Alexandria and Arianna Sprague love music.
The 7-year-old sisters grew up on it.
Their mother, Beth Sprague, sang to the twins when they were babies. She pays for piano lessons now that they’ve grown into precocious little girls with matching blonde locks. After all, she says: “Music is in their genes.”
The girls’ grandmother, Voski Sprague, is a drummer who for years played gigs around the Puget Sound. In fact, according to their mother, “their grandmother’s great musical influence” inspired her to sign them up for Drum Camp at Volunteer Park on the Key Peninsula, a few miles south of Key Center.
Why not? They live in Home, a 10-minute drive away.
The girls joined 10 other 4-to-7-year-olds the past two weeks to learn about percussion instruments as part of the summer camp program organized by Key Pen Parks.
“We hope the kids can use drumming as an outlet for their emotion,” said Jess Smeall, recreation coordinator for the parks agency. “And as a way of communicating.”
Each day, according to Smeall, a new instructor comes to visit the children, bringing with them knowledge of many different drums and styles of drumming.
“The children are taught basic forms of rhythm,” she said. “This is a way to bring music into their lives.”
Saturday, dressed in their best rock-star threads, the children coaxed smiles and applause from a few dozen people at Drum Fest, a free concert at the Longbranch Improvement Club clubhouse at 4312 Key Peninsula Highway.
But before the youngsters could drum their way into the hearts of the Longbranch audience, instruction and practice was required – lots of it. The young musicians spent about 20 hours learning and practicing the 40-minute recital.
Practice was the challenge. But it was also part of the fun.
As a handful of volunteers gathered the children into a circle Thursday afternoon, instructor Kyla Jones asked the group to introduce themselves one by one as they did a double clap. The rhythmic slapping of hands was punctuated by the stating of names — some declaring it loudly, others much softer, even shyly.
“Did you guys notice that,” Jones said animatedly, as she made her point to her young students. “People say things differently. It’s the same with drumming.”
The camp is the first experience many of the children had with drums.
Their first tapping of bass notes on a drum happened in this building, behind the Little League baseball fields. Scattered inside the small room were djembes (an African drum), bongos, frame drums and tambourines. The walls were adorned with sports memorabilia and American and Canadian flags tacked on a far wall. Yoga mats were neatly folded and stacked in one corner.
“Drumming is in all our cultures,” said William Hines, one of the instructors Thursday and a professional musician from Tacoma who specializes in the djembe.
“We let them know that every culture has some way of communication,” Hines said. “They drum for weddings, they drum for specific occasions in the culture. We just try and include rhythm from all the cultures that others can pick up.”
In human culture, he said, no matter the activity, music will be there.
“If you have a heartbeat, you have rhythm,” Hines said. “And we’re here to have fun.”
For almost two hours, the children clapped, banged and tapped as instructed. Shrill laughter punctuated periods of intense drumming. There were games and songs from places the children had never heard of before, let alone been to. Zimbabwe. Liberia.
It was all new but it looked like fun.
“Be proud of what you are. You can only be you,” Jones encouraged her young wards as she introduced them to a chant from Zimbabwe called “Come And See The Wonder That We Are”.
“Eyey, wolyey, bough-TEN-deh-rae.”
Then there was “Fanga,” or “welcome” in Liberian.
“Fanga a la feeya, ashey, ashey,” Jones recited as Hines drummed a beat.
In the beginning, the chaos of trying to follow the instructors frustrated the children, the dissonance registering in their bemused faces. Older helpers from nearby Key Peninsula Middle School helped the drummers focus on the task at hand — at least for the moment.
But something had to keep the tots’ attention. So, the instructors quickly moved on to a game the children could easily follow.
“We usually devise games like Simon Says,” Hines said. “These are things that they have heard as kids. So we use it as a metronome or a teaching tool.”
“Simon Says,” Hines bellowed as he quickly banged out four notes on his djembe. The children responded with a not-too-shabby mimic of Hines’ notes, their eyes locked on the African American with the shaved head and festive shirt.
“Not bad, not bad,” Hines said.
The notes Hines included in the game were going to be part of Saturday’s program. The children followed along, though a few yawns could be seen and some whining of “I’m tired” heard.
“It’s pretty hard for them to focus,” said Sarah Jane Schauer, 24, coordinator of the volunteers. “Having them to change instruments helps. They want to play them all anyway.”
By the end of the afternoon, the drumming had become more coordinated, even pleasant. The instructors seemed pleased and the children eager to run outside and play in the sunshine.
“I like drumming, but it’s the first camp I can remember being part of,” said Alexandria Sprague, as she left the room ahead of everyone else. “I am learning about all sorts of drums that I don’t know about.”
Was she nervous about Saturday’s performance?
“I’m kinda excited,” she said rather confidently.
And her mother and grandmother sat with the crowd, beaming proudly.
“What’s a show without your parents there,” she said.
David Montesino: 253-597-8265