top of page

Ep. 3 Building life skills and embracing musical cultures with World Music Drumming

James Mader with West African Percussion

Mr. James Mader was among the first to pilot the World Music Drumming curriculum under the direction of Dr. Will Schmid. Our conversation explores the power of pursuing World Music Drumming as intentional curriculum. James also explores the potential for embracing diverse identities, empowering middle school general music students, and building life skills with intention, love, and care.

Mr. James Mader

James Mader is a nationally-known clinician in World Music and beyond. While at Lauderdale Lakes Middle School, James was slected as one of twenty music teachers to pilot Will Schmid's World Music Drumming Curriculum. James currently teaches at the PArkway Middle School of the Arts, where he is committed to developing the musical and social capacities of students and exposing students to a diversity of cultures. He describes the importance of building life skills within at-risk populations and has explored the power of the world music drumming curriculum in meeting diverse needs of school populations. His performances and mentorship are well known within the World Music Drumming Community.


Speaker 1:          00:00          [inaudible]

Speaker 2:          00:02          uh, and in my classroom I'm the guy saying, look at how good you are. Look at how awesome you are, man. That's amazing. And to see those smiles and to see students saying, thank you mister Mader. That's a really, that's, that's, that's fantastic too. I love seeing that. I love seeing that. They, they, they uh, are part of something and they're proud of themselves. They're proud of what they're doing after the performances that we do. They're proud. They're very proud of themselves.

Speaker 3:          00:29          You are listening to the music and peacebuilding podcast, a professional development network at music exploring intersections of peacebuilding culture, sacredness relationship, community, creativity and imagination through research and story. James Mader is a nationally known clinician in world music and beyond. While at Lauderdale lakes middle school, James was selected as one of 20 music teachers to pilot Will Schmid's world music drumming curriculum. James currently teaches at parkway middle school of the arts where he is committed to developing the musical and social capacities of students and exposing students to a diversity of cultures. He describes the importance of building life skills within at-risk populations and has explored the power of world music drumming curriculum in meeting diverse needs of school populations. His performances and mentorship are well known within the world. Music drumming community. My first question, tell me the story about how you first came into contact with Will Schmid and what it was like to be pioneering a curriculum that has had such a huge impact on music education.

Speaker 2:          01:51          Um, well let's see. Let's go to the, I'll answer the first part about meeting. Will Schmid for the first time Will Schmid was, um, that he is this big German baritone bass voice and just a big teddy bear. And upon my first meeting of him, he, I said, Dr. Schmid, it's very nice to meet you. He pushed my hand aside, James Give me a big hug. And I gave and gave me a hug. And that's pretty much what this curriculum is all about is just embracing each other. And, and, and, and no matter who you are, if you're a music teacher learning from a music teacher, if your student learning from, from a teacher, you're developing a rapport, um, Will Schmid was best known for his guitar methods and get America's singing again when, when he was a MENC president, this is the World Music drumming curriculum was, uh, something that he wanted to do because he noticed that elementary school, everybody learns music.

Speaker 2:          02:51          In the middle school. We have general music, we have ah band and chorus and sometimes orchestra. But we start seeing students fall away as we get to high school where the band orchestra chorus, you have the general music classes, but not many students are doing anything. And a lot of general general music classes at that time. And I was one of them. I was a band director who did general music. Uh, we do a lot of worksheets and a lot of videos. A lot of music theory in the students really aren't captivated by that. Uh, so Will Schmid wanted to develop a curriculum, uh, the world music drumming curriculum to reach every child in the middle school. It was specifically designed for the middle school general music classroom. However, um, we have found that it goes into the elementary. Uh, I have heard, uh, elementary music teachers using it as early as kindergarten.

Speaker 2:          03:42          Um, the entire curriculum that, which is amazing. And then, uh, and uh, high school, uh, music teachers as well. The interesting part about it, back in 1997 is when I joined on, he had done it with five music teachers in, uh, Milwaukee area schools. And so he expanded it to 20 of us from the United States and Canada. And, uh, those, we, had no idea about drumming. We had no idea about, um, uh, this whole idea, this whole thing of opening up to other cultures, um, and opening up and trying to understand how to teach other cultures. This whole idea of drumming and getting the idea of understanding that these drums, uh, our melodic instruments in the African culture and get, getting to understand that was for some of us, difficult for some of us, difficult, um, the ensembles, the, the units of study, um, the, you know, learning that and learning how to facilitate that in the classroom, uh, was very difficult and challenging even for those of us, you know, uh, who were percussion, uh, you know, I'm a drummer and, uh, it was, it was difficult because you had to do this all, uh, by rote.

