Young students at the East Village Community School carefully tap their snare, tenor and base drums, watching with rapt attention as their music teacher, Terry Campbell, models a drumbeat.
Their intense concentration and eagerness to try out new songs and exercises belies the fact that the drum line, made up of 10 4th- and 5th-graders, is brand new, with only seven practices under its belt.
Last year, soon after arriving at the school and learning how supportive it is of musical endeavors, Campbell created a clarinet ensemble. This year, when the principal approached him about forming a marching band, Campbell suggested a drum line would be a better fit. He started the group, which meets weekly, in mid-October.
James Preimesberger, a 4th-grade teacher and the UFT chapter leader, believes the drum line creates an environment where students can grow and explore through music. He says it “promotes agency and exploration” as well as “structure, discipline and focus” with the “payoff really direct and easy to see.”
While Campbell, who writes all of the drum exercises, teaches his students in a controlled manner, he also makes sure to be upbeat and include humor. He encourages their excitement and applauds their progress, while keeping the lesson focused and on schedule.
Each student plays a drum of a different size, pulled from a “drum cake” at the beginning of practice. Full-size drums would be too heavy for the young musicians, Campbell explained.
Preimesberger was surprised that quieter students auditioned and says they really benefit from the program. “Something was aching to get out,” he says, and the drum line provided the opportunity.
The drum line made its debut on Nov. 21 at the Harvest Festival, leading the rest of the school in a procession to Trinity Church to donate food-drive contributions from the school community.
“The kids felt like rock stars” performing for the first time in front of the school, Campbell said, and watching them was “one of the proudest moments that I’ve had.”
He believes the drum line is important to these students because “they have ownership — they’re part of something that’s bigger than themselves.”