NORTH BEND — It’s 3 p.m. on a Tuesday. The last bus has pulled away from Hillcrest Elementary School. Peace reigns in deserted hallways.
Down the stairs and around a corner, joyful noises spill from the school’s music room. Tink-tink-tink! Tonk-tonk! Tink-tunk!
Marimba Club is vigorously in session. Fifth-grade lips count silently as music teacher Sharon Rogers keeps time with a rattling gourd. Concentration furrows fifth-grade brows as 17 pairs of mallets pummel marimbas and xylophones of every size.
After just a handful of after-school sessions, these kids are making music. Real music.
Rogers formed the Marimba Club last month, using grants and gifts to buy the instruments. The final piece will fall into place next week, with a $4,000 award from the Coquille Tribal Community Fund.
“Music is an important component to a child’s overall educational experience,” explained Tribal Fund Administrator Rachele Lyon.
The Tribal Fund will award dozens of grants this year, including seven focusing on arts and culture. In all, 44 grantees will collect more than $360,000 during the tribe’s 2017 Grant Week. It’s the South Coast’s biggest grant distribution of the year.
Marimbas may seem an exotic choice for kids in a small Oregon town, but Rogers sees the instruments as ideal teaching tools. They don’t demand long hours of practice before producing music. Children can learn simple patterns that, when layered atop one another, produce intricate, melodious mosaics. The music is upbeat and happy, and Rogers says playing a marimba is just plain fun.
“It’s like dancing with your arms,” she said.
Besides rhythm and general music skills, Rogers says playing marimbas fosters eye-hand coordination, social skills, and a sense of community.
“It improves our brains,” Rogers said. “Anything we learn is going to be improved by the practice of music.”
Joining Marimba Club is an honor reserved for fifth-graders — the top grade at Hillcrest. Positioning the group as an elite ensemble gives younger kids something to aspire to.
“There are 500 kids in the school,” Rogers said, “and every one of them can look forward to playing one of these.”
Rogers’ personal passion drives the marimba project. She bankrolled the initial marimbas with grants from the Coos County Cultural Foundation, the North Bend School Foundation, the school district’s After School Fund, and Hillcrest’s PTA, along with about 20 individual donations. After locating an affordable marimba builder in California, she used part of her Christmas break to pick up the instruments in person. Her trip saved enough on shipping to pay for one whole marimba.
The Tribe’s grant will cover the remaining instruments, including a thunderous bass marimba. Rogers will fetch the second batch during spring break.
At $600 to $1,800 each, marimbas are long-term investments. But Rogers says well-made marimbas will last “pretty much forever, if you take care of them.”
That means, with any luck, the instruments purchased in 2017 will inspire dancing arms for generations to come.