Band director Brian Jackson Jr.’s whistle pierces the air. Even the bright afternoon sun seems to stand at attention as 11 youngsters quickly line up by height, exactly one arm’s length apart, near the parking lot of south Sacramento’s Phoenix Park Community Center. They march sharply to their assigned places, ready to practice.
The schoolchildren jump to attention. They keep their eyes focused ahead, their heads up. They follow orders.
They are drummers.
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But they have no drums.
They don’t let that stop them. They are learning on Home Depot plastic buckets, turned upside down, some decorated with colorful strips of duct tape. The taller boys hold them between their knees, sitting on another bucket, while the smaller children have theirs on the ground in front of them.
Jackson and band co-director Kameron Arnold stress the proper way to hold the drumsticks, correcting errant index fingers that stray to the top. “Don’t stick your finger out there on top – you’ll break that finger! Don’t break that finger! Put it back!” Jackson said.
“Miguel, your finger is still out there. Ten squats!” Miguel hurriedly complies. The exercise not only reinforces discipline, but strengthens legs for marching.
When he asks the students to do something from the beginning and they look dejected, Jackson yells out:
“There are lots of things that are hard. Keeping the beat is hard. But what do we say?”
Jackson continues, in traditional call-and-response, “Hard work …
“Pays off!” the eight boys and three girls yell back.
Every week, the boys and girls practice for 90 minutes. They are only one of four such groups, practicing at different times and venues, 10 to 25 students at a time.
“They go to community events to showcase their talent,” said Jackie Rose, executive director of Focus on Family Foundation, which started the South Sacramento Visual and Performing Arts Academy to fill the void left by budget cuts that have taken the arts out of the schools for many. Rose, 63, has spent most of her adult life finding ways to enrich the lives of at-risk children, the last 20 years based at Phoenix Park, the former Franklin Villa.
The South Sacramento Visual and Performing Arts Academy has developed a choir and a theater program, and teaches dance classes in jazz, hip-hop and step. Young artists develop skills there, too. Rose hopes someday to bring the classes back into schools.
In September 2015, the academy started building its drum line to provide an activity that would appeal to middle-school boys, a group that Rose says is most at risk, but also opened the course to younger boys and girls. High school students, such as Burbank High’s Aaron Balbuena, volunteer as assistants to share their passion for drumming.
The students have enthusiasm and talent. To be a proper drum line, they need drums.
All Book of Dreams donations are tax deductible and none of the money received will be used for administrative costs.
Needed: Six snare drums with slings, eight bass drums with slings, four tom drums with carriers, two tenor drums with carriers, five sets of cymbals and 50 sets of drumsticks/mallets.