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By night, percussionist Alex Jenkins has gigs with bands including Sound Immersion, Kairos Quartet and the Nada Brahma Music Ensemble. By day, Jenkins is at William Land Elementary School, teaching world rhythms and drumming to students in second to sixth grades.
This summer, Jenkins is dedicated to raising funds for the drum program, which he started in 2003 with seed money from Best Buy.
The drum class meets four times a week after school for free one-hour lessons. Students learn to play rhythms from around the world, including India, North Africa, West Africa and the Middle East.
They play a variety of drums, including djembe, Darbuka, conga, bongo and snare and learn the history, application and cultural heritage of each instrument.
Students perform on-campus throughout the year and at locations such as the Asian Community Center and Westminster Presbyterian Church.
But now, the program faces severe cuts or even elimination because of reduced federal and corporate funding.
William Land Elementary School, at 12th and V streets, has a diverse population that reflects the neighborhood. Of about 300 students in kindergarten through sixth grade, 47 percent are Asian American, 27 percent Hispanic American, 13 percent Caucasian, 11 percent African American and 2 percent American Indian, according to Public School Review.
A 2002 TIME magazine article, Welcome to America’s Most Diverse City, noted William Land Elementary's ethnic diversity. It claimed that 189 out of 347 students spoke a language other than English at home.
While the median income for households statewide is $50,780, in the ZIP code for the school, it's $27,429. And 83 percent of William Land's students are eligible for free or reduced-cost lunches.
The William Land Drum Program is particularly beneficial to these students because their families have limited resources for extracurricular activities.
Brain studies in the past decade confirm that music stimulates all areas of the developing brain and correlates with literacy, mathematics and spatial-temporal reasoning, as well as improved behavior and grades.
Referencing a 2006 study conducted by the Rotman Research Institute, an international center in Toronto, Canada, that is dedicated to human brain functioning, Dr. Takako Fujioka said, “Our work explores how musical training affects the way in which the brain develops. It is clear that music is good for children’s cognitive development and that music should be part of the preschool and primary school curriculum.”
Jenkins, 35, attended Sacramento Waldorf School. Waldorf schools have an interdisciplinary curriculum that balances humanities and sciences with art and music. Jenkins attributes his success as a musician and social consciousness to his early education.
Losing the William Land Drum Program would have a devastating impact on students and the community, according to Jenkins. “Students would no longer be able to express themselves through rhythm and music. They would also be missing out on learning how the various rhythms learned in class fit within a cultural context. History, geographic location of the beat, as well as musicianship like soloing and creativity, are all a part of drum-class experience.”
”This drum program is unique in that there isn't another program like it in the Sacramento City Unified School District," he continued. "Students perform for both the school and out in various community locations. The performances provide a rich musical and cultural experience for all who attend a drum class concert. Without this program, this culturally enriching experience would be lost to both the school and the community at-large.”
City arts organizations are struggling to stay afloat, according to a recent Sacramento Bee entertainment blog: “Area arts nonprofits struggles no rarity," it said, pointing out that many have reduced staff and shortened performance seasons.
Arts organizations and public schools are re-evaluating fund-raising strategies in this depressed economic climate, and are forced to be creative.
William Land Elementary and its PTA hosted a concert in June that raised $1,400 for next year’s drum program. The $6 adult admission included student performances and a spaghetti dinner donated by parents. Westminster Presbyterian Church was the largest donor, with a $250 check.
“Music is a fancy word for life!” was printed on admission stubs.
On July 25 at noon, Jenkins and some of his students will provide a drumming demonstration at the Southside Park playground at U and 6th streets that includes children’s craft activities and frozen yogurt, courtesy of a parenting group funded by the First 5 Sacramento Commission. The park is across the street from the farmers market under the freeway.
Jenkins is working on a communitywide benefit concert this fall to save the William Land Drum Program from the chopping block.
Alex Jenkins has a website at <http://www.alexdrums.net/>. Tax-deductible donations for the drum program can be made to William Land Elementary School at 2120 12th St., Sacramento,CA 95818.