Each year, students in third through 12th grade have a chance at the end of the year to show off the drumming techniques they've learned through the Drum Power program.
This year, those students lost the opportunity for the annual performance at "Africa Night" amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The program, part of the UW Community Arts Collaboratory, or Arts Collab, will instead try to bring the arts community together with several virtual performances.
The first of three Arts Collab events planned is Friday, with the debut of “A Drummer’s Path," a musical performed by the Drum Power students last year.
Arts Collab is housed within the Professional Learning and Community Education (PLACE) department in the UW-Madison School of Education. Yorel Lashley, director of arts for PLACE, leads the Drum Power group and wrote the musical.
He said the idea to run the video of last year’s performance of the show came up about a month ago.
“I decided since this year we can’t meet in person, one cool way to sort of have some community would be to do a watch party and watch the show from last year,” Lashley said. “Trying to sort of build some community and also give people a sense ... that there is plenty of creativity and art in the world in this time when people are hunkered down."
Next month, PLACE will host two more events: A June 2 “Whoop It Up At Home” Facebook watch party as a celebration of third- and fourth-grade students’ writing and a June 16 Facebook watch party for “Better Together,” a 2018 dance showcase featuring students from nine schools and community center groups.
“It’s super sad to not be gathering in person. These year-end events are usually the highlight of the year, celebrating together,” said Arts Collab operations manager Stephanie Richards. “But it also … is adding a little wind to my sails right now, finding ways to connect with people even though we can’t be in person.”
Richards said they wanted to pick and choose what to move online, avoiding adding unnecessary screen time to peoples’ lives while still providing a space to gather and celebrate their programming. It also allows a “dialogue with the people that are on stage” through virtual chats.
“I’ve found it to be exciting as a participant in watch parties online and I'm looking forward to engaging in that way with our audiences, especially with the kids,” Richards said.
The video of “A Drummer’s Path” will first air at 10:30 a.m. on YouTube along with a live chat with Lashley. That showing is aimed at Madison Metropolitan School District students and educators. Lashley said he hopes it can be like an assembly for Lowell, Lakeview and Mendota elementary schools, all of which have many students featured in the group.
“This is as close as they’re going to get to a school assembly,” he said, adding that it’s also an opportunity to get back to the social-emotional learning pillars of the group: leadership, community and discipline.
Friday night, at 7 p.m., the group will host a live Facebook watch party for the community to join. Lashley will again be available for questions and discussion during the show.
“It’s a great opportunity for some sharing, for folks to sort of dial into something that is a nice talking point around culture, history for young people,” Lashley said. “I’m hoping that parents and families and such will watch it together and just be able to be in that moment for a little while.”
The musical came about after years of performances that separated the various skill levels and focuses of the Drum Power groups.
“Usually it’s just a number of performances by the different groups,” he said of shows prior to 2019. “It’s sort of a review of what everybody was learning, but I was sort of getting tired of the format; one group walks on, the other group walks off sort of thing.”
The viewings will also provide an opportunity for the participants to see themselves perform, as it was a one-night-only event last year.
“A lot of them, if they performed in the show, that happened that one night but that was it,” Lashley said. “They haven’t seen it since.”
Richards is among those, as she worked as the backstage manager last year.
“Now I get to sit back and watch the show and interact with the audience. I’m really looking forward to seeing it,” she said. “It was a really special show that I never got to see.”
The show’s story follows a young girl on a journey to become a master drummer. Her travels take her through various places in the world that match with the styles of drumming students in the group are learning.
Lashley said the show provides “pretty wide-ranging entertainment,” and he’s glad to have created an outlet for non-Western cultural development in Madison, focused on the lineage of art over time.
“(Offering this) in a way that sort of focuses on African and African-American discovery is important,” he said. “I’m always looking for ways to try to do that and provide that, since that’s somewhat a source of pride and frankly it’s not everybody’s experience.
“I’m most excited just to share what the children have presented and produced and their energy and power, locally, but also I’m very excited to be able to do that nationally thanks to the virtual platforms.”
Share your opinion on this topic by sending a letter to the editor to firstname.lastname@example.org. Include your full name, hometown and phone number. Your name and town will be published. The phone number is for verification purposes only. Please keep your letter to 250 words or less.
Concerned about COVID-19?
Sign up now to get the most recent coronavirus headlines and other important local and national news sent to your email inbox daily.