WILLIAMSTOWN -- Ghanaian musician Bernard Woma told Williamstown Elementary School students on Wednesday they should never worry that their dancing is bad.
"Don't worry," he said. "Bad dancing will never hurt the ground."
On Tuesday and Wednesday, Woma and his seven-piece ensemble acted as artists-in-residence, providing workshops for students in kindergarten through grade six. On Wednesday, students were treated to a school-wide performance demonstrating traditional African music and culture.
Instrumental music teacher Margot Sanger said Woma offered workshops for one day last year, and the positive response led her to reach out to him again.
"The school liked it so much we decided we needed two days," she said.
During the workshops, students learned about traditional African instruments and dance in a hands-on, half-hour workshop.
"I think they like the energy," Sanger said about the performance and workshops. "They get actual guidance for particular moves to make, and love learning the drumming patterns."
An instrument that was a crowd-favorite was the Dagomba talking drum. By squeezing the drum between his arm and side, Woma could alter the pitch of the sound and seemingly make it talk.
The Dagara xylophone, or gyill, features keys hand carved from hardwood and gourds for resonators. When Woma told the auditorium full of students the instrument also uses spider webs, students reacted with gasps
"And vibration is supposed to go into your body and make you happy," he added.
Throughout the performance, Woma's energy was contagious to the crowd of students. When he asked whether students wanted to dance on stage, their hands immediately shot up into the air.
The performance ended with the stage being packed with children from all grades, dancing to a song Woma called "Shake Your Body."
Sanger said she enjoyed being able to show students professional musicians at work. And the performance introduces children to a type of music they may not hear otherwise, she said.
"I like the window of cultural diversity we don't often get in Western Massachusetts," she said. "It's very genuine, very real. The kids respond to that."
Principal Joelle Brookner said she was thrilled to see children in all grades share a common experience.
"I loved the complete communal joy," she said. "Every child was engaged."
The day was made possible through grants from both the Williamstown Elementary School Endowment and the Mount Greylock Regional School District's central office. Woma and his ensemble also visited Lanesborough Elementary on Wednesday to conduct workshops.
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