected of places.

Children, of course, know this already. And considering that most parents spend the majority of their time trying to get their children to stop banging on things, the parents in attendance were in good spirits, often dancing along with their excited children.

In the finale, the group invited students who participated in the residency onstage to participate in a last piece. It went quite well, only occasionally bordering on cacophony, and it was obvious the kids had retained a basic understanding of rhythm and percussion.

Deborah Barnokow, director of the festival’s educational outreach program, said the concert was an important fusion between learning and music making.

“This is what the educational residencies are all about,” she said. “Rhythm is the building blocks of learning, not just for music, but many academic subjects as well. It can really help to enhance learning and memory retention, as well as being a lot of fun. I think this concert showed that.”

Eben Harrell’s e-mail address is

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