Speaker 2:          05:12          It's rote teaching because that's how they do it in, in West Africa. Sowah Mensah, that was my first meeting of, Sowah Mensah as well. All right. And, uh, meeting him for the first time, the first evening, everybody's doing drumming and we're doing, going around and we're doing the. The question answer or what not, uh, and you know, uh, group drumming and, and, uh, so, you know, I played percussion, so I'm sitting there doing all these cool tune ah tones and everything. So I go up to meet him afterwards and I said, hi. Sowah Mensah, I'm James made her, uh, uh, and he grabs my hand. He goes, you have sweet hands as like wow. And he goes, uh, you play very well? And I said, well, yeah, you know, I played gigs in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm beach area. He goes, yeah, you play really well. And I was like, thanks man. He takes his finger and he puts it in my chest and he goes, you're going to have a lot of problems this week. And that was true. And the reason why is because we had to learn how to trust everyone next to us in the drumming ensembles it's not how well you play, it's how well you play for the group is how well you blend in with others. It's how well you, so I had to learn all of that.

Speaker 4:          07:03          [Playing Siyahamba]

Speaker 3:          07:03          James spoke of the unique place of world music drumming within middle school and upper elementary curricula. This curriculum, he notes, can empower diverse populations who are not enrolled in band or choir with a sense of agency and accomplishment. A drumming curriculum rooted in the heritage of west African traditions builds bridges to diverse student cultures and identities. Drumming builds capacity and musical identity through a different sense of what it means to be a musician. But they can

Speaker 2:          07:36          assimilate into this because a lot of it is, I do you do, I show you, they show you. So unit three, um, is then take, we take, we go from Liberia and learned an important lesson about Liberia from unit to take time in life, a traditional Liberian folk song. And then we'd go to unit three. And we learned about highlife music and we learned about how west African highlife music, um, uh, with, uh, two songs. Everybody loves Saturday night and Banuwa. Now if you notice, I haven't been talking about the ensembles. I talk about the songs and I talk about the unit of study. Um, because it's not ensemble three is unit three. And in this unit, you know, you might, if you have students who are of challenge of mental or physical challenges, you might never play all of the parts, but they can still understand and they can still play maybe one part or maybe you play the timeline. They'll never play the timeline. Uh, um, and you can, and they can play the drum parts and sing the song. Um, and then, so unit three, we move on to this whole timeline in this three-two clave that is found in the Caribbean. So we're in the highlife music come from, well, highlife music came from after World War II. And highlife music comes from the mixtures of the cultures and that we see this mixture of culture in the Caribbean

Speaker 5:          09:02          [inaudible]

Speaker 2:          09:13          and my students and people and some of the people who come to my concerts, the grandparents are so happy to see that we're performing, "Water come on me I" a traditional song from Trinidad that they learned at home. It's part of their culture. And they're so happy to see their grandchildren in America learning these songs. They never would have thought that they would learn that and another wow. So that's really powerful. So, and we've learned about feel we learned about all these things. And then so, uh, when we go to unit five we're talking about how do you feel this? Why is it a two beat, you know, why is this thing that is, well they did the students never see the written out score. But why is this thing that we can count out in four, why we call it two beat, so we talk about feel, we go to west Africa, we talk about in unit five we talk about the Ghanaians three against two patterns. The, the Bom Bom Bom could tone down three, the three against two and you hit learn about the, the, the, their timeline, their rhythmic scale going gain, gain, gain, gain, gain contain James James,

Speaker 6:          10:17          that is right there. You got Doh re me FA. So La Ti doe, ray, me, Ba. And they, if they start that timeline at different places, you have your different with, uh, with talking about

Speaker 2:          10:40          basically the African diaspora and the importance of psalm 137 "waters of Babylon, rivers of Babylon," of how, why that's so important to the African American culture. Um, and, uh, it's basically a reggae. Um, and so it's a, it's a fun groove. I'm teaching it right now, you know, we're in our last weeks of school, so, um, we get finally got to unit seven. It's, it's nice because they're like, wow, why did you wait so long to teach us this groove? And you know what, they, if I don't think they would've performed it as well. Uh, if I had introduced it to me at the beginning, because now they have the techniques, now they have an understanding and more respect for the cultures and for the drumming itself. And, uh, it just sounds a lot better. One thing I love about this curriculum is that if you notice, I went through the units of study and basically went through what, what they do and what they teach our students.

Speaker 2:          11:35          Um, but if you look at the units of study, it's nice because inside it says, Hey, go listen to this song. Hey, go listen to this music. Have your students listen to this. Uh, you as an educator, you should go listen to this music I put in along the way. Music of Cuba, music of Brazil, music of um, you know, the music of Cuba is hand and stick drumming. Then the musical Brazil is stick drumming with calls and responses. So then that is brought in. They can see how the African peoples moved that into our traditional drum line kind of thing where, and they can see the movement and this is all done by general music students. [chanting rhythm] That two-beat feel. So you can find that we have, we have a Cuban song in there. Mateo Dora, we have uh, we also have "Water Come on Me Eye."

