Blue Thunder Drumline members teach percussion skills to Chief Leschi students

CLS drumline photo

By Hailey Palmer, Puyallup Tribal News

Chief Leschi drumline instructors Heather Parks and Andrell Robinson had never heard of a music program that only focused on percussion until they got to the school, last year.

There were also no plans to add other instruments to the music program.

Both of those things immediately jumped out to Parks and Robinson, who are also members of the Seattle Seahawks Blue Thunder Drumline.

“A drumline that only has a percussion section and only wants a percussion section – that was the pitch to both of us, and we were both like, ‘Wait, that’s different,’” Parks said. “It was a clean slate, and they were telling us, ‘Hey, please do what you want, you’re the experts.’ That almost never happens as band directors.”

Having mostly taught percussion in private sessions before, Parks and Robinson said they had to make an adjustment to being in a classroom of middle and high schoolers.

“I’ve worked in some summer camps and things, but as far as the overall classroom environment goes, it’s definitely a different situation to tackle,” Robinson said.

Even with an adjustment period, Parks and Robinson both expressed how much fun it has been to teach the Tribal youth.

“It’s a job you go into where you don’t feel like you’re necessarily working,” Robinson said. “It’s fun to help set other people on a path.”

Parks said it feels like they’re just practicing every day.

“We’re showing them how to do it, but we also get to play, you know?” Parks said. “In that respect it does feel like more of a fun job than anything else, but also just teaching them shows us what we still don’t know and what we need to work on.”

Students Jada Mayer and Ahnika McKinney didn’t exactly sign up for the class, but being put into it has been a great experience. “It’s been fun to learn the basics,” Mayer said.

McKinney said the best parts of the program have been being able to learn and put together a new song. “For me, it’s just playing and learning songs,” McKinney said.

And while drumming is a large part of Tribal culture, Parks and Robinson said they know the two styles are different, and cultural drumming isn’t in their wheelhouse, but that hasn’t stopped students from merging the two.

“The kids have come in here and played circle songs on these drums, sang and had fun, and we’re cool with that, but that’s not our expertise,” Parks said. “We kind of try to stay, respectfully, away.”

Students in the drumline program can be seen performing at school events such as assemblies, football games and celebrations.

Photo courtesy of Chief Leschi Schools