By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News
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“Anyone can hit something,” said Jack Meissner, 14, of Chimacum.
“But you have to have some skill to do this correctly.”
Meissner is one of 14 youth from age 13 to 19 who are now enrolled in Rhythm Planet, an extracurricular music group that meets every Wednesday night at the First Baptist Church, 1202 Lawrence St., Port Townsend.
It’s unique because it’s multi-generational and flexible, conducter Aaron Vallat said.
Drums are the centerpiece, but performances include guitars, keyboards and horns.
Students are encouraged to switch between the instruments.
The program lets teenagers interact side-by-side in a musical setting with professional players — such as Locust Street Taxi guitarist Franco Bertucci.
“There are very few programs where kids get to be creative and spend time with professionals as equals,” Vallat said.
“And in most cases they play the leading role.”
That’s just fine with Bertucci.
“It’s great fun for me to play with the kids,” he said.
“It’s the perfect thing for them to be doing on a Wednesday night,” he added.
“Otherwise they’d be on Facebook or stuck doing their math homework.”
Vallat, 45, a construction coordinator at Jefferson Healthcare hospital, volunteers his time to the program.
It supports itself through a $75 yearly tuition from each participant. Some scholarships are available.
While contributions are accepted, they are not actively solicited.
The best way to assist the program is to “give us opportunities to play,” Vallat said.
He spends much of each lesson teaching rhythm techniques such as coordinated hand claps, then working on actual songs which are contemporary selections pressed into the Rhythm Planet framework.
“We take a melody that people are familiar with and then add a lot of drums to make it our own,” he said.
Selections often are from modern groups such as Sublime, Jason Mraz or the White Stripes.
The teens haven’t yet warmed up to classic rock, Vallat said.
Vallat formed the program that evolved into Rhythm Planet in 1996. It has been in its current form since 2008.
According to its Facebook page, Rhythm Planet “is a teen music program that mixes folkloric drum rhythms from Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Brazil and western Africa with popular music from the U.S. and Europe.”
In this incarnation, it has played Bumbershoot, the Seattle Folklife Festival and the Sequim Lavender Festival and is a regular part of the Locust Street’s Annual Taxifest in August.
Upcoming shows include an appearance at the Stars of Tomorrow at 3 p.m. March 15 at the Port Townsend High School, 1500 Van Ness St.
While the age of the musicians usually keeps them from performing in bars, they have played at the old Town Tavern, but they were restricted as to how they entered the venue, Vallat said.
He is hoping the kids will be able to perform outside at the Pour House, 2231 Washington St., this summer by accessing the stage through the courtyard rather than going through the bar area.
Students look forward to the weekly rehearsals, said Mitch Brennan, a Chimacum School Elementary School teacher who sits in on drums and trumpet.
For many, it is the high point of their week, Brennan said.
Students seemed to agree
“I like being here, playing music with a bunch of people my age who share my interests,” said Emmett Erickson, 13.
Added Ciel Pope, also 13: “This gives me a chance to explore instruments that I haven’t played before.”
For more information go to http://tinyurl.com/PDN-Drums.
Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or firstname.lastname@example.org.