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All fifth grade at Durham school participates in samba band.



TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Fifth-grader Taylor Jhaywon plays the surdo drum with his classmates at Durham Elementary School as they prepare for their samba performance in the Rose Parade.Standing in the warm Tuesday morning sun, students at Durham Elementary School are all smiles as they play the large drums they carry.

“We will, we will rock you!” they chant, drumming the rhythm of Queen’s 1977 song during a break.

Then, it’s back to work.

For months, the students at Durham have been practicing hard on a new music project aimed at getting students out performing in the world.

But it isn’t classic rock the students will be performing. The fifth graders are all members of Durham’s “escola de samba,” a samba band.

Next Tuesday, the students will make their musical debut outside the U.S. Bancorp Tower, performing during the Portland Rose Festival.

Samba — a popular form of Brazilian carnival music — can be tricky for the fifth-graders, and music teacher Marc Silverman is working alongside Portland musician Chris Perry to teach the students the complex syncopations.

The Rose Festival’s noontime concert series allows local musicians the chance to perform at various spots in Portland.

Durham’s students are the youngest performers in the concert series which includes performances by the Joint Base Lewis-McChord Army Rock Band and several high school jazz bands throughout the week.

This is the first year of the samba school, but Silverman said he doesn’t plan on it being the last.

“I’m hoping this becomes a tradition,” he said.

Silverman has big plans for the program.

As the program matures, he’d like the students to march in the Rose Festival’s Junior Rose Parade, he’d like to get fourth-graders involved, and someday, he said, he’d like to bring in a samba dance instructor who can “add a movement component to the PE side of the samba program.”

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Fifth-grader Avery Pratt plays the a-go-go bell with her classmates at Durham Elementary School as they prepare for their samba performance in the Rose Parade.

'Accessible to every kid'

With about 120 musicians, the program is big.

Every fifth-grader at Durham plays in the band. Silverman said samba is an all-inclusive musical style and he wanted that reflected in the school’s band.

“It’s a community thing,” he said. “People of every color, male, female — they all play together. The kids loved that when they saw that. Some of the kids who have had behavior problems here, or kids who come from harder families, saw that and grabbed onto this. Some of these are kids who aren’t into school so much, but they have focused on this.”

Several Tigard-Tualatin schools have music programs that run before or after school, but Silverman said that can leave out the students most in need of the program.

“If you have an after-school program, you tend to get the higher income families who can afford to come pick up their kids an hour after school gets out,” he said. “Everybody else has to ride the bus home and can’t participate. This way, every kid can do this.”

A decade ago, as a student-teacher at Ainsworth Elementary School, Silverman learned about that school’s longstanding samba program and knew he wanted to do something similar.

“It was awesome,” he said. “I knew I wanted to do this. It was so accessible to every kid.”

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Marc Silverman, a music teacher at Durham Elementary, helps fifth-graders prepare for their samba performance in the Rose Parade.

'Anyone can learn to play'

Much of the funds came from grants from The Foundation for Tigard Tualatin Schools and its annual Art in the Burbs fundraiser. The school held fundraisers at local businesses to help pay for the expensive musical equipment.

Silverman and Perry began working with students in the winter in small groups, eventually bringing the entire fifth grade class together for rehearsals in April.

“Everyone has been great. They are full-on for it,” Perry said. “Teachers had to change their schedules to do this.”

Perry, who recently retired after 34 years as a percussionist with the Oregon Symphony, has been obsessed with samba for 20 years.

She’s the bandleader of her own samba group and has helped teach samba at Ainsworth in Southwest Portland for a decade.

Perry said that samba is the perfect musical style to get kids interested not only in performing, but learning about other cultures.

“No matter what your skill level, anyone can learn to play with other people,” she said. “Samba is very much a team activity. Everybody has to pay attention and play at the right time. They learn focus and musicianship.”

There are a lot of lessons that come from samba, Silverman said.

“They learn about team building, they learn about history and music,” Silverman said. “It teaches them discipline and hard work. It shows they can work to a goal and need to rehearse, people don’t just go out and play a gig.”

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Fifth-grader Aime Lopez plays the tamborim with her classmates at Durham Elementary School as they prepare for their Samba performance in the Rose Parade.


By Geoff Pursinger
Assistant Editor
The Times, serving Tigard, Tualatin and Sherwood
503-906-7902
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