"The fourth grade slump, it is called," explained Teresa Bechen, principal of Jackson Elementary School in Davenport. "Once they were good at academics; maybe now they don't care. Where there hadn't been behavior problems before, maybe things now begin to escalate."
In her husband, St. Ambrose Professor of Music Gene Bechen, PhD, Teresa has found an ally who has helped several young Jackson students create a communal beat.
Since December, Gene Bechen and the Jackson "Bucket Boys" have gathered in the grade school's music room to form a drum circle once or twice each week. At his wife's request, the eighth-year SAU faculty member is enlisting that increasingly popular form of community music-making to teach the boys teamwork, mutual respect and, as a bit of a bonus, the fine arts of rhythm and syncopation.
"The Bucket Boys" have learned those lessons behind 16 five-gallon paint buckets, two per drummer, with each enlisting a pair of sawed-down dowels and their own internal beats.
"There's something about it-kind of a primal thing," said Bechen, a longtime music teacher who grew up behind a drum kit himself. "Everybody has got it in them. And the buckets are loud and I don't care how hard they hit them. They let off a lot of steam. It's therapeutic too."
"Bucket Boy" Anthony has been fascinated by drums since shortly after he learned to walk and found himself watching a drummer accompany his grandmother's church choir. Ultimately, curiosity led to a drum set all his own.
"I'll go home and I'll practice," he said following a "Bucket Boy" practice session in mid-March. "I'll try to make my own beats and stuff."
SAU's Bechen said pride in ownership helps hold his young drum crew's interest.
"I create a lot of opportunity for them to improvise," he said. "I'll say ‘Marcos, have you got a beat today?' He'll come in with this really complicated thing he's got in his head and we all learn it. And then from that day on, it is Marcos' beat.''
The real fun comes from stacking one drummer's beat on top of another's. "They fit together and it takes it to a completely different place musically," the music prof said.
Well-received performances at an all-school assembly and last month's annual Jackson Elementary Talent Show have elevated the self-esteem of "The Bucket Boys."
But as benefits go, Anthony confirmed Teresa Bechen's highest hope when he reversed his initial instinct to not join the group because there were boys involved who he didn't think he liked. "Then I started thinking we could be better friends if I stayed in here," he said. "We're doing teamwork and you become friends with your team."
Teresa Bechen said her husband's volunteer coaching has had a measurable impact.
"I see them in the halls saying ‘Hi' to each other and I never saw that before," she said. "Whether or not they are friends, they have a common bond now. They didn't have that before."
One other pleasing development for the music-loving Bechens: Two of "The Bucket Boys," Anthony and Marcos, plan to join the school band.
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