Screw, glue, string, strum: Brinnon students make instruments in a day

CHIMACUM — They arrived at 9:45 a.m. at the Chimacum Schools campus, eight middle school students and 10 elementary-age students and their two teachers from Brinnon.

By the time they got back in the bus at 2 p.m., each student had made a stringed instrument called a strum stick, and learned how to fret the strings to play a tune.

“It sounds like a banjo,” said Levi Clum, giving a demonstration.

Clum is an eighth grader at Chimacum, one of seven student assistants who helped teacher Evan Harrison and Andy Mackie lead the workshop Wednesday, the first for a visiting school.

The student helpers had taken, or are currently taking, a class that Mackie’s music foundation started in December at Chimacum, where students make instruments from scratch.

“You start with a square piece of wood,” said Aschlyn Pruitt, 13.

“You use a sander, a drill press to drill holes for the tuners and the sound hole, and a band saw to cut the front and back plates.

“I had never used power tools before.”

Class a partnership

The instrument-making class at Chimacum is a partnership between the Andy Mackie Music Foundation and the school district.

It also received support from local donors, but is mainly funded by a gift from an anonymous donor who saw an “Assignment America” segment about Mackie and his music foundation on CBS News last spring.

Since the class started, dozens of middle-school students at Chimacum have made instruments in the wood shop, plus extra pieces for kits.

“They get done with one step and ask “What can we do now?” Harrison said.

“I tell them, “Cut out a dozen more.”

On Wednesday, each Brinnon student received a kit, which consists of the cut-out instrument with the frets attached.

Making an instrument

Students attached the tuner pegs with screws, put their name inside, then glued the front plate on.

When that dried, they put three nails to hold the strings, then attached the strings to the nails on one end of the instrument and the tuning pegs on the other.

“This is really fun,” said Julia Hansen, 14, as she constructed her strum stick.

Clum said that since a strum stick only has three strings, you can’t really play chords on it, but it sounds good no matter what you do.

Gay Corey, who teaches the combined third, fourth and fifth grades at Brinnon, said she plans to use Mackie’s DVD to learn to play the instrument right along with her students.

“This will be our music for the week,” Brinnon middle school teacher Tom Thorsen said of the workshop.

Mackie also gave each student a harmonica and taught them to play “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.”

Acquaintances renewed

Some of the students recalled Mackie coming to their pre-school class and teaching them tunes.

“Mr. Mackie, do you remember me? I remember you,” said Neil Tyler Vander Pol, 10. “I remember when you gave me my first harmonica.”

“He taught me to play the violin in third grade,” said Erin Springer, now a middle school student.

Other Brinnon students also plan to add playing the strum stick to their list of musical talents.

Ruby Murray, 11, who plays the piano and has sung in public since she was 2 years old — her specialty is “The Star-Spangled Banner” at community events — said she and her friends, Kourtney Benek, 10, and Caitlin Walker, 10, may incorporate the instruments into their pop country band, Tenacious Melody.

“We write our own songs,” Walker said.

Six Chimacum students who took the first instrument-making class during winter trimester are now making six-stringed guitars in the spring class, Harrison said.

Also helping at the workshop, in addition to Clum and Pruitt, were students Kayla Hill, Brad Moore, Max Swenson, Jacob Szczpanik and David Thomas.

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Port Townsend/Jefferson County reporter-columnist Jennifer Jackson can be reached at jjackson@olypen.com.

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