Speaker 7:          12:40          [inaudible] [inaudible] the whole idea.

Speaker 2:          13:09          Water Come on Me Eye, I'll never forget, I started singing it one time at a workshop and somebody, one of the participants was very, very upset. And this has to do with how is it just how this curriculum changes you as a teacher. A music educator. They were upset because I was not singing it in the key of Water Come on Me Eye that is in the curriculum guide. Hmm. I had to remind them that music, that we put it in this key because we had to put it in some key, but if you've ever listened to a Jamaican or trinet or a Trinee sing this song, when you say, if I walk up to my, uh, my, one of our custodial staff is from Jamaica and he has this beautiful, beautiful, deep voice. And I said, Hey, uh, you know, a water come on me. I, and he goes, Water Come on Me Eye.

Speaker 2:          14:06          I, yeah, a lot. And he starts singing it. He didn't ask me what key [laughter], he didn't take out a pitch pipe. It just wants to do, he's just started singing and he's saying a rhythm that was completely different than the rhythm that's in this book. But he, it was the song. So you have to, you know, when I started singing it, every time I remember what I'll come, mommy I am. So sometimes when I sing it, every time I remember Liza, that's not exactly what's written in the book, but it, it , the students get it the students, The students understand the idea. And you as a music teacher have to be respectful. Are you gonna are you gonna take that? Are you, are you going to take this culture and this song from Trinidad, from Jamaica, and are you going to then start singing it every time? Every time I remember lies, Water Comes to My Eyes. What a terrible thing to do. Oh my gosh, what a terrible can you imagine? And we have to remember that if you're going to perform this music of other cultures, you gotta be mindful of that culture.

Speaker 4:          15:22          [inaudible]

Speaker 8:          15:27          well, I, you know, I just remind them at the beginning of the year, you know, it's, it's, it's going to be a study. We're going to study this. And the thing

Speaker 2:          15:35          I like about it as well is, you know, taking is the whole performance aspect. At no time does it say about performance and you know, each class period is a study. So you don't learn the entire ensemble for that unit that you're studying until the end of the unit. You know, you have to go through this stuff and the students don't mind it because they, they're used to that, you know, they don't learn, you know, everything there is to know about, uh, you know, a third grader, you know, you can't start the third graders with Algebra. They, you have to take them through this and they have to understand that this is a study. So this first getting them to understand beat and getting them to understand the feel of music. Boom to boom. Dega Dega debt, debt that might take a few class periods and they don't mind it.

Speaker 2:          16:30          They love it because you move around the classroom and everybody takes a different parts and sees things from a different perspective. Being able to move around the classroom and play a different part and have a different perspective about playing that part in the ensemble, uh, is magical as well. The students really, um, are, uh, they take to that and it's a great musical lesson as well. So tell me about what you've been thinking about with student life skills and how the world music drumming curriculum is so powerful for working on the things beyond musical performance. Oh, well, it is beyond for, for me specifically in my classroom. Um, that's what this is. This curriculum is not necessarily about performance. We do performances, but it is about social-emotional learning through project-based learning, it is developing social emotional learning through project based learning. Um, through the keywords, the keywords like respect, you know, we started the first thing, respect for the instruments, respect for each other, respect for the culture respect for community.

Speaker 2:          17:42          Uh, another key word is focus. A balance, um, balanced. Not just in music, but in your life. You got to have, and I explained this to the students, you know, you've got to have good, you've got to have the Yin Yang man. Um, you know, you got to have date other, you know, you don't realize how good the sun is until you don't have it. You know, it's a rainy day, uh, teamwork. Oh my goodness. Cooperation. Uh, some of the other, uh, key words, ensemble, understanding what an ensemble is. Understanding that you are part of something. One of the things I have on my, on my, in my room at hanging up is you are not you, you are we, you are us. We are you. Getting them to understand that they're part of that they are significant. Even if you just, if you're just playing the cow bell or if you're playing the gankogui, you are just as important as, as the 10 guys playing drums or, or 15 girls playing in the medium.

Speaker 2:          18:40          drum Part. Um, it's everybody's important and everybody's significant The students, Also, what I love about this curriculum and it opens their minds to learning, to wanting to learn, you know, they, they, they want to become a student. They go home and they're like, you know, and you give them a challenge, hey, can you play that part? Okay, well we'll work if you can't play that part. We'll work on next time. And they'll come in and do the next class period. Hey Mister Mader. I've been working on that part. I was like, Hey, you know what you just did? And they're like, what? I said homework you did homework. And so now they start seeing that learning is a positive thing. That the learning for the thirst to learn is more important. Wanting to learn is more important than being told. You must learn. And they take these skills of focus and knowing where there, where to learning and teaching is taking place. Into their other courses? What I have found is that the students want to do well on a part, not for themselves, but for the ensemble. They want to play their part well because they want the ensemble to sound good, not because they want to sound good. Uh, they, so that's how do you teach that? [Percussion ensemble break]

Speaker 5:          20:41          How has this curriculum changed you?

