Music as a teaching tool

October 12, 2004|JENNIFER BRUMMETT

Jerry Belton remembers his first set of drums when he was a kid. They were a Howdy Doody set, and represented a step up from his mom's kitchen wares, which he'd been using as percussion.

His early years jamming on his mom's pots and pans in part led Belton to form the Lexington Children's Drum Choir. Nearly two years old, the group is open to ages 8 to 15, all races and both genders, says Belton, percussionist and the instructor.

Not only does he teach the budding instrumentalists percussion techniques but also important life lessons, Belton says.

"I teach the kids focus, life skills and respect for others through music," explains Belton, who plays percussion with local band Net'Work as well as UBU, a jazz group out of Lexington.

The students learn rhythms and polyrhythms, Belton says. He defines the latter as two rhythms that are similar but not identical that are played at the same time. They study Afro-Latin, Afro-Cuban and African rhythms, he adds.


"We talk about the history and origin of the drum, stemming from its roots in Africa through the Caribbean into America," Belton explains.

He says he is not the only instructor.

"It is a kids teaching kids program," Belton notes.

Similar gig in San Francisco

The drum choir and complementary dance group, Somethin' Special Dancers, number more than two dozen students. Belton says had a similar gig going in San Francisco, his hometown. He has been working with kids for about 20 years, he adds.

"The drum choir was something I wanted to do," notes Belton, who studied music in middle and high schools. "It was something I knew I would do."

He started out on Saturdays just teaching kids percussion at the North Lexington YMCA.

"It evolved into a production," Belton says. "I noticed the children were talented and good students and good learners."

He started taking the group to different activities around Lexington, such as the Woodland Art Fair, and has branched out to the Heritage Festival in Danville as well as the Indiana Black Expo. Belton says he often works with the Lexington Children's Museum as well as the parks and recreation department there. "They're my biggest support in Lexington."

He is working on plans to take the Lexington Children's Drum Choir to a Martin Luther King Jr. celebration at the children's museum next year as well as gigs during February, which is Black History Month. He also is looking at taking the group to the Indianapolis Children's Museum in late March for two days of shows in addition to a gig at the Underground Railroad Museum in Cincinnati.

"And there is a good chance we're going to Ghana, West Africa," Belton adds, "as part of a cultural exchange."

Working with several school systems

Belton works with different school systems in the central Kentucky area, and holds percussion clinics for kids. He's always open to adding more clinics as well as performances by the Lexington Children's Drum Choir to his schedule.

"It's a lot of fun," he notes, then grins. "The girls are more attentive than the boys - they're better listeners and quicker learners."

A long-term goal, Belton says, is to take the Lexington Children's Drum Choir to even more communities and states.

Of himself Belton says he fell in love with hand-percussion instruments at a young age and "studied under some of the great percussionists in the San Francisco area." He played with numerous bands and groups in the Bay area, Belton adds.

If you go:

Lexington Children’s Drum Choir performs at 1 p.m. Oct. 23 at Jacobson Park, Lexington as part of the Little Goblin Festival. Information: Jerry Belton, (859) 263-3617 or (859) 321-2586.

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