Kelley School fifth-graders meet an hour before school Thursday mornings for a 40-minute practice session playing a unique percussion instrument — a 5-gallon, royal blue plastic utility bucket.
The 19 students make up the Bucket Brigade, and these young musicians love the unique, rhythmic and loud brand of music they make together under the direction of Cynthia Briggs, Kelley School instrumental music teacher and Newark Central School District’s Music Department leader.
Students play their buckets — which had been filled with the chalk used to stripe the Newark High School athletic fields before Briggs obtained them — with drum sticks.
Notes for this music genre are played by reading sheet music and making strategic hits with their sticks to the head of the inverted bucket, the rim or the sides. Other sounds for this music are made by stick clicks and hitting the nearby floor.
Briggs formed the first Bucket Brigade during the 2015-16 school year because she was looking for something new and different. She said the fifth-graders were equally enthusiastic about making bucket music once the initial, challenging learning curve was behind them.
Bucket Brigade members had to sign a contract promising to attend every single 40-minute Thursday morning rehearsal unless they were sick. That’s quite a commitment, because the other requirement to become a Bucket Brigade musician is that each student must be a member of the Fifth Grade Band. Each of the 19 students must come to school an hour early three mornings a week, not just one.
“This group of students are here because they want to be,” Briggs said.
Each and every member must play in a coordinated, precise fashion, so practice is essential.
“Students have to be really focused and concentrate, because if one person makes a mistake it is very noticeable, much more so than it would be in band,” Briggs said.
The youthful music makers — 16 of which play non-percussion instruments in band — say it’s worth it.
Some practice on their buckets at home, sometimes in bedrooms and basements at their parents’ request due to noise. Milleniyah Glanton said her dog hides behind her mother when she practices.
Parents saw their students perform for the first time at the Kelley School band concert in December. The next concerts will be in June and possibly at another community event.
AJ Comella, who plays the tuba in band, said he enjoys playing the bucket.
“It’s rhythmically different,” Comella said. “I like the different sounds.”
Melea Kuzmenko, who plays the mallets in band, said she likes playing the bucket better because it’s easier and fun. Beatrice VanRiper, who plays the flute in band, said she enjoys bucket music because she likes the way it sounds.