Williams students find a new beat

Drumline program teaches music fundamentals and the art of working together

Drumline instructor Kevin McElwee (left) and Julio Belmontes work on stick control during a rehearsal last week at Williams Elementary-Middle School. Marissa Freireich/WGCN

Drumline instructor Kevin McElwee (left) and Julio Belmontes work on stick control during a rehearsal last week at Williams Elementary-Middle School. Marissa Freireich/WGCN

On Friday afternoons at Williams Elementary-Middle School, a rhythmic pounding echos through the halls.

That sound can only mean one thing: drumline practice is in session.

Kevin McElwee, who has played the drums for about 32 years, heads the Williams High School drumline.

McElwee started the program this semester and has five consistent members. They practice Fridays from 11 a.m. to noon, working on technique, cadences, marching beats and songs.

"I try to work on some things we can start with here, but it's stuff that they can work on at home that you don't necessarily need a drum," McElwee said, adding that all of the students have a pair of drumsticks.

"The good thing about drums is you don't necessarily need an instrument to play on, you can beat on tile or a piece of wood or anything at all."

New students are welcome to join at any time, and experience is not necessary.

"The stuff we're doing, we're trying to start kind of simple and just as we're able to make it more complex and complicated," McElwee said.

McElwee, a Russian translator, first got involved with the drumline when he applied to substitute teach for the district. Administrators asked if McElwee was interested in participating in the 21st Century After School Program. When he mentioned his music background, administrators thought the drumline would be a great program for the elementary and middle school students as well as high school students.

The district has instruments from the now defunct band program, which ended in 2008.

The drumline has already performed twice, once at a Young Life teacher appreciation night and also during the Mountain Village Holiday Parade of Lights.

Besides the drums, McElwee is also teaching some of the students guitar and bass, in hopes of putting together a pep band to perform at basketball games "to kind of get the crowd excited."

"It seems like the kids definitely get excited when there's something like that to look forward to. It kind of makes them work a little harder," he said.

McElwee said the students learn important skills from participating in the drumline.

"In addition to just the musical stuff, kind of learning to play together and listening and working together is really helpful I think."

The students in the drumline all share a love for music.

"I was in band in middle school and I really missed the music," said junior Julio Belmontes, adding that playing music is relaxing for him. Belmontes used to play the trumpet, so the drums are new to him.

Freshman Andrew Kartsberger has played the drums for about a year but is learning new things from the drumline.

"I've been learning how to count and read music because usually I just play by ear, and I think it helps to actually learn how to read music so I can play it whenever I want to," he said.

But the best part of the drumline, according to junior Noel Calderon, is "the freedom to get lost in the music."

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