Bringing 'Stomp' to the classroom
A drummer creates music programs in which participants use instruments made from nature.
"Stomp," one of Off-Broadway’s longest running hits, demonstrates how people can make music with everyday items such as brooms, aluminum cans and garbage pails. When David Fenster, a music teacher in Israel specializing in percussion instruments, first saw a performance of "Stomp" on video, he said his eyes lit up with excitement.
"This all had a profound effect on me. I've seen the movie dozens of times, and have shown it to students over the years," he told From the Grapevine. "It has certainly influenced me."
Fenster, a 53-year-old grandfather, grew up in Johannesburg and has traveled the African continent. "I witnessed the Africans using rhythm in a 'stomp' way in everyday life," he said. "On a building site, the workers would be singing magnificently while accompanying themselves on their work tools. The hammering and sawing would be in time to the music. They would throw bricks to each other according to set rhythms. Losing the beat meant being hit by a flying brick!"
In Israel, Fenster works within formal school settings for half the week, and spends the rest of his time as an informal educator outside of the classroom. There, he uses his musical talents to bring rhythm to schools and community centers without music programs. In his spare time, he plays with local rock bands.
Fenster arrived at his present gigs via a circuitous route. He began his career as an educator but later turned his attention to forestry. Cutting down trees connected him with nature’s bounty, and his environmental consciousness motivated him to build a business making instruments from natural products and using them in the classroom.
Some of the unusual instruments David Fenster uses in his percussion show. (Photo: Sue Robins)
Faced with budget cuts, many school administrators asked Fenster to begin music programs at their schools because his programs require little funding. Most of the instruments are handmade by students from natural products. For example, kids will bring in old kitchen pots and bottles and line them up according to size to produce different sounds. “An old plastic or metal trash receptacle can serve a purpose," Fenster explained. "Indeed, it can be a thing of beauty. I try to get my students to see the whole world differently. Even mundane household items can create music and harmony.”
At a recent performance for children, Fenster recounted that as a child he was never really interested in candy. Instead, he wanted a drum. When his parents told him to be patient, he began crafting instruments from household items such as silverware and waste baskets. When he finally was given drumsticks as a gift, he realized that he could make music by banging on chairs, tables and the floor.
To supplement his teaching, Fenster regularly stages interactive percussion events for birthday parties and corporate training sessions. In these business seminars, Fenster deliberately does not bring in actual drums but uses household items, such as coat hangers and paint cans, as percussion instruments to make people feel more at ease. No participant can say that “I can’t play drums” because there are no drums. No musical training is required.
David Fenster leads a women's group in his audience-participation percussion show. (Photo: courtesy of David Fenster)
The corporate sessions impart a message of recycling that is applied to life as well as to the environment. Fenster, in reminiscing about his work history, feels that his years spent cutting down trees and his interest in drama – which he attributes to his mother, an actress – led him to what he is doing now. “They were not wasted years as I originally thought,” he said. “If you think about the negative stuff that you went through and realize that it prepared you for something new and special, then life is recycled. Nothing has been wasted.”
For Fenster, percussion instruments focus on rhythm. “Rhythm,” he said, "is the language which everyone speaks. It is the language of the soul, and music represents the collective heartbeat of humanity.”
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