LB School drumming

Students in Tammy McMullen’s Long Beach Elementary School music class demonstrate their rhythmic abilities with various drums.

One of the true gems in our community of gems is certainly the Water Music Festival (and related concerts) and its supporting organization the Water Music Society (WMS). Who can forget Alpin Hong’s stunning piano performance last year? (I’m so sorry if you missed it.) Or the many oysters consumed in years of Jazz and Oysters? Or the marvelous variety of gardens featured in the Music in the Gardens? I think no one.

However, there may be an equally noteworthy, though more hidden, feature of the Water Music Society that few experience, and that is a robust and long-standing adjunct of WMS: its support for music in the schools.

Before school let out I had the opportunity to experience the result of WMS’s work first-hand when I pulled up to the curb and was welcomed in to the Long Beach Elementary School by substitute teacher Linda Stark. (No one can just waltz into any school anywhere anymore — think “thoughts and prayers.”)

Flashback in time

Notwithstanding the new and improved entry requirements, I fell into a total flashback in time as I entered the main office. I sat down with Linda, who also helps with administrative duties, to get an orientation on which classrooms I would be visiting. One little munchkin, well known to the eminently competent and caring school office staff, had just come in to tell someone about an argument which was obviously upsetting to him. The staff advice was perfect, “Don’t worry about it too much. I’ll bet your best friend, Timmie [let’s say], will apologize to you later today.”

As Linda walked me to my first class, there was another little guy lying under a table in the hall, sort of rolling around on the floor. Linda knew him well and said, “Johnnie [let’s say], I’ll be right back after I take our visitor to class and we can talk a little.”

The kids also have a chill room called “Mission Control” where they can go if they want a low-stimulation place to just be quiet, where the lights are low and there is a comfy place to rest.

I well remember the chaos in the hallways of my elementary school between classes when everyone was dashing to the library or finding friends to hang out with during recess. Here, students line up, albeit with wiggling that never stops, and are accompanied by a teacher or helper as they move from room to room.

Boomwhackers, Tubanos and ukes

But what does all this kinder-cuteness have to do with the Water Music Society? At some point in the evolution of this great organization, someone realized that sparking an interest in music must or should start early. (I began playing the flute in fourth grade at Nob Hill Elementary School; and our family of four performed as a barbershop quartet on stage when Starla and I were still pipsqueaks.)

So, in 2013, WMS added, as part of its mission, becoming a fund-raising agent to support music in the schools. “A portion of the proceeds from all WMS events are given to the local schools to enrich the musical environment for young people and further their opportunities for educational workshops and conferences.” Every year, WMS folks solicit ideas from our local music educators about what would help them in their goal of bringing music to our kids.

Ocean Park Elementary teacher Brian Vessey requested a set of four steel drums and music books “to introduce students to music from other cultures.” Karen Nelson, of Naselle-Grays River Valley Schools, wanted ukuleles and received a 20-uke Makala package from West Music. Rachel Lake of Ilwaco High School, wrote to WMS, “I am bringing my high school jazz band to Reno this spring. It’s a wonderful opportunity to perform at a first rate festival — 20 students are traveling to this event. The trip costs $10,000 and we have raised $7,000 (!) of the amount. We are asking for $2,000-3,000 for this trip.”

Tammy McMullen, third grade teacher at Long Beach Elementary, requested eight 10”x22” Kid’s Tubano drums and Boomwhackers. A Boomwhacker is a plastic color-coded tube tuned to a particular pitch by length. (They were first produced by Craig Ramsell in 1995 and his Whacky Music has sold more than four million units.) Both of these instruments are perfect for elementary school kids—they’re colorful, easy to use, and adaptable. Tubano drums assist in teaching the students how to read a rhythmic pattern; and Boomwhackers add the feature of pitch. In both cases, the instructor has an accompanying set of music charts that can be projected onto a screen so the whole class can see the music at one time. (I’m quite sure individual music stands and music would be a disaster in a third grade classroom!)

Hilltop Middle School instructor Brian Berger asked for funds for new music for the band and choir programs “to update our music library and expand it because better/newer music is motivational for our students.”

Personal encounters

In addition, remember that when the Water Music Festival takes place, one or two of those world-class musicians also give workshops in the schools. I witnessed last year’s assembly at Hilltop with Alpin Hong; he was brilliant at catching the attention of an auditorium full of twitchy, giggling students and engaging them in a presentation on different types of music. After his demonstration and lecture with the piano, the kids swarmed him and barely let him go for his next presentation on the other side of the bay.

It was Tammy’s Long Beach class I visited, and it was sheer hilarity and joy. Tammy handled the class like a kind kitten-herder, and I experienced four or fives songs with both the new Tubano drums and the Boomwhackers. I gave a mini lecture on the “ukulele” — “jumping flea” in Hawaiian—and everybody had a great time.

The gift of music

Aforementioned Linda is also Water Music Society Board and membership chair. As she says, “The feedback we get from the teachers is that our financial support really gives a good boost to their music programs. All music teachers are so excited and the reasons for their requests are well thought out.” Linda had just a couple weeks before my visit notified the teachers that all their requests had been approved at the WMS March meeting. As Linda continued, “This is a great way to start off WMS’s 35th year!”

The Water Music Festival and Society has been providing the Peninsula with entertainment of the highest quality since 1984. If all you do is buy tickets for any or all of the various amazing events — Music in the Gardens, July 13 ($20, or add the ever-more-popular Trolley Transport for an additional $25); Jazz and Oysters ($25), August 13th; for the Water Music Festival, Oct. 11, 12 and 13 (performances are individually priced); and the Christmas Concert, Dec. 8 — you won’t be sorry.

But if you’d like to volunteer to help, or better yet, give a little extra for the schools, you can do that here: Or purchase an individual membership $20, or a couple membership, $35.

Let the sound of music continue to ring out strongly on our Peninsula.

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