By Leah Weissman
Pilot staff writer
"Talk to me about what you did today but use your hands," professional percussionist Mombo Hernandez told the little girl standing behind the giant djembe drum.
In a special guest appearance Thursday, Mombo brought his collection of musical instruments from all over the world to the KASPER (Kids After School Program of Education and Recreation) rhythm and music class.
His philosophy: Music is everywhere and can be created from anything.
The girl shyly looked at the smooth top of the drum and at her room full of peers, and started drumming her hands in a slow bum-bum-bum beat. As Mambo joined in with her playing his own fast, upbeat rhythm the girl started to grow more confident and play faster and harder.
"That's it. Good job," Mombo encouraged her.
At the end of the 30-second duet, the once-timid girl was throwing her arms wildly in the air before ceremoniously crashing them down with enthusiasm on the instrument.
She wasn't just telling the story of her day, she was expressing her excitement in the moment.
Scott and Jacque Graves, who teach the KASPER rhythm and music class at Kalmiopsis Elementary School, invited Mombo up from Hiouchi, Calif., to Brookings "to turn the kids onto music."
"I thought this would be a good opportunity to bring him across the border," said Scott, who also plays percussion.
Besides teaching children how to express themselves through music, Mombo also opens his audience's eyes to different types of instruments used to make familiar sounds.
For instance, by drawing a violin bow back and forth over the metal spokes of a water drum, he mimicked the high-pitched sounds of a whale's cry. By placing the bow on a different part of the drum and moving it in a faster motion, the eerie sound used in horror movies usually right before somebody's about to be killed filled the room.
"Coo-ool!" the 30-some children shouted.
Mombo walked around the room, presenting and playing instruments from Africa, Latin America, and even his own homemade maraca made out of an empty pill bottle.
At one point, he and one of the children created a thunderstorm right in the classroom by combining the pitter-patter sounds of a rain stick with the rumbling echo of a hollowed-out thunder drum.
As the children grew more enamored with the fun of music, more of them volunteered to play Mombo's djembe drum in front of the class. Some kept a steady beat, while the rhythms of others were more sporadic.
By the end of the class, every student in the room was shaking, drumming or tapping something to make their own form of music. The class size grew from about 12 to almost 50 students as teachers and children wandered in drawn by the thump-thump of the drums.
"The kids didn't want to stop," Graves said. "They kept walking around the room trying to find drums to play on or shakers to shake."
In the hour prior to Mombo's performance, local musician Horst Wolf and high school guitarist Steven Rushton engaged the class in a hands-on musical workshop.
The nonprofit KASPER summer program includes a variety of classes from art to music, sports, language, gardening and theater for children in kindergarten to sixth grade.
The eight-week program is run by a 20-member board, including chairperson Carolyn Milliman, Oregon State University Master Gardener Program Assistant Shelley Palmer, city of Brookings Financial Director Patti Dunn, Kalmiopsis Elementary School Principal Brian Hodge, Brookings Parks and Recreation Commission Chairman Tony Parrish and a multitude of other dedicated residents and leaders of educational organizations.
According to program director Alicia Lunde, the goal of KASPER is to create an affordable summer program that provides Brookings-Harbor youth an organized educational and fun experience in a safe environment.