Drums have served as a symbol of unity throughout history, bringing people together with shared creativity and expression, as well as communicating messages across distances.
In certain cultures, drums are symbolic of group identity and heritage. This is the case in the Uniondale school district as well, where the high school hosted its second annual Percussion Night last Sunday, showcasing the musical talent not just of Uniondale, but of other schools across Long Island and some parts of New York City.
“It’s the heartbeat of our community, and it’s the heartbeat of the people of the community,” Uniondale High Principal Mark McCaw said of the show. “For our Latin American community, our Caribbean community and our African community, drums are an important part of our life and blood, and so we just like to showcase it, along with all the musical talents we have in our district and beyond.”
This year, Uniondale’s marching band, Pure Gold, hosted a larger event than usual, in the hope of raising enough money to take students to Howard University, in Washington, D.C., so they can witness the college’s renowned music program firsthand. “We see ourselves like (a historically black college or university), but as a high school,” McCaw said. “We like to look at ourselves like that, and try to give students that experience so they can see themselves in colleges and universities across the United States when they graduate.”
This year’s Percussion Night lineup featured performances from schools in Wyandanch and Brentwood, the Brooklyn Alliance Drumline, Brooklyn United Drumline and, of course, Uniondale — which included the Lawrence Road and Turtle Hook middle schools as well as Pure Gold, and the Uniondale kickline and cheerleaders.
“This is in the spirit of community, and the spirit of exposing students to new things and ensuring that the culture of percussion gets passed down to the next generation,” Derrick Barker, Uniondale High’s percussion instructor, said. “It’s quite an honor for these schools and community groups to come out here and perform with us, and we’re honored to host it here.”
Rodney Smith, instructor of Brooklyn United Drumline, told the Herald that the group took part to spread a message with its music. “The message we want to spread with our drumline is to be you, and to be better than the person you were the day before,” Smith said. “Everybody makes mistakes, but pushing through and setting your goal at excellence, that is what we teach them.”
Smith said that the lessons he learned as a child in the marching band still resonate with him today, serving as pillars of his everyday attitude and outlook on life.
Brentwood’s Green Machine showcased not only a full drum set, but xylophones, cajons and maracas. “Music can bring so much good to any community that truly embraces it,” Joe Sitler, Green Machine’s band director, said.
Investment in the music program in Brentwood has done wonders for the district in terms of student morale and participation, Sitler added. “There is a common sense of unity and purpose that music provides and makes kids work together,” he said. “Not only to play a piece of music, but now we get to go in front of an audience and make them feel good, and forget about whatever problems they’re having, and they can listen to us play.”
Uniondale is hoping to see similar results. Over the past few years, under the leadership of Superintendent Monique Darrisaw-Akil and McCaw, the district has experienced a cultural shift, keeping students interested and involved in school by hosting special events, while pushing them to achieve more.
“I advocate for them to have more and more events like this,” McCaw said, “to promote music and the arts, and to have the families and the community come together.”