Monday, Jun 25, 2018
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Ethnomusicologist helps students make music

Creative cacophony at Dorr Elementary School


Ethnomusicologist Craig Woodson leads third graders in a music jam during a visit to Dorr Elementary last week. One instrument the students made was a combination drum, flute, horn, and shaker.

The Blade/Andy Morrison
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Dorr Elementary School students got some unusual music lessons last week, when ethnomusicologist Craig Woodson paid a two-day visit.

Mr. Woodson has traveled the world studying music and the instruments different cultures use. Over the years, he has developed some homemade instruments of his own made of everyday materials, and he showed the Dorr students how to make and play them. Ethnomusicology is the study of music in different cultures, especially non-Western music.

One of the instruments, an invention whimsically called a “drumpetaker,” was a combination drum, flute, horn, and shaker that a class of third graders used to concertize. The cacophony was not exactly what normally goes down, explained music teacher Jennifer Mercer.

“It’s been good for me to work with him, but this is not a typical music class,” she said, laughing as the children played their “instruments” made from such things as cardboard, cans, household tape, and Styrofoam cups. “It’s his sense of humor too.”

Mr. Woodson, a Cleveland-based educator and consultant, holds a doctorate in music from the University of California at Los Angeles. His doctoral dissertation was on African drumming and drum-making, and this showed as he beat an African drum in accompaniment as the students played.

Children’s ideas from around the world are a source of inspiration, he said. Mr. Woodson has performed for young audiences at New York’s Carnegie Hall, Washington’s Kennedy Center, and overseas.

His visit was a coup for the Springfield Local Schools, and was made possible by Ms. Mercer, who successfully applied for a $2,000 Target arts grant to pay for the appearance.

Mr. Woodson provided another $1,500 from his foundation to be able to spend two full days at Dorr, which included sessions with teachers. His visit encompassed nine 50-minute workshops with the students and two 50-minute all-school assemblies.

The Dorr students “have great energy, great enthusiasm,” Mr. Woodson said. “I’ve been doing this a long time. I try to get them in touch with their own music, their own self.”

He said he has been fascinated with musical instruments since he put a skin on a drum with a hoop when he was 13. His father was an engineer, he said, and his mother a musician.

Children’s music, he said, “showed a real sense of creativity.”

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