Speaker 2:          20:44          It's changed me because that, how do you play this music and, and, and, and, and wear a tie, and number two, um, it's, it's taught me to be more sympathetic or empathetic towards my students from where, where they're from there to their learning styles. It is also taught me, it has changed how I perceive other cultures. How I, uh, you know, someone once told me, um, that they didn't like tolerant the word tolerance, you know, teaching tolerance. Because if you think about it, that's kind of negative. I tolerate you. Can you imagine if somebody said that to you? You don't have, it's a very low bar. I really tolerate you. That's like, wow, it's taught me acceptance to accept people. I just want you to come in here and be part of us and be part of who we are. It has taught me, uh, and that was probably always part of who I am.

Speaker 2:          21:47          I was always kind of accepting of other people in other cultures, but this world music drumming curriculum, really, I like seeing the students that people have given up on, uh, seeing them rise, seeing them onstage, them playing improvisations, them working in their music. I love it when they're on stage and I'm not, when I'm performing a, when they're performing and you know, these are elementary kids, you know, uh, I teach third through eighth grade. Uh, we have, uh, a cluster of third through fifth graders on our campus. And it's amazing to see what they can do with this curriculum. So that is changed me in that way. It's changed me in that to really fulfill the concept of if you're a teacher, you're always a student. And you know, I've only been, I've, I've been, I've known, Sowah Mensah for over 20 years now, but I've only studied with him for what, half a year because 20 years is just 20 weeks.

Speaker 2:          22:50          I haven't even studied with him for an entire year yet. And, and I, I still know so little and that's amazing and I love that. I love the fact that, I don't know, and that I want to constantly learn and I learn from my students and my students teach me, my students teach me about their cultures, about the Haitian culture, the Dominican culture, and you know, these are all so many different mixtures of cultures within that culture. Uh, so it's just fascinating to learn all of that and to be, uh, it's a ride. I'd never thought that. I, I, I'm so thankful for Will Schmid, uh, that, that I was, uh, selected and was a part of it, you know, because, um, I, I never, I couldn't imagine in my wildest dreams about doing this, you know, uh, I will always do this. I will always want to do this and I can see doing this until, uh, you know, I've been, this is my 29th year teaching. I can see myself going for another 10 years.

Speaker 3:          23:51          James made her spoke of the importance of continuously learning music from the perspective of a studied culture encountering music of the other involves deep thinking about musical biases and modes of learning that we often take for granted. Music of African diasporas challenged many of our notions about what it means to be a musician, what it means to study music and how we should do music. Do you have to fully embed yourself within the culture to do it authentically? In many ways,

Speaker 2:          24:24          yes. Yeah. And, and, and that years and that my friend is, is also being that kind of person that social-emotional learning teaches. Yes, yes. Being that kind of person. Is it, and I'm not trying to say that you're going to then walk out of this. Like I, I heard a story about one time somebody went and, uh, went to study for a couple months in west Africa and now they come back and they say that there are master drummer. Woah, bad idea, man. And then number two, you can't say that you're African, you know, uh, you know, it's, you gotta mean we constantly respectful. I'm, I'm and Lord knows I'm the lightest skinned person in the classroom most often times in my classroom. And I'm teaching this culture and I'm teaching culture aspects. It's really important that I remain true that I am factual and that I am truly objective and real in how I teach you. If you noticed, I have always ended our emails with love and piece. Uh, and I always, I always tell the students, every single day at the end of the class, you know, um, a walkout slowly remember, teachers love you, be nice to them. And that's my way of saying that I love them and they know that that's true and genuine. They need to hear that more often I believe.

Speaker 3:          25:53          Beginning with 45 attendees. In 1997 the world music drumming curriculum is now found in 20,000 classrooms and summer workshops from California to Spain. I am inspired by the work of James Mader and so many music teachers who seek to integrate new forms of music, building connections, and empowering new voices in circular musical practice. Music education is strengthened as we embrace the fullness of diverse ways of doing music. Our education in diverse musics educates us in the richness of diverse and beautiful ways of being human. Special thanks to Mr. James Mader and the students at parkway middle school for recordings of their performances that were used in this broadcast. This is the music and peacebuilding podcast hosted by Kevin Shorner-Johnson at Elizabethtown College. We host a master of music education with an emphasis in peacebuilding thinking deeply. We reclaim space for connection and care. Join

Speaker 4:          27:12          [inaudible].

bottom of page