Westbury kids find beat in bucket drumming

In an after-school program at the Westbury Middle

In an after-school program at the Westbury Middle School, kids learn life and music skills through a bucket-drumming class. Videojournalist: Jessica Rotkiewicz (May 8, 2012) (May 8, 2012 11:47 PM)

Joye Brown

Newsday columnist Joye Brown Joye Brown

Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006.

bio | email

Related media

A routine trip to The Home Depot just got more exciting. Because those loud-orange plastic buckets are good for more than storing bird feed, carting tools or storing cleaning materials -- as an unusual music program at Westbury Middle School shows.

Grab a bucket. Turn it upside down. Grab some drumsticks. And now, let's start, real slow:

Right hand. Left hand. Right. Right.

Left hand. Right hand. Left. Left.

Repeat. And make it faster, faster, faster!

The Westbury Middle School Bucket Drummers make executing the beat -- a simple drum pattern called a paradiddle -- look so easy. And sound so good.

"When I'm drumming, it blocks out the whole rest of the world," Talaysia McClain-Rushing, 13, said Tuesday as the group -- school officials say it's one of only two on Long Island -- took a break from rehearsal.

"When I'm not drumming I'm thinking of the beats because they're stuck in my head," said Omar Sanchez, 11, who credits the concentration and coordination he's developed for making him a better student and clarinet player.

The drummers practice together four days a week as part of a United Way Community Schools program that offers a variety of academic, arts and other activities for students in Westbury and Freeport.

Why bucket drumming?

"It's an entryway for children to learn percussion," said Napoleon Revels-Bey of the Great Neck Arts Center, a professional percussionist who teaches the class. "But, really, it's more because the kids learn commitment, concentration, coordination, character -- skills they need for life."

Revels-Bey said he developed the program after hearing bucket drummers on the streets of New York City. "They had no drums but taught themselves drumming," he said.

For three hours on Tuesday, 10 Westbury bucket drummers worked hard to practice a routine for a performance Wednesday before more than 800 people -- their largest audience ever -- at a United Way of Long Island luncheon.

Ejipt Parham-Canty, 11, worked on the introduction to the piece "Canosaurus." Emmanuel Perla, 12, the group's drum master, made sure all knew their cues, no small task because the performance included solos by all 10 drummers, who would leave their positions to perform out in front.

And still they found time to explain the rudiments of bucket drumming to a visitor: Don't hit hard, or your hands will hurt. Put your foot under the bucket for a louder sound.

A quick survey of the group found that most sang or played more than one musical instrument, and that most performed well academically. They credited the after-school program.

"If I weren't here, I'd probably be at home watching my shows," said Briana Romulus, 12. "I miss my shows, but I prefer to be here."

A short while later, the students went back to work. At one point Emmanuel tried to teach the visitor a simple crossover, which requires two buckets.

Right hand, left hand on left bucket.

Right hand, left hand on right bucket.

Right hand cross to hit left drum. Left hand stays to hit right drum.

Right hand, right drum. Left hand, left drum.

Whew!

Thanks to Shania, Briana, Talaysia, Angel, Joshua, Nicholas, Hector, Omar, Ejipt and Emmanuel, this novice bucket drummer is getting better.