Beat for Peace Iowa aims to build strong students through music

Ensemble to perform in Marion on Saturday

Resilience. The word and its other iterations resonate, a conversational refrain in conversations about Beat for Peace.

“The big push of it is, we want to create resilient students and children,” said Paul Corbierè, co-creator of Beat for Peace. “People who are not resilient get taken down and there’s a snowballing effect, where resilient people keep bouncing back. We used to say it was like wearing a big inner tube around you as you walk around planet Earth and things just bounce off of you. And when they bounce off of you, they leave a little mark or a scar and you learn something.”

That’s the crux of the world music drumming ensemble, which attempts to build emotionally durable students through the power of percussion. Corbierè, a music teacher at Roundy Elementary School in Columbus Junction, will bring his Beat for Peace Iowa ensemble to Marion on Saturday, April 20 to perform at the Cedar Valley Kite Festival. The free event is set to begin at 2 p.m. at the Summit Pointe Senior Living Community, 3505 English Glen Ave.

“Traditionally, kites attract children. Therefore, it seemed appropriate to me to bring a musical act to the kite festival where children were performing. This way, the main audience will be able to relate much closer to the music being performed,” said festival coordinator David Wendell. “The fact that it’s a marimba played by people of the same age will hopefully inspire them to want to learn more not only about the marimba but about its cultural heritage. And, to me, that’s one of the most important aspects of this, is enhancing global understanding.”

Beat's beginning

Alongside school counselor Michael Kane, Corbierè piloted Beat for Peace at Starlight Cove Elementary School in Lantana, Fla. The building had – and continues to have – high numbers of students qualifying for free and reduced-price lunches, a statistic indicating a school’s poverty rate. Kane and Corbierè were hoping to combine their skills in a way to reach learners, who may be struggling academically or come from homes where there is a lack of positive role models.

“The idea of a resilient person is that they possess certain characteristics like perseverance, drive, they have a positive outlook on life. They possess these characteristics at times intrinsically,” Kane said. “But there’s also the opportunity to teach kids and adults to develop these characteristics.”

The framework was as follows: Once a week Corbierè would teach the students, whom he or another staff member has recommended, to play the marimba and other percussive instruments as a cohesive ensemble, utilizing key concepts such as listening skills, teamwork, respect and focus.

“When you are drumming with other people, it doesn’t matter where they’re from, it doesn’t matter who they are, it doesn’t matter what your baggage is or what their baggage is,” he said. “With drumming, I can get students to listen at a much higher level, listening musically, at a much higher level almost immediately and at least to show them why it’s important.”

Then Kane would work weekly with the students in small groups of about eight to 10 and do activities that reinforce those lessons and enable the drummers to carry those skills beyond music. It’s three steps, he said: build, apply and remind.

Kane has tracked student progress through pre- and post-program surveys, discipline referrals and school attendance. The results, which he called “pretty consistent” since the inception of Beat for Peace, showed increased attendance and a decline in discipline referrals for some students, though he’d like to do a more scientific study comparing student progress in Beat for Peace buildings across the country to schools without it.

An Iowa incarnation

Corbierè left Florida and began the Beat for Peace Iowa ensemble in 2005 at Roundy Elementary, also a school with a large population of students qualifying for free- and reduced-price lunches. He encountered some hurdles in trying to re-create his Florida success up north, namely that people didn’t initially comprehend the concept of attending a performance of elementary school student percussionists playing largely African, Caribbean and Afro-Cuban music.

Corbierè, it seems, has had much more luck reaching his young musicians. Gloria Montiel, a sixth-grader and longtime Beat for Peace Iowa member, and fourth-grader Michelle Diaz have experienced both laughs and lessons as part of the ensemble.

“I feel like everybody learns more responsibility and respect and how music can bring the most different people together,” Montiel said. “I think I’m more of a confident person and I feel more confident in my work in class.”

The students have performed throughout Iowa and Corbierè was even able to take them to St. Louis in 2012 to play at the American Orff-Schulwerk Association’s national conference.

Both long- and short-term goal setting are concepts the program incorporates and Sonya Stanerson, the Roundy Elementary guidance counselor who works with the school’s Beat for Peace ensemble, said these opportunities are important.

“Some of the students would like to stay here for the rest of their lives. Some of them would be fine doing what their parents do. That’s fine. There’s no right and wrong in any of this,” she said. “I think exposing (the students) to a variety of opportunities is beneficial so they can see what’s out there and then they can make that decision.”

Beat for Peace Iowa sustains itself largely through fundraising and students do not pay a participation fee, nor are they responsible for travel, food or instrument costs.

This year's ensemble has 45 Roundy Elementary students playing various marimbas and hand-held percussive instruments. With almost a decade behind it, the group appears to be almost as resilient as some of its students.

“The most important thing that I’ve learned is just to have fun and if we mess up we keep on going so people don’t know,” Diaz said.

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