Moore Schools Students Get Jump on Palustris Festival
The Palustris Festival doesn’t begin until tomorrow, but the sounds of the third annual visual, literary and performing arts celebration are already here in the ears of local students.
Since last week, musicians performing with the Rooster’s Wife during the festival have been visiting local schools for a music outreach project led by Janet Kenworthy, who is working in conjunction with the festival’s organizers to bring Palustris to students.
The Rooster’s Wife, a non-profit organization that presents performing arts events regularly, will host three Palustris performances at the Poplar Knight Spot in downtown Aberdeen during the four-day festival.
Performances are scheduled at schools all over the county this week as well.
On Monday, fifth-graders in Nancy Beck’s class at Aberdeen Elementary School discovered their inner musicians with self-described “musical madman” Joe Craven, a California-based folk musician known for his homemade string and percussion instruments.
Craven visited Aberdeen Elementary and West Pine Middle School Monday before his Tuesday evening performance. During his session, Craven emphasized that students can find music everywhere — in their footsteps, in the ambient sounds around them and even in their heartbeats. All anyone has to do is listen for a rhythm.
As they sat in a semicircle around him, students seemed skeptical at first, but their eyes lit up when Craven pulled out his “canjo,” a banjo he made out of a tin can, plugged it into an amp and began to play. He created rhythms on the spot by beat-boxing, looping sounds and even playing on the teeth of a donkey’s jawbone.
Craven beckoned students to express the rhythms in a dance-off. Again, students were shy, until one in their ranks, Brian Parsons, broke into a freestyle dance, spinning on the floor, jumping from side to side and even doing “the worm.”
“He’s got his own move and his own groove,” Craven said coaxing other students to join in.
By the end of the session, everyone was dancing and full of additional questions about how to make their own instruments.
“No one else on this planet has your imagination,” he told the students. “Other people have your knowledge, but they do not have your imagination, so light it. Keep your fire lit. The more strength you bring to your art, the happier person you will be. I guarantee it.”
After the assembly, Craven admitted his approach to reaching students can seem strange, but he does it to drive home that message of personal fulfillment.
“They’re going to look at a middle-aged guy like me, who dresses the way I do and acts the way I do, and they’re going to find it out of plumb with what they’re comfortable with to start,” he said. “As the assembly progresses, they start to realize that I’m not really here just to preach to them. I’m here to validate them wherever they are on whatever rung on the ladder of life they’re at.”
Beck believes her students got to appreciate Craven’s passion for music through the program.
“They got to see a person who made their occupation something that he really loved,” she said. “I thought that was good for them to see.”
She added that Craven’s encouragement of free expression was helpful for her students, who are at an age where the opinions of their peers means a lot.
“They don’t really know if they’re going to be embarrassed, or look cool or look geeky,” she said. “[With Craven,] they got to freely express themselves. There was no right or wrong.”
Beck’s students were amazed that Craven could express himself in so many different ways, and they hope to discover their own means of expression.
“He’s the best beat-boxer I’ve ever seen,” Ezekiel Gillespie said.
Gillespie enjoyed getting to create his own beat on the bongos while his classmates danced.
“When I saw him finish playing [his beat], I tried to copy it,” he said. “Then I made up my own beat. Now I can make a beat out of anything.
“I can make a beat out of this,” he said, tapping the red, metal locker he leaned against outside of his classroom.
Shanna Martin was impressed with Craven’s homemade instruments. She hopes there might be something lying around her house that she can use to make her own music with her sister.
“We could put on an act and show our parents,” she said.
Madeline Kelly liked watching her teacher attempt to play a violin for the first time as Craven walked her around the auditorium making her play to the rhythm of her gait as he played the mandolin.
She learned from Craven that being able to feel the music is more important than knowing notes and being able to read sheet music.
“I thought it was a really good influence to have at our school,” she said. “You can make music out of pretty much anything.”
More than anything, Craven hopes his music will help the students discover their own talents.
“I’m a big fan of having kids find freedom in themselves,” he said. “Am I asking them to be like me? They’re not going to be, but they can be more of who they already are.”
Contact Hannah Sharpe at email@example.com.
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