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Percussionist Describes Sound and Silence

Evelyn Glennie inspires creative soundscape at Kent Gardens Elementary School

Kent Gardens Percussionist Academy student Will Kiley made bongos because he liked "the designs that people from Africa make."

Using coffee lids as tops, the homemade instrument was an innovative and beautifully decorated creation. However when he played, the deep echo associated with the bongos was absent.

Assembly speaker percussionist Evelyn Glennie called the sound dead. She quickly followed the statement by saying this was not a bad thing, but simply meant the sound did not reverberate.

She suggested maybe using mallets to strike the instrument would produce a different sound and proceeded to demonstrate.

The rapid beating by the first solo percussion major admitted to London's Royal Academy of Music (www.gmu.edu/cfa) did indeed produce a different sound.

Now this was what drums were supposed to sound like.

The children in the audience "ooohed and ahhed," clapping when she finished.

However, Glennie's presentation for Kent Gardens Elementary was not a performance but rather an emphasis that whether a sound is "dead," high, deep, sharp or flat, anything and everything produces vibrations and therefore sound.

The academy students' instruments were the focus of the assembly and included a jar filled with shells, seeds and water, a structure with hanging spoons used as chimes, a water jug with string and ribbons and a variety of drums.

While playing Nate Cherry's drums, Glennie broke the top but immediately began stirring the inside filled with pebbles, encouraging students to go where the sound takes them.

She emphasized there are no right or wrongs when it comes to sound and for her sound, any sound, is music.

After demonstrating a pocket theremin, wind whistle and other quirky instruments, some of which produced shrieks of shock from the children, Glennie told the students that their imaginations helped them create interesting sounds, and the imagination is an instrument itself.

Glennie asked the students of Kent Gardens what they thought the heaviest, most powerful sound was. She received many guesses.

The bagpipes, French horn...the drum set?

In continuing with the theme anything is sound, silence was the counterintuitive answer.

"The weight of that sound can be so incredible," Glennie said, advising the children to go home and contemplate the power of turning off their internal voices and observing the sound of silence.