The Center Grove High School students sat on and beat out Latin rhythms on wooden boxes. In the process, they learned about the music of Peru, Cuba and the Dominican Republic.
The boxes, or wooden drums called cajons, are new instruments the students are learning to play in teacher Josh Torres’ percussion ensemble class. Torres has spent six years collecting an assortment of Brazilian, African and
Afro-Cuban drums for the school to introduce students to the drumming of other cultures.
Torres’ goals for introducing instruments from other countries, such as djembes from Africa, include broadening the cultural experiences of students at a school that is primarily Caucasian, he said.
“You don’t have to speak the same language to play the music the same,” senior Danielle Lain, 18, said. “It’s new and exciting.”
Torres wants to prepare future music majors for instruments they might have to play if they’re drummers in college but also keep music varied and fun to the students who play in the high school marching band. When learning to play the instruments, the students also learn how musicians from the countries perform on them, he said.
The 15 or so students in the class are part of three ensembles, which perform on particular instruments. The African, Brazilian and
Afro-Cuban ensembles each occasionally perform publicly, but Torres eventually wants them to perform regularly as part of a Center Grove world music program.
Brazilian musicians move with the rhythms they play and often have dancers as accompaniment, he said. Torres is having the students do some dancing and singing along with the drumming. Eventually, he would like students performing to wear costumes from the countries where such instruments are found, he said.
Even learning how the individual instruments are made teaches the students about the countries, said junior Alex Sorley, 16. For example, Brazilian drums called timbales reflect whether the area where they originated is poor, he said.
Also, the Afro-Cuban cajons are simple to play and can be made cheaply out of boxes, Torres said.
This year, Torres added seven cajons, two shakers and two rocars, which are Brazilian instruments that are shaken to make metal discs hit each other. He has bought most of the instruments over the years with Center Grove Education Foundation grants.
Senior Peter Karozos, 18, said playing drums such as the cajon has helped him recognize the sound of instruments from other cultures in the music he’s heard.
“I feel like, through those rhythms, if I went to a Latin American country, I could communicate some through music,” he said.
Learning to play the instruments in Torres’ class has helped him learn a Brazilian rhythm and play it on his drum set, the instrument he typically plays, Karozos said.
“You can apply it to anything you play,” he said.