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Connecting to Cultures

Connecting to Cultures (and each other!) with Tamboo Bamboo 

This year in the THA music program, we are focusing on musical traditions from around the world. We began in the Caribbean with a Trinidadian tradition called Tamboo Bamboo. Trinidadians use actual bamboo, but we improvised and used PVC pipes instead. 

Historical and cultural context is extremely important when learning about a style of music. Click here to learn some of what the students discovered about Tamboo Bamboo. 

In the US, most of our musical traditions are presentational- a person or a group prepares, then performs for an audience. There is generally a separation between performers and audience, and there is a certain level of restriction on the music in order to ensure it’s successful in performance (think of a choir concert or going to a ballet, symphony, etc). This structure can sometimes result in people feeling as if they belong to a category- musician (those performing) or non-musician (those watching/listening). 

Many other cultures, including peoples from Africa, Eastern Europe, and the Caribbean, focus on participatory styles of music. This means that everyone is considered a musician, and everyone joins in with their own rhythm! Tamboo Bamboo is a participatory style of music-making: everyone is either playing, dancing, or singing along. It takes a lot of listening, a lot of courage, and a lot of trust! 

Moving from a presentational to participatory mindset can be difficult for some students, especially if they haven’t identified as a “musician” before. But with some patience, practice, and kindness (and some PVC!), the 6th grade class made the journey and experienced a powerful outcome. 

The first time we played Tamboo Bamboo was… not so good. We hesitated, we tried and failed to get a groove going, and we fell apart. After some discussion and a few more tries, we got a little better- some moments locked in and we started to understand what it meant to improvise together. Still, not everyone was convinced that Tamboo Bamboo was anything more than something their music teacher was making them do. 

Fast forward to our “performance”- during a Shabbat lunch, the 2nd-7th grade classes showcased different traditions rooted in the Caribbean, and the 6th grade did an excellent job showcasing Tamboo Bamboo in front of the school. After lunch Rabbi Billy came into the music room- “WAIT! I was gone and missed your show! Can you play it again for me?” The 6th graders were ready to play it one more time and the magic happened. We loosened up, we found a groove, we changed rhythms without hesitation, and we whacked those pipes without worrying what anyone else was thinking. All of this happened without any talking! The communication was in the music. The energy in the room was beautiful and infectious. 

After we ended, the class took a seat. I asked them how they felt- one student offered, “I think that’s how it was supposed to feel.” Heads nodded. We shared in our proud moment, then played Tamboo Bamboo for the rest of the period.

Jessica Edelbrock

Jessica Edelbrock
Music Teacher

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