EVERETT — The students are so loud the windows shake.
Their teacher doesn’t hush or shush them. He has them make more noise.
What’s up with that?
It’s the Wednesday after-school Percussion Club, run by the PE teacher in the music room where songs about fast-food are pulsated on drums.
Pat Jameson is the tall man in gym shorts and cool red Nikes with the whistle around his neck. The drummers are Challenger Elementary School boys and girls in third through fifth grades.
There’s no audition, it’s invite only. Students are chosen by their teachers or by Jameson to build confidence and teamwork.
Jameson knows first-hand about the power of drumming for kids.
“I was very active and fidgety,” he said, “and this was one way I could actually channel that energy into a skill or talent that I could then use in front of people.”
For an hour, it’s nonstop motion. Drumsticks tap, rattle and pound.
“I like to practice moving my hands and moving faster,” third-grader Jayven Nation said. “It never gets loud. Not for me.”
Jameson uses hand gestures to raise and lower the intensity.
Students watch as their gym teacher by day transforms into a rock star conductor. When he blows his whistle it has a different meaning than in PE.
It’s a warning cue for the final set of the song.
When “Chicken Nuggets” ends, it’s time to start “All You Can Eat Buffet.” Then “I Want a Bottomless Soda” and “Ketchup Mustard.”
The words are a mnemonic device à la Jameson style to help students remember the rhythmic patterns of the songs.
“When I was young, a guy told me one of the most simple beats was to just play a phrase like ‘salt and pepper, salt and pepper.’ I said, ‘OK, I can remember that,’” he said.
He expanded his repertoire for the club in keeping with a food theme.
“I picked a beat and made a phrase to go with it that has to do with meals.”
After listening to these drummers, you’ll never simply say,“All you can eat buffet” again. You’ll tap it to a beat in your head and maybe on the table: All-you-can-eat — BUF-FET!
There’s no sheet music or musical notations. Song names are the food phrase in big letters on plain white paper. Students practice all songs and solo in one.
“I like the music that we make and how we participate,” fifth-grader Andric Villanueva-Romero said.
“I like to express my talent,” said Michael Cherniychuk, also in fifth grade.
So far, their audience has been limited to the people who poke their heads into the room wondering what all the racket is.
“The idea is that hopefully by May or June we will have an assembly where we can do a performance in front of the school,” Jameson said.
No matter that the club just started in January.
“I want to play in front of the school,” fifth-grader Milson Lain said.
Jameson, 32, launched a drum club for students at a middle school in his native England before moving to Washington, where his wife’s parents lived at the time. He started teaching at Challenger three years ago.
He missed sharing his drumming passion with others. Last year, he talked some fellow teachers into doing an act in the school talent show. Under his tutelage, they clunked out “Chicken Nuggets” and other such hits on metal pots and plastic buckets, and got a lot of confused looks. He wasn’t sure his colleagues would be such good sports this year.
He got approval to form a drum club for students at the school, which doesn’t have a percussion program. Kennelly Keys Music donated a dozen pairs of drumsticks.
At first the instruments were those pots he forced the teachers to use, and broken Conga drums he covered in duct tape. Chairs were also used as drums.
Jameson wanted each kid to have a drum, a real drum. So he sent an email asking if any schools had old drums to spare.
Kamiak High School band director Toby Bathurst responded right away, offering 10 drums. These included toms and drum line models that the band no longer needed.
It’s so much better than what the self-taught Jameson had in his youth.
“I started playing on cardboard boxes. My snare drum was my hamster cage inside of the box because that rattled. And that’s how I practiced my drum,” he said.
“It was helpful as a release and a distraction and being able to make noise.”
He sees results in his students.
“Some came in timid.”
Not for long, though. They have a license to be loud.
“To see their faces from the very beginning, and just trying to keep up, to now where they are leading their own beat and focused on it,” he said. “They really get a sense of being part of a group.”
Students take turns leading. They help each other out.
The bottled-up energy from being in class all day melts into rhythms.
“It is loud but at the same time it also helps get the energy out of me,” third-grader Lynette “Milly” Milagros said. “It ends up tiring me out, but I still like it because it is relaxing.”
Practice extends outside the club.
“I like to do it on my desk while I am doing math,” said Esteban Estrada-Orcaza.
(His fifth-grade teacher confirmed this.)
Teagan McLaughlin-Clausen, a third-grader, has played with drumsticks since the first grade.
“My grandpa has a set of drums. He used to be in a band,” she said. “If I grow out of drumming, I might want to be a zookeeper.”