EPIC Academy’s Four Layer Players to rock the house at Art for All Gala

The scoop: The Four Layer Players, composed of approximately 10 students from Michael Riendeau’s after-school percussion residency at EPIC Academy, will perform at Urban Gateways’ Art for All Gala on March 8 (with a possible cameo appearance by Executive Director Eric Delli Bovi). Urban Gateways is EPIC’s lead partner in its 21st Century Community Learning Center programming, providing a full scope of arts offerings.

The high schoolers of the Four Layer Players have been working with Michael all school year on snare, bass, and tenor drums, with one student accompanying on a drum set. Below, we talked with the teaching artist about his program at EPIC and the upcoming Gala performance.

UG: Can you tell us a little about your percussion residency at EPIC, and how the Four Layer Players came to be?

Michael Riendeau: There are a variety of after-school activities for EPIC students, including visual arts, music production and percussion with Urban Gateways [read more about UG programs at EPIC right here]. It’s great because students can try out different things to see what suits them best. There is so much talent at this school!

I started as a teaching artist at EPIC a little over a year ago, and during the 2011-2012 school year we used a drum set to make beats with the students. It was a nice piece of equipment and worked well, but for this year, Kelly [Christiel, EPIC’s Resource Coordinator] and I asked – how can we generate more interest, get participation up? We decided we needed marching drum equipment. The marching drums I had been using at St. Angela’s School (originally a donation from a North Shore school where I also teach) weren’t needed there anymore, so I got to bring them to EPIC!

There was a lunch period [at the beginning of this school year] where I set up the drum line and did a promotional performance. I just came in for lunch and it was crazy how many kids jumped on these drums! So we got started with the after-school program, and between the marching drums and the drum set we had plenty to work with. There was this one student, Jawon Mayberry, that Kelly had mentioned to me. She said, he’s really good. He already played drums in his church. He was a student leader, so we wanted to involve him. I get a lot of beginners, but we thought that if we could create a program that would allow this kid who already had skills to develop and share alongside the beginners, awesome! So we got him on the drum set, accompanying our drum line.

The beats we practice are pieces I have written over the past couple years. We have 5 snare drums, 5 bass drums, 2 sets of tenor drums, and our drum set player. We’re actually hoping to do a recording project with EPIC’s music production class and record our beats!

All of the EPIC drummers are coming to the Gala, we hope! We practice both basic beats and more difficult ones, with lots of layering, lots of trading of phrases between instruments. For the Gala, the students have decided to do the difficult ones. We want to create that feeling that arts experiences can create for audiences, where there are surprises, and turns, and the audience experiences the music in unexpected ways. It breaks down barriers. I feel like these students are very capable of that, especially with the complex beats we’re working with.

What do you want the students to take away from the performance?

I want them to consider how practice and rehearsal leads to a culminating performance, but also think about content. I feel like you need both as a teaching artist, and that’s how I critique my own residencies. Are the students quick with musical vocabulary and skills that will serve them outside this group? That’s the information we’re trying to give them. But I also want them to feel how it is to perform, offering it to the community, because that’s also an experience that will serve them beyond this one residency and this one experience.

The performance is something that will hopefully be a memory of success for them, and they can build on these memories of success. It’s a positive result for a lot of work that they’ve done. If they show up consistently to rehearsals, if they learn the parts and feel good about it, performing is a natural extension and it builds confidence. If you go out there having put in 50%, it doesn’t go well. But that won’t happen for these students. They’re going to be great!

Read all about the Art for All Gala and its many delights right here.