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January 14, 2004

Deaf students feel the music

From: Salem Statesman Journal, OR - Jan 14, 2004

Salem Academy's percussion ensemble pays a visit to Oregon School for the Deaf.

Statesman Journal

In any other audience, it would be rude to talk through a performance.

Not this performance. And not this audience.

Elementary students at the Oregon School for the Deaf were thrilled by the vibrations of a percussion ensemble Tuesday. As teens from Salem Academy Christian School snapped, tapped and rapped on their instruments, the children's hands and faces were busy expressing their owners' excitement.

With the first wallop of the bass drum, broad grins spread across the young children's faces. They put their hands on the bleachers to better feel the vibrations from the tympani, cymbals, bells and snare drums before them.

"I want you to listen for the loud and soft, and listen for the fast and slow," Kami Hettwer, director of the percussion ensemble, said as a teacher translated into American Sign Language.

The percussion ensemble is new at Salem Academy, and Hettwer was looking for venues to perform. She has some experience with music therapy and thought the ensemble would be a good way for the deaf students to experience music.

Kindergarten student Kasala Hunter mimicked music-making motions of Loren Sheets, the snare drum player. Lucio Huerta wiggled on the bleachers and let out yelps of joy.

The students come from across the state, and range in age from 5 to 21.

Some stay in the dorms during the week and return home on weekends; others are driven to the school from around the Mid-Valley.

The children have varying hearing abilities. Some have hearing devices; others have no hearing, said Charlotte Iliff, elementary and middle school supervising teacher.

"Could you hear it?" Hettwer asked after her group played "Simulating Assimilation."

"Could you feel it?"

The children nodded.

When the ensemble finished, Hettwer invited the 20 children to make their own music.

A cacophony of fun ensued.

Lucio raced to the tympani and beat out a triple-forte rhythm. Next was the bass drum, where he banged with the intensity of a marching band. His teacher, Margaret Boyd, could barely keep up as he rushed to the snare drum, then cymbals, then bells.

His huge smile was as constant as his beat.

Copyright 2004 Statesman Journal, Salem, Oregon