04/13/12 — Learning more than rhythm

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Learning more than rhythm

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on April 13, 2012 1:46 PM

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Members of the "Drumming Up Character" drumline at the Boys & Girls Club on Royall Avenue rehearse for Saturday's performance at Pig in the Park, the annual fundraiser for the club.

Daymar Gassaway, 11, and Jakwonti Mack, 10, fifth-graders at Dillard Middle School, drumsticks in hand, can't wait for the day they will be in the drumline at the Boys & Girls Club on Royall Avenue.

"I like the drum and it's like it brings out all the excitement that's in my heart," said Jakwonti.

They just started in the beginners group being taught by Alando Mitchell, who also directs a performance group at the club.

More than teaching them warm-up routines, sticking techniques and dance movements, though, he also imparts lessons about character.

"I do different character chants -- 'I'm unique, I'm special, I'm one-of-a-kind because there's nobody like me,'" Mitchell said. "That right there is a big self-esteem booster.

"We also do what we call 'ABCs of Life' -- avoid negative people, believe in yourself, consider all positive things, don't give up.'"

Mitchell, the father of three daughters, has always had a passion for kids. And for the drums, which he began playing at age 3.

So focused was he on the instrument that when he reached fifth grade at Grantham School, the music teacher invited Mitchell to join the band.

He was later named drum captain and his squad became the first middle school allowed to participate in the Azalea Festival Parade in Wilmington.

The moment of pride still lingers.

"I went on to be the county captain of the drumline at Southern Wayne High School," he said. "I ended up liking traveling, doing music for church and other groups."

He is now music director at his church, Deeper Life, and previously directed a drumline at the YMCA, where he still leads a mentoring program. He has directed the program at the Boys & Girls Club since October 2010.

Mitchell meets each week with about 15 youth ages 7-13 in the beginners group, and about 20 chosen for the performance drumline.

Their season coincides with the school calendar, from August through May, with a new beginners class starting every few weeks.

"By the end of this session, I will have served 60 kids in this school year," Mitchell said.

"Drumming Up Character" is funded in part by an Arts Council of Wayne County Grassroots Subgrant Award through the N.C. Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts, said Jo Heidenreich, development director for the club.

"It has had a positive impact on the members that are involved and has other members eager for the opportunity to participate," she said.

"We could have 70 in this group if we could allow everyone to play," said Marvin Ford, unit director. "We have parents call us all the time wanting to get their kid in the drumline."

Jamesya Wynn, 13, an eighth-grader at Eastern Wayne Middle School, has been part of the group since it started.

"It's really fun when you get the hang of it," she said.

"I like to beat on stuff," said Ariana Sutton, 11, a fifth-grader at Greenwood Middle. "When he (Mitchell) came, I wanted to play, stay out of trouble."

Kristopher Bowden, 11, also a Greenwood fifth-grader, was in the Y's drumline and now in his school band.

"I got a passion for the drums. I have been playing since I was 2," he said.

They are enthusiastic about the program. But it's more than Mitchell providing the drums and teaching them techniques.

They have become family, Jamesya said.

And the program has helped them become better people, chimed in Angelique Pope, 12, a Greenwood student.

"It teaches you how to, I guess, how to take pride in ourselves and have confidence in whatever we do," said Tyzhaun Claude, 11, a sixth-grader at Dillard.

"It makes you think about what you do in everyday life," Angelique said. "We're not just reciting it, we're trying to live by it."

The group recently performed at a regional conference in Myrtle Beach, S.C., where they earned a standing ovation. On Saturday, they will perform at the second annual "Pig in the Park" fundraiser. Later this month, they will play at the N.C. Pickle Festival.