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Drum Fest united kids throughout the City.                        Photo by: Pete Mikoleski
NYCHA Youth Perform in Citywide Drum Fest

The next Tito Puente may be right in your very own New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) development! More than 100 young NYCHA residents performed at the first Citywide drum festival, DrumFest 2007, held in the courtyard of the Bronx River Community Center on a sunny but brisk April 10th. The festival showcased the talents cultivated by NYCHA’s Drumming Workshops held at 11 Community Centers.

"Music is universal and a great connector," said Community Coordinator and Mistress of Ceremonies Susan Unger. In her opening remarks, Ms. Unger commented that when NYCHA’s Performing Arts Unit began offering the Drumming Workshops in 2003, "The participants practiced on red buckets because they didn’t have any drums. Since then, the program has acquired timbales, bongos, congas, guiros, blast blocks, maracas, snare drums, and whole drum or trap sets."

Salsa dancers
Salsa dancers strut their stuff.
Photo credit: Pete Mikoleski

All of those instruments were put to good use as the festival featured Drum Lines composed of residents from Bland, Astoria and Woodside Houses in Queens, African/Latin Drumming by residents from the Bronx River Community Center in the Bronx, African Storytelling (with accompaniment) by residents from the Davidson and Classic Community Centers in the Bronx, African Drumming by residents from the Sumner Houses Community Center in Brooklyn, and the DeHostos and St. Nicholas Houses Community Centers in Manhattan, and African/Latin Dance by residents from the King Towers, Wagner Houses and Lehman Houses Community Centers in Manhattan.

Rat-ta-tat-tat was the beat that drew residents out into the courtyard filled with spectators, family and friends. Among them was Bianca Rosario, of Bland Houses, who could barely contain her joy as she watched her daughter, Chloe, play the snare drum.

"I was so glad that the Drumming Workshop came to the Bland Community Center," Ms. Rosario said. "I wanted Chloe to be in a program that would help round her out culturally." The Queens resident continued, "I expect a lot of musicians will come out of these workshops because they bring out skills that the children probably didn’t know they had, as well as build self-esteem."

Drum Line
Being on the drumline has created a sense of family for these young musicians.
Photo credit: Pete Mikoleski

Bland Houses’ Nicholas Pena said that his interest in the Drumming Workshop grew when, "the Bland Houses Community Center showed us the movie "DrumLine."" Made in 2002, DrumLine tells the story of a young drummer from New York who enters an historically Black Southern university and tries to lead the school’s drum section. "Watching it made me want to play the drums and now I like being in the drum line; it’s fun and brings us all together like brothers."

"These youth are great," said Oriolla Maakheru, who was one of five consultants or staff who taught at the various workshops. "I started teaching percussion and African storytelling and dancing to the children of the Davidson and Classic Community Centers, and it has been a delight."

The festival really came to life during the finale as the marching drum line entered the courtyard from either side and the dancers danced the salsa out into the audience, prompting individuals to join them. Creative Arts Manager Juan C. Santiago described the scene best when he said, "It’s cold outside but we’re turning up the heat."

Also attending the event were Community Operations Deputy General Manager Hugh Spence, Assistant Deputy General Manager Deidra Gilliard and Citywide Programs Deputy Director Ukah Busgith.

To find out more about NYCHA’s Drumming Workshops, contact our Community Coordinators at (212) 306-3479.

By Deborah A. Williams
April 18, 2007