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Library program on international instruments takes kids around the world

Library program on international instruments takes kids around the world


Kids were able to learn about a variety of musical instruments from around the world at the Grand Island Public Library Monday morning.

The library, in partnership with the Nebraska Arts Council, hosted the Drums of the World program as part of its summer reading programming. International touring artist Michael Fitzsimmons of Omaha presented his instruments from around the world to the approximately 125 kids in attendance and demonstrated the sound of each of them.

The first instrument Fitzsimmons showed was a Djembe drum from West Africa.

To make the drum, he said, a tree is cut down and cut into different lengths. From there, basic axes are used to form the basic shape of the drum.

“They will take them back to where they are working and use very fine carving tools to make this beautiful carving on the drum,” Fitzsimmons said. “Then, they take hot coals when it is still solid and let them burn through until it is hollowed out all the way up to the top. It is an amazing process.”

He said on the top of the Djembe drum was goat hide, which is “a little bit thinner” than a cow hide and “has a deeper sound to it.”

Another international instrument shown was the conga drum.

Fitzsimmons said these drums originally came from Africa, but later ended up in Cuba. The drums are of two different sizes, with one being called a conga and the other a tumbadora. Typically, two or three of them are played at the same time.

Several of his instruments were given to him by his friends, he said. One such instrument was a Brazilian percussion flute, which he showcased Monday morning.

“It is called a percussion flute because it is not typically played like a typical flute,” Fitzsimmons said. “It does not have holes (in places) typical flutes do. It has a hole and there is a smiley face. There is a piece of wood that slides right through the lip of the smiley face and pitch varies on how hard or soft you blow into a hole and move your finger back and forth.”

Other instruments he showcased were a Lakota flute and a Kalimba from South Africa.

“The Kalimba has metal (keys) on it that are of different lengths,” he said. “The shorter they are, the higher the pitch. It looks a little bit like a birdhouse. The way this works is you move your thumbs back and forth on top of the instrument.”

With the Lakota flute, Fitzsimmons said, he is intrigued by the fact the instrument was played 200 years ago and that people say it sounds like nature when it is played.

At the end of his presentation, he had 12 volunteers come forward to play a drum. He tapped on their shoulder and blew a whistle to allow each volunteer to perform a drum solo.

Fitzsimmons said he enjoys doing library presentations and enjoys “seeing kids play those drums for the first time.”

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