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Eagle Valley Middle School all-girl percussion group

Caramie Schnell
Vail, CO, Colorado
AE Stomp Action PU 5-17-07
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EAGLE ” Not surprisingly, you can hear the all-girl percussion ensemble, long before you see them practicing. The drumming gets louder as I approach the band room at Eagle Valley Middle School. It’s just after 8 a.m. and a lone boy stands outside the door, a grin spread across his face as he marches in place to the beat.

Six girls are lined up in the foyer outside the band room ” each girl stands in front of an Oscar-the-Grouch style 30-gallon aluminum trash can. Each holds a pair of drum sticks. Jessie Baumgardner, Shannon Henderson, Hayley Beard, Alex Webb, Ashton Hallett and Nancy Lilly make up Chix with Stix ” a group of seventh- (and one eighth-) grade girls with Stomp-esque aspirations.

In March, four girls approached Tommy Dodge (no Mr. here ” students simply call him “Dodge”), the school’s music director, for help with a project. The school’s annual talent show was six weeks away and they wanted to put together a drum line. The girls, all percussionists except for Henderson, started practicing a piece called “Top Flight,” with one girl on crash symbols, one on bass drum and two on snare drums.

“It didn’t sound very good,” Baumgardner said with a sheepish smile.

So they switched directions, filling glasses with varying amounts of water and “playing” them with spoons. That was better, she said, but still not perfect.

In the meantime, Dodge ordered sheet music for Stomp. The music he recieved required six percussionists and he enlisted two more girls to join the group and gave them all buckets ” three metal, three plastic ” to play.

For the six weeks leading up to the talent show, the girls met with Dodge four mornings a week to practice their piece, called “Funky Buckets.” The performance was the final act at the talent show.

“We were the best act,” said Lilly, the lone eigth-grader in the group. “We practically got a standing ovation.”

The applause, along with Dodge’s encouragement, fueled the group to keep going, they said.

“I was really enjoing what I was doing with the girls, and they were loving it. When I see kids having so much fun with something I try to keep it going,” Dodge said, also mentioning that he’d like to have a permanent Chix with Stix group at the middle school.

Since the talent show in March the girls have been meeting with Dodge every Thursday morning to practice Funky Buckets, along with a new piece called “30-Gallon Groove,” which is where the big garbage cans come in.

“It’s a rush kind of, and it feels good when you accomplish a hard piece in just a few practices,” Webb said.

“Plus we get to make lots of noise,” Beard added.

Keeping band cool

Walk into Dodge’s band room and you might confuse it for a 15-year-old’s bedroom ” except for the piano and plethora of instruments. The walls are slathered, nearly floor to ceiling, with a myriad of posters ” everything from Elvis Presley to Jack Johnson, and muscle cars to movie posters are represented. Some of the posters were gifts Dodge has recieved over the years, and students brought in a few of them.

Basically, it’s one of the most unsterile, bright, and interesting classrooms I’ve ever visited. That’s a good description for Dodge as well.

“Dodge is like a 12-year-old trapped in a however old he is body. He’s the best,” Lilly said.

Unlike many music programs in school’s across the nation, EVMS’s is quite healthy. Perhaps the numbers say it best. Over a third of the middle school’s 270 students elected to take band this year. That’s certainly better than most schools, Dodge said.

“I think the music has to do with that. We do some classical stuff, but not a lot. We mostly do stuff that these kids are in touch with ” rock ‘n’ roll, movie themes like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, stuff they can really attach to ” they say ‘Oh, I remember that part in the movie when this piece was playing.'”

At the concert, Dodge said many of the students, as well as their parents, will recognize the tunes. The sixth-grade band will perform a piece by Jimmy Buffet and one by Madonna. The seventh-graders will perform a piece called “Disco Lives,” which features “I will survive” by Gloria Gaynor, “Staying Alive” by The Beegees and “YMCA” by The Village People. Eighth-graders will perform a piece called “The ’90s,” which is 10 minutes long and features 15 different songs from, you guessed it, the blessed ’90s.

“That’s what I wanted when I was a kid, I wanted a teacher that was fun. I try to keep it upbeat, (students) learn faster if they’re into it, that’s why most of my kids leave my program, go to high school and most are at a sophomore level, maybe higher.”

Caramie Schnell can be reached at 748-2984 or cschnell@vaildaily.com.


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