Alafia Elementary School is showcasing talent with a new drum ensemble this school year. The new Alafia Drum Ensemble meets twice a week after school and features 28 fifth grade students who auditioned to be part of the group. Through practices and performances, they have drummed up both school and community spirit.
The ensemble’s first performance was on October 21 at the Winthrop Pop Up Market. Family, friends and market attendees were drawn to their performance. They played two pieces: “Palo Palo,” a Hispanic heritage piece in honor of Hispanic Heritage month, and “Wavin’ Flag.”
Alafia music teacher James Hemphill said he created the ensemble to give students a chance for expression through performance and an outlet to build confidence.
Ensemble students play one of four types of Tubano drums, and the rhythms are a combination of high and low sounds as well as claps, taps and movements. The rhythms they play are merengue rhythms inspired by Caribbean music. The four drummers learn different rhythms that interlock and create a piece of music. Teamwork is required, as the group sings and plays together as a unit.
“The kids are hard workers and songs can last up to 12 minutes long as they cycle through different parts. Maybe it goes on longer, or more students solo or even stop playing and chant the words to the rhythms. The challenging part is to keep their part going while the other parts come in. Teamwork is a must where the students have to look and communicate while playing to keep their part going,” Hemphill said.
On November 9, Alafia Elementary hosted a school Veterans Day celebration. The Alafia Drum Ensemble opened with “Wavin’ Flag.” They also performed “Don’t Give Up On Me,” which featured the new Gator Choir.
Hemphill said he created the choir to give more Alafia kids an opportunity to perform. In total, there were around 50 kids performing songs for the school and veterans in attendance.
Alafia Principal Lisa Jackson is grateful for the benefits the ensemble provides the fifth graders.
“I am so proud of our Alafia Drum Ensemble. These fifth graders are extremely talented. We at Alafia are grateful to Mr. Hemphill as our music teacher for starting the drum ensemble and giving our students this opportunity. It has been beautiful to see our students celebrate one another, celebrate and honor our diverse cultures and backgrounds,” Jackson said.