Three Musicians, One Dream: Drumpetello Impacts Underserved K-12 Students Through Music

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Three Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi professors are using their unique musical talents to make an Islander impact on children from local underserved schools. Dr. Matthew McClung, associate professor of music and percussionist, Dr. Carrie Pierce, associate professor of music and cellist, and Dr. Mary Thornton, professor of music and trumpeter, formed Drumpetello five years ago. Since then, the ensemble, which features a dynamic trio of percussion, trumpet and cello, has participated in annual outreach efforts to local and rural South Texas schools.

“Many of the great chamber music ensembles of our time were generated out of friendship and a shared sense of musicianship,” said Thornton. “Carrie and Matt and I had all worked together in various duos and we decided that we’d like to work together as a trio. This was a fantastic idea but also really difficult since there was no music written for our combination.”

As the trio tried to figure out how to make this work, the Island University had a call for proposals for a Faculty Innovation Grant. Drumpetello was fortunate to be awarded the grant, which allowed them to commission great composers. With their new music inspired by Mexican folk tales and mythology, Drumpetello took their show on the road to bring new excitement to local classrooms.

In the years since its inception, Drumpetello has reached out to more than 50 schools through its “Bravo! Kids on the Road!” programs. Schools include Agua Dulce Elementary and Schallert, Garcia and Salazar Elementary Schools in Alice. Drumpetello performs for children in K-12 with a 45-minute program that addresses many Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills fine arts and mathematics concepts through music. In 2018, the program is expected to reach over 1,700 young students and school faculty. This year’s theme will be “mathematics” and Drumpetello plans to show students how math and numbers are an important part of how people experience music and the world around them.

“There is nothing like hands-on experience, and there is nothing like seeing art happen up close,” said Thornton. “During our school visits, we try to get the students up close to us. We want them to feel the vibrations of the drums, we want them to hear me breathe to play the trumpet, we want them to see how the cello works when playing pizzicato or with the bow. We believe when a student feels part of what we are doing, they are engaged in a way that lets them experience math or physics concepts on a visceral level.”

One of the pieces Drumpetello plans to use for the mathematics program is about a vampire in an abandoned clothing store. While incorporating references to the “Count” from Sesame Street, Drumpetello will illustrate concepts in counting, addition, subtraction and multiplication. Through their work, Drumpetello hopes to inspire a love of music and learning in these students whose schools may not have arts programs.

“At first it was hard to get my mind around what Drumpetello would look or sound like, but my reservations were quickly put to rest and our students and teachers loved it,” said Wayne Kelly, former principal of Agua Dulce Elementary. “In less than an hour, our students received folk stories, culture, lessons in science, music and sound. One kindergarten student who has a difficult time sitting still was fixed on the presentation the entire time and only moved her hands to the beat of the music.”

Monica Morales Garcia, principal of Mary R. Garcia Elementary in Alice, shared a similar sentiment.

“My campus is a 100 percent economically disadvantaged school and it is rare my students get to have these experiences,” said Garcia. “Many of my students have not even been outside the city limits, so I was excited Drumpetello could make it to our school. I feel the experience the students had will remain with them forever!”

Praise like this, and the response from students, is what keeps Drumpetello motivated year to year.

“It is true that Drumpetello has performed in many places here and abroad, but one of the things that Matt, and Carrie and I are most proud of is the meaningful work we can do right here in our South Texas home,” said Thornton. “There’s nothing like the smile on a second grader’s face when we play ‘Piquete-Zina,’ which is a movement about the Aztec Bat God, and I tell him his Batman sweatshirt represents the modern-day version. These connections from our present to our past and to our future through music are what Drumpetello is all about.”

Drumpetello is now partially funded through a grant from the Coastal Bend Community Foundation. The ensemble also received a scholarship grant from the Pan American Round Table of Corpus Christi to assist with recording costs and is fortunate to receive essential support from private individuals in the local community.

Drumpetello will hold a CD release recital on Sunday, April 15, at 2 p.m. at the Performing Arts Center. The performance, which is free and open to the public, is designed for an eclectic mix of music lovers. Drumpetello’s new CD “The Beginning of Everything” is the first recording utilizing a chamber music ensemble of percussion, trumpet and cello.

“The entire concept for our debut CD was to take the cultural heritage of this area and have it serve as the inspiration for an entirely new ensemble,” said Thornton. “A new kind of art music, and a new kind of bridge to the musicians and audiences of the future,”

CD’s will be available for purchase at the event.