COLUMBIA — Rehearsal on Wednesday afternoon began with Jaiden Tandy gently tapping out quarter notes on hand bells, followed by Annuarite Mujawamariya ringing eighth notes with a triangle and Sarah McMurry shaking 16th notes from a cabasa.
By the time the rhythm worked its way around the Derby Ridge Elementary School stage to Emery Wurzer, Lucy Evans and Brenna Kaiser striking xylophone keys, the room was awash with bongos, joia tubes and congas.
Across the room, instructor Lindsey Pierce swayed to the music and cued each section with a wave.
Music is just one component of the Columbia Public Schools' Arts Explorers program, which wraps up Thursday after an open house and performance for families and the community on Wednesday evening.
Now in its fifth summer, the two-week program gives selected fourth- and fifth-graders opportunities for creative growth and team work though the visual and performing arts.
This summer, six students from each of Columbia’s public elementary schools were chosen by their art and music teachers to learn about sculpture, weaving, music and dance.
"It’s not an auditioned group," program administrator Darla Lenz said. "These are kids who show a strong potential for creative thinking."
In just 9 days, the students built larger-than-life sculptures of a food, such as a banana, a doughnut and a cupcake, made from recycled paper and plaster. They composed an original piece of music using percussion instruments and GarageBand software on Apple iPads as well as learned about popular dances from bygone eras.
The theme of this summer’s program, which began June 23, is "On The Move!" The four instructors chose a key concept for their classes, and the students rotated through each class. Pierce chose energy for her music lesson.
"We’re climbing the mountain together," Pierce told the students during rehearsal, reminding them to increase their volume gradually without drowning out their classmates’ instruments.
"I’m teaching them that each player is a different layer in the larger piece," Pierce said later. "They create all the energy together."
In the gymnasium, the students hung up rugs they wove inside hula hoops as part of Kaitlyn Sisak’s art lesson on transformation.
"I learned old objects can be turned into something new," student Malinda Jackson said after hanging her hoop rug on the gymnasium wall.
The broader lesson of the Arts Explorers program, Lenz said, is in taking the concepts taught during the program and applying them to the broader community context. Lenz, who taught music in the program for two summers before taking on the administrator position, recognized a food theme emerging in the students’ sculptures and helped the students organize a food drive for the Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri.
For student Elsa Kelley-Marcum, the most important lesson was about cooperation. "We learned about getting along," she said. "It was an opportunity to see what you can do."
For Lenz, teaching students from different schools and backgrounds to work together is a critical part of the program.
"They had to work together to decide first what was the mission of the art before the art was created," she said. "The world needs creative problem-solvers, and that is what public school arts education is for."
Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.