Rhythm STOMPed In Fair Haven

“What’s the difference,” Kelly Wuzzardo asked the Fair Haven schoolkids around her, “between noise and music?”

Kids raised their hands. You make a beat, they said. A rhythm. A pattern.

But what do you make that pattern with?

The students were about to find out in the Shubert Theater’s STOMP workshop on Tuesday — one of 23 workshops that Wuzzardo and Zwick are conducting in 16 different New Haven schools from Feb. 29 to March 11, reaching over 900 fourth and fifth graders across the Elm City.

The kids in music teacher Michael McGinley’s fourth-grade class took their seats in Fair Haven School’s expansive auditorium for Tuesday’s workshop. On the stage stood Wuzzardo, the Shubert’s director of education and outreach, and Rachel Zwick, a teaching assistant. Next to them was a row of buckets, filled with jugs, cans, sticks, bells, and paper towel rolls.

Organized as part of the Shubert’s presentation of the percussion-driven theater troupe STOMP, which will be performed March 11-13, the workshops intended more broadly to introduce some of that group’s playful, inclusive, and profound ethos to New Haven’s schools.

Wuzzardo and Zwick started by clapping along to the rhythms in their own names, turning the sound of “Kelly Wuzzardo” into something a little like salsa, and the sound “Rachel Zwick” into three sharp taps. They then pointed to the buckets of objects, which would — along with the buckets themselves — be the instruments the kids would use to create their own percussive pieces. They had maybe ten minutes to put them together before performing them for the rest of the class.

The students broke up eagerly into groups and began figuring out what to do. This was in part because McGinley had introduced them to a video of STOMP performing, and they’d talked about it in class.

“They loved it right off the bat,” McGinley said. “I’m going to do this with all my classes.”

With only minimal guidance from Wuzzardo and Zwick, within minutes the kids had worked out pieces, and were ready to perform. One piece felt like a march. Another dug into the idea of call and response, with a complicated version of the rhythm of “Shave and a Haircut.”

Another group laid down an interlocking groove that wouldn’t feel too out of place on an Afro-Cuban record. Every piece was marked by the students’ thoughtfulness, their engagement, their attentiveness.

Wuzzardo followed up every performance with a little Q&A. “What did you like about this one?” she asked.

“They kept a steady beat,” one student said.

“Nice pattern,” another one said.

With each performance, the students noticed more and more subtle differences, in tempo and instrument use, a big dominant beat versus several overlapping ones.

“They were a small group,” one observed, “but they used all the instruments.”

“Is it better to be fast or slow?” Wuzzardo asked.

“No,” a student said.

“Right,” Wuzzardo replied. “It’s just different.”

Before breaking up the workshop, Wuzzardo informed the class that she’d learned it was one student’s birthday. She conducted them from the stage as they all sang together.

Before the kids went back to their classroom, Wuzzardo asked them what they got out of the workshop.

“You can use anything to create music,” said one student. On cue, another one said: “Anything is possible.”

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