Mechanicville Elementary School students are learning to march to the beat of their own drums, literally, with some help and enthusiasm from the school’s music and art departments.
Fourth- and fifth-grade students were given the opportunity to perform jazz music and Afro-Cuban drumming on 5-gallon buckets as part of the first Mechanicville Elementary School Jazz Bucket Drum Festival on Friday at the high school football field.
“This was a lot of work,” said Joel Yannuzzi, the band director. “We had our ups and downs, but the kids enjoyed themselves a lot.”
Yannuzzi, with fellow musicians Jo Sallins and I-Shea, not only helped the students learn the instruments, but also performed with them.
“Mr. Yannuzzi is the best teacher on the planet!” boasted student Kendell Shuman.
According to fifth-grader Autumn Walton, the experience was “hard” because students “had to go outside when it was hot to practice,” but despite the difficulties, she was thrilled to take part in the program.
“It went great,” Walton said. “I had two parts, an instrument and drums.”
The fifth-grade students performed as a jazz band playing trumpets, trombones, saxophones, clarinets and flutes for the choreographed show.
The jazz influence of the music was also displayed in the students’ apparel. Mardi gras beads, masquerade masks, jester hats and the colors purple, green and yellow could be seen from the sidelines.
“I feel like I’m at Syracuse watching a halftime show!” one parent yelled from the behind the chain-link fence.
Yannuzzi set in motion this elaborate plan last summer, gathering buckets from Price Chopper supermarkets.
“I went to Price Chopper and I asked ‘Can you wash them out and give them to me?’ ” Yannuzzi said. “It sounds a little crazy.”
The buckets were then decorated with various colors of duct tape, and each student’s personality stood out in the design choices.
“It was a labor of love,” said Jennifer Seymour, the school’s art teacher, who helped students decorate the drums. “We’ve been working on them for a few months. They are based off of African kente cloth, but the colors that they chose for their buckets all have special meanings behind them.”
Most students used overlapping squares of duct tape on their drums to imitate the kente cloth, but a few strayed from the African influence.
One bucket featured the word “waffle” while another had a basketball theme. “He came home saying he put flames on it,” said one student’s mother, Tracie Cantrell.
The children have been preparing for the festival since January and parents were excited to finally see the finished product.
“I know they’ve been practicing for a few months and they’re going to be doing a couple different formations,” said Chrissie Morrison, the parent of a fourth-grade student. “He’s really excited about it. He can’t wait to join band next year.”
Kim Henes, fifth-grade teacher, participated in an unexpected drum battle with Sallins during the performance. Henes’ had no prior drum training. “They just said, ‘You’re going to play,’ ” she said.
Sallins, a musician and educator, traveled from Massachusetts to Mechanicville every day this past week, a four-hour round trip, to help prepare the kids for their performance.
“This last month has been really intense,” said Sue Moose, the arts and education coordinator. “The kids have been practicing like crazy. At first I don’t think they got what they were doing, but then when Jo came and they started to see what they were doing, why am I standing here marching like this? And marching like that? Then when they saw the whole thing, it clicked.”