By Megan Kehoe

The Bulletin

Educational news and activities, and local kids and their achievements.

• School Notes and submission info, B5

There was no way Acacia Beale was going to drum in front of her entire school.

The 13-year-old Pilot Butte Middle School student told her teacher that on the day she walked into her art class and saw the row of unfamiliar drums sitting there. She repeated it when she found out she would be expected to play the drums at the end of the week in front of all of her classmates.

But a week later, Acacia was humming a different tune.

“In the beginning, I was so scared to try something new,” Acacia said. “But now I see that it’s really fun, and that it’s fun to learn about a new culture.”

On a recent Friday, one of Pat Roberts’ art classes spent the morning expressing themselves not with paint or pastels, but with drums. The African drum class was part of a weeklong artist-in-residence event sponsored by the youth arts organization Caldera, which helps bring art programs to schools that have a high percentage of students who qualify for free or reduced lunch. Catón Lyles, the artist-in-residence, is a Portland-based musician who specializes in traditional West African and Afro-Cuban styles of hand-drumming and has worked with schools in the Northwest for nearly two decades.

“We knew we needed to expand our world cultures experience,” Roberts said. “And this seemed like a perfect opportunity.”

Pilot Butte Middle School is in the process of becoming an International Baccalaureate-certified school. Part of this process includes expanding its world cultures curriculum.

Lyles taught drumming technique to four classes during his weeklong visit, which culminated in a Friday assembly when students performed what they had learned in front of the entire school. A Friday morning session was the last chance for students to practice before the performance. For about an hour, the thundering of the drums could be felt throughout the school’s D Hall.

Students sat in a large circle in the school’s art studio, hammering away with controlled motion at drums called “djembes.” Lyles sat at the head of the circle, and students watched his drumming motions intently, trying to keep in rhythm.

“The hardest part is figuring out which hand to use and when to use it during the drumming,” said Trinity Gordon, 14. “It’s easy to mess up.”

After a few moments, a small contingent of students got off track, and a random smattering of beats broke out in places where there should have been silence. Lyles stopped the drumming to start from the top again, but Trinity took the opportunity to ask him what the song they were drumming was about.

“This song is sung as a young man is presented into a village for the first time,” Lyles explained. “It’s a song to show that we’re strong. That we can do this.”

The class started the song again, this time drumming in unison. But then students lost the rhythm slightly at the end when a few neglected to see Lyle’s signal to end and continued playing.

“Everybody should end on the same note,” Lyles said. “That’s the goal. But this is way better than yesterday.”

By the end of the session, students had nailed the song.

“I’m ready for the assembly,” said Lauren Schossow, 13. “But right now, my muscles hurt. Drumming is so intense.”

“I think they’re learning to think outside their comfort zones,” Lyles later said. “They’re getting refined motor skills but they’re also learning about focus: all those great things that help you get through life.”

Students filed out of the classroom on their way to lunch. Acacia, the student who initially vowed that she’d never drum, left the class smiling. She said she felt prepared for the assembly.

“It’s a good lesson,” Roberts said. “It shows that any student who takes it upon themselves to learn is going to persevere.”

— Reporter; 541-383-0354,