Skip to Main Navigation Skip to Content Skip to Footer Navigation
Give Now

Profiles in Giving

Ian Gendreau and Derrick Silvano

One evening in May 2008, 12-year-old Derrick Silvano, carrying a large gourd strung with beads, stood alongside four other young students with hand drums before an audience of around 200 proud parents, family, and friends at Tufts' Distler Performance Hall.

When his instructor, Ian Gendreau, signaled, the group broke into African Ga Oge rhythm, layering beats until they reached a polyrhythmic crescendo. Derrick contributed swift, swishing shakes of his gourd rattle, while Gendreau launched an improvised solo on a large barrel-shaped drum.

"I couldn't believe it. It was just so good," recalls Janet Silvano, Derrick's grandmother, who was seated with seven of Derrick's family members watching the performance of the Tufts Community Music Program. "And I'm not just saying that because Derrick is my grandson. Everyone in the crowd started moving to the beat when they came on stage."

Only one year earlier Derrick had never even heard of African drumming, let alone played an African drum. Then his grandmother, who works at Tufts, got an email about an opportunity for youth and children in Somerville, Medford, and the surrounding areas to take high-quality, affordable music classes through the Tufts Community Music Program.

For the next two semesters, Derrick went every Saturday morning to the new Granoff Music Center at Tufts to study African drumming with Gendreau, a student in ethnomusicology at Tufts' Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and a seasoned performer and music educator.

Gendreau says he has drawn special satisfaction from watching his students—especially Derrick—gain new skills and self-confidence over the course of the year. "We really had to start slow, learning hand positions on the drums first, then basic patterns," says Gendreau, who teaches Kpanlogo, a style of social dance music developed in Ghana in the 1950s and still popular there.

Kpanlogo, by its very nature, sends the message that music is for everyone, says Gendreau. Each member of a drumming ensemble plays a specific instrument and rhythmic pattern, learning—through finely honed listening skills—how his or her part fits within the whole. The music is complex and challenging, but certain roles are accessible even to novice players, he explains, allowing drummers of different skill levels to join in.

"In Africa, music isn't something you go watch other people do on stage. Everybody is a part of the music," he says. "When the community gets together, most everyone is either dancing, or singing, or playing an instrument."

About the gift

The Community Music Program reflects this approach to musicmaking. Each semester, about 75 students, ages 3 to 13, enroll in classes ranging from choral singing to jazz performance. The Perry and Marty Granoff Music Center, which opened in the spring of 2007 thanks to funding provided through Beyond Boundaries, serves as an inspiring backdrop, says Gendreau.

"Every week when the students walk into this beautiful new building, they see and hear music all around them, spilling out of the practice rooms," he says. "That's got to send a message to them that music is everywhere and there are so many different ways to be a part of it."

Derrick says his most memorable experiences from the class were on stage at Distler Hall. "It was really fun to perform. I got to dress up, and my family was there to see me," he says. "Afterward everyone kept telling me how much they really liked it." Derrick plans to keep taking drumming classes at Tufts, even if it means waking up early on Saturday mornings. Janet Silvano believes the chance to study with Gendreau is especially motivating. "Ian was such an excellent role model for Derrick, and for all the kids," she says. "He was always so positive, passionate, and excited about his music."