Recorder: "West African beats energize middle schoolers in Greenfield"

By JOSHUA SOLOMON 

Recorder Staff

Friday, April 07, 2017

GREENFIELD — The familiar sound of djembe and dunun African drum beats bumped through the auditorium.

“Are you guys going to prove to me you still have rhythm?” the stage group’s leader asked.

The middle schoolers replied back with a roar of exuberance, getting out of their seats and grooving to the West African music. For an hour of the day Friday morning, the young people learned about the culture of the music and movements of Mali in Greenfield High School’s auditorium.

For the second year in a row, the Greenfield middle school students enjoyed the spirit of the Cape Cod African Dance & Drum group, led by Tara Murphy.

“Last year, it felt like it was a lot more foreign to them,” Murphy said. “They didn’t know what it was. There was sort of a feeling of like ‘what is this?’ We had to break through some ice. This year they were ready to go.”

With students going on stage, learning to beat the West African drums, letting loose and dancing to the rhythm, the auditorium remained engaged throughout the performance. Educational moments as well as instruction about the instruments and the culture were also part of the performance.

“If you get the chance, you definitely should see it,” Greenfield Middle School fifth-grader Ainslee Flynn said.

Her classmate, William Ainsworth, agreed.

“It was really awesome,” Ainsworth said.

Even though the fifth-graders didn’t see the performance last year, they quickly figured out what to do and to embrace the dance and music.

“It’s just a wonderful presentation that gets all the students engaged and thinking about what unifies us as human beings,” Greenfield Middle School teacher Ashley Fitzroy said.

Teachers had their chance to go on stage, too. Murphy told the students she had a surprise for them and then revealed that the educators had to come on stage to get their groove on, too.

“It was such a success that the kids and the staff all requested to have them come visit again,” Greenfield Middle School Associate Principal Angela Ruggeri said.

And so the group, out of Cape Cod and the Boston area, came back despite the long drive and the fact that they don’t typically service schools in western Massachusetts.

Waking up at 4 a.m., Murphy began her day driving to Greenfield.

The dance and drum group first linked up with the school through Superintendent Jordana Harper, who is a good friend of Murphy’s. Murphy said it was a good opportunity to help students have a new experience and for the group to branch out to a part of the state they normally wouldn’t visit.

“(You need) positive safe settings for people to learn about other people’s cultures,” Murphy said. “More of this needs to happen.”

Regardless of politics these days, the group leader expresses how great it is to learn about each other from people’s food, music and dance.

“Somewhere this positive experience will sit back in their minds and it’ll help them down the line whatever they do and wherever they go,” Murphy said.

You can reach Joshua Solomon 

at: jsolomon@recorder.com or 

413-772-0261, ext. 264.