Wilmington Montessori students stepped out of the classroom and into a West African jamboree with renowned percussionist Tony Vacca on Feb. 4.
The concert capped-off the finale of the Artist in Residence program, in which students explored West African instruments such as the ballafone, and the musical and storytelling tradition of West African culture, said Montessori Communications Officer Noel Dietrich. Each year the Montessori school selects a different continent to study and this year they decided to focus on Africa, said Headmaster Linda Zankowski.
Zankowski believes the concert was the perfect tie-in for her students’ cultural study on Africa.
“I think it’s totally fundamental that children have hands-on experiences,” she said.
“There are a million-and-one things they can read in books about this and they will never take it in the same way as having had this experience.”
Prior to the concert, Music Teacher Kelly Rhodunda taught students several musical techniques such as learning how to hold a steady beat and how to develop polyrhythms, Rhondunda said. Students also learned about syncopation.
“The tempo of [Vacca’s] music was so loud and so fast,” said Lauren Jones, 9, who played drums, during the concert.
Delaware Institute for the Arts in Education Teaching Assistants Will Gregory and Gina Degnars spent one week with the students, teaching them about the storytelling elements of West Africa through the popular folktale Sundiata Keita, Rhodunda said.
On Feb. 3, and during the afternoon on Feb. 4, Vacca rehearsed with students and assigned them their playing roles. Although Vacca would have preferred to work with the students for at least a week, he said he was impressed by how quickly they learned their parts.
“The lesson you get from your kids is they are infinitely capable,” he said. “Once the energy flows, it’s a very powerful way of learning, to learn from each other.”
Vacca has recorded and performed with a wide range of well-known artists, including pop icon Sting, Senegalese Afro-pop star Baaba Maal, jazz trumpeter and world music legend Don Cherry and Senegalese hip-hop stars Gokh-bi System.
While the Artist in Residence program has ended, one student recalled a warm memory of rehearsing with Tony, during the day of the concert.
“It was like giving me butterflies all over my body,” said five-year-old Cassie Matalomis. “I really loved the music.”