Drumming up children's support

GLENDALE — Sounds from plastic and metal spoons, drums, tambourines, nuts from Indonesia, bells from Spain, bells from Peru, and containers from musician Terrance Laine’s home awed Verdugo Woodlands Elementary School students into silence Friday.

The performance was an all-afternoon assembly divided into three sessions for first- through sixth-graders.

First-graders were air-drumming and dancing like no one was watching, while their faces conveyed utter amazement as Laine changed the pitch of sounds emanating from a glass jar half-full of water.

“I liked it a lot,” said Ella Beyer, a first-grader. “I play drums sometimes with my dad.”

Laine creates many instruments from objects from his home for his act, Creative Percussion.

“I care very much about sound, so when I come here and set everything up, I’m just going to play, but I give them lots of different ideas,” he said. “Like, anything round will spin in something round, and will give you a sound. A lot of it is things they can do on their own.”

Rhythm was rich in Christie Crahan’s first-grade class.

“We play a lot of sounds, but this helps us because it brings the music alive,” she said. “It goes beyond the classroom and is something the students can aspire to.”

Studies show students who engage in art or music improve academically. Verdugo Woodlands earned a score of 900 on statewide accountability exams, a score that ranges between 200 and 1,000. The state’s target for every school is 800 on the Academic Performance Index.

“When you visit classes, especially in primary grades, you’ll see one or two or three parents in a classroom every day helping the teacher or working with students,” Principal Janet Buhl said.

The assembly was one of several arts and music presentations organized by the Verdugo Woodlands Parent Teacher Assn., which spends $5,000 to $6,000 on assemblies throughout the year, augmenting the school’s reputation for parental volunteerism.

“Once it starts, it’s contagious,” said Deborah Beyer, Ella’s mother. “Everyone wants the school to be a place where students like to be, and where they can get more out of their education.”

The PTA, in conjunction with the Los Angeles Music Center, will host several more assemblies this year featuring storytelling and dance. “The arts are so important, so we’re trying to keep arts in the forefront and make sure there are a lot of opportunities for kids,” Deborah Beyer said.

Laine said he grows his own gourds for maraca-like instruments.

He held up a plastic tube with two plastic cups inside each end that, when struck or spoken into, emanates sounds fitting for a science-fiction film.

“School is a place where fun and exciting things can happen, but I want them to want to listen,” Laine said.

He began to drum on a dog bowl with a knitting needle and then with a mallet.

“It’s not only what you hit but what you hit it with,” he said.

Laine then pushed a thick, flexible plastic tube that created sounds like a chimpanzee. The screeches brought down the house as first-graders erupted into laughter.

There’s no favorite device or doodad, Laine said.

“I get as much joy from a triangle as I do out of a computer,” he said.

 MAX ZIMBERT covers education. He may be reached at (818) 637-3215 or by e-mail at max.zimbert@latimes.com.

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