West African drummer visits Rockland-area schools

Dec 13, 2013
South School students, from left, Max Bonzagni, Oskar Schneider, Justin Callahan, Fiona Hallowell, Chloe Drinkwater, Joshua DeWalt play drums with Sidy Maïga.

Rockland — Sidy Maïga, Malian drummer extraordinaire, visited kindergarten to seventh-grade students in eight Regional School Unit 13 schools during the week of Dec. 3-6.

Maïga came to the Midcoast at the invitation of the World Language Program, which seeks to develop linguistic skills and global awareness in the students of the district. As Thomaston Grammar School sixth-grader Lindsey Luckman wrote in her journal after the visit, “I think it is cool to know someone from somewhere else.” Georges River Education Foundation provided most of the funding for the visits.

Maïga visited two schools in RSU 13 last spring. Those schools were Thomaston Grammar School and St. George School. The workshops and performances he offered last spring were so well received by students and teachers alike that the World Language K-7 team decided to expand to include all kindergarten to seventh-grade students in the district. Last year’s programs were funded by a grant through RSU 13 Adult Education.

Mali is a francophone country in West Africa. Francophone means French-speaking. The visit launches a second trimester focus amongst the older students on the geography and cultures of the 220 million people who comprise the French-speaking world. RSU 13 schools offer French language instruction to kindergarten to seventh-grade students. Students all practiced basic greetings and conversational phrases in French with Maïga.

Maïga talked about the culture of Mali with the students. Thomaston Grammar School sixth-grader Carmyn Pease wrote, “I learned that in Mali people sit in a circle and play drums together. Whoever wants to dance just goes in the middle of the circle and dances.”

Maïga explained that most children start playing when they are little and that drumming is a part of every celebration. He brought 18 djembé with him so that students could try them out. Djembé is one kind of West African drum.

“When there is a new baby, we play drums. When someone is getting married, we play drums. You don’t have to be invited. When you hear the drums you know you are welcome. When there is life there is always hope. Djembé is a celebration of life,” said Maïga.

Maïga is a master djembé player who is based out of Providence, R.I. He is the winner of many awards and fellowships, including the 2011 MacColl Johnson Fellowship in Music Composition and the 2012 Folk Arts Fellowship of Rhode Island State, sponsored by the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts. He performs widely throughout the country and the world.

Music plays a vital role in the education of the young. First, music focuses the mind. The high level of attention needed to play well develops strong habits of work. Second, the rhythms and patterns in music relate strongly to the development of math skills. Maïga reminded the children of the importance of practice in developing mastery of any skill. “If you want to get good at something you have to practice,” he said.

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