They’ve got the beat: North Hopkins percussion ensemble may be first step to full-blown band
Patti Sells | News-Telegram Feature Editor

Dec. 6, 2005 -- North Hopkins High School students are marching to the beat of their own drums this year with the debut of a new music program and the North Hopkins Percussion Ensemble.

"I've wanted this for a long time," said Debra Wood, who has taught elementary music and some English classes in the North Hopkins Independent School District for the past 10 years. "Music is a language we all understand and anyone can learn to play an instrument if they put forth the effort.

"I had some of these students back in sixth grade teaching them to play recorders and other small instruments. It was sad to get them going with music classes in fourth, fifth and sixth grade, and then it was just over. All I could do was encourage them to pursue playing instruments if that's what they wanted to do."

"This is long overdue," said Mandi Owens, who will graduate from North Hopkins High School in May of 2006. "We're all real excited about it because it's going to add a lot to the school. I just wish I wasn't a senior this year and had the opportunity to do it again.”

Discussions for the high school music program began last year when Como-Pickton's high school band — mainly percussion — came and played at North Hopkins during a basketball game.

"I believe that's really when the seed was planted,," said Wood.

"The kids really showed a lot of interest when Como-Pickton's drum-line came and played," said North Hopkins Principal Steve Drummond. "They were very excited about it, and I had several students come up to me afterward  saying, 'I wish we had something like that here at our school."

After proceeding through the proper channels, and with the willingness of Wood to dedicate her time to the new music program, two secondary music classes were added to the schedules as electives for  students in 10th, 11th and 12th grades.

Eighteen students enrolled in the music program. Each one has been learning to play a variety of auxiliary instruments, such as mallets, cymbals, bells, triangles, marimbas and xylophones, as well as drums.

"Percussion offers a lot of various instruments other than just drums, so we thought this would be a good place to start," said Wood, who, with a music degree, was required to learn how to play every type of instrument. "And it's a little easier to learn than some of the other instruments."

Wood said instruments in the the woodwinds and brass categories should be taught beginning at an earlier age and built upon. Some of her current students have had no music classes, or had never even picked up a pair of drumsticks.

"We are hoping to add more and more instruments and students each year and one day have a full-blown band," Wood said. "It's been awhile for me as well, so we're all learning  together and finding our way through this."

Music programs benefit students in many ways, according to Wood. Academically, she said, music has proven to help advance both reading and mathematical skills.

"We have already experienced some success with the new program in the area of academics, because students who want to play have to maintain good grades," Wood emphasized.

The same "no pass, no play" rule that applies to sports also applies to students who want to participate with the percussion ensemble.

"The music program has really made a difference already. Not only are their grades improving, attendance is improving, their attitudes toward school has gotten better. This gives them a reason to want to be here,"added Drummond. "Let's face it, there are a few kids who might get excited about math and science, but most of them don't. And for the ones that don't, this gives them something to get excited about."

While North Hopkins is noted for its outstanding athletic department, according to Wood, not everyone can or wants to play sports.

"North Hopkins is big into sports," Drummond said. "But I still had a small group of kids not involved in any extracurricular activities. Even though this is not a sport, the camaraderie is there, and they work together just  the same, and it's made a big difference in motivation."

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