Two local schools to compete in statewide percussion competition

Lina Cloutier, a 17-year-old senior at the Sidney Lanier Center, practices with the Sidney Lanier Drumline in Gainesville, before they compete in the Florida Federation of Colorguard Circuit State Championships.

Brett Le Blanc/Correspondent
Published: Tuesday, April 2, 2013 at 6:16 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, April 2, 2013 at 6:16 p.m.

Fourteen students from Sidney Lanier Center will make history with their drumsticks this weekend.

The Sidney Lanier percussion ensemble will be the first group of special-needs students to compete in the Florida Federation of Colorguards Circuit Championships, which takes place in Daytona Beach from Friday to Sunday.

Thirty-four students from Gainesville High School's Indoor Percussion ensemble also will compete.

High scores in competitions earlier this season propelled the GHS group to the state championship, where the ensemble will perform a show titled "Distracting Noises" in the Marching Percussion category.

Band director Bill Pirzer said the premise of the show is man's never-ending pursuit to fill the world with noise.

"Back in the beginning, there was silence, and little by little with technology, man has figured out how to fill every minute of the day with noise," he said.

GHS is no stranger to competitions -- this will be the fifth FFCC event for the percussion ensemble, and about the 30th for the high school's color guard, which will also perform this weekend.

Sidney Lanier students will perform a selection of African-themed percussion pieces, which incorporate standard drum kits, animal-skin djembe drums and marimbas.

Ensemble members take turns playing the steady back beat, the melodic rhythm and improvisational beats.

That way, music teacher Don DeVito said, "Everyone has a level of access into the ensemble."

Sidney Lanier's ensemble is one of two finalists up for the Kevin Paulus Memorial Sportsmanship Award. The group was nominated anonymously by the director of one of the other 141 ensembles in Florida.

The recipient will be announced at the competition.

Ensemble members have "embraced the dynamic of being scored by a system that does not take into account the members' special needs and enjoy receiving feedback," the nomination letter reads. "The spirit with which they perform and the grace they have displayed has been truly inspiring."

Most children with disabilities wouldn't even get the chance to join a band at a public school, DeVito said. The music programs at other schools require students to read music, which isn't an option for some of his pupils.

"Now what they'll get on Saturday is social inclusion," he said.

Instead of traditional note-reading lessons, DeVito uses visual and verbal cues to guide his students through a song.

For example, code phrases like "apple pie" or "Hakuna Matata" correspond to different rhythms students can play. Rather than silently raise his arms to begin a song, like an orchestra conductor, DeVito counts off for a visually impaired student, who then leads the rest of the band with her own voice.

Lina Cloutier, 17, has been playing drums with DeVito "for a long time." She's performed with the percussion ensemble before, in Orlando and New York, but this weekend, she said, she's most looking forward to singing with the audience.

For Lina and other members of the ensemble, whose disabilities include cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, deafness and blindness, music is a powerful tool for leading a full life. DeVito says it's important for disabled children to be able to see themselves as musicians or artists.

Music isn't just a class, he said. "This is music therapy."

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