Elementary school drumline inspires and builds community

A drumline with dancers, typical in a marching band, is not a common part of the elementary school experience—but that didn’t stop teacher Andra Birdsong from making it happen at her school. 

Birdsong, a music teacher at Daniel Webster Elementary School, first got the idea when her students were invited to participate in a community parade after Justin F. Kimball High School’s boys varsity basketball team won the state championship in the Spring of 2023. Kimball is the high school into which Webster feeds.

Nearly a year later, she has at least 25 students performing as either part of the drumline or as dancers. Birdsong, who used to be part of a drumline when she was a high school student, wanted to bring that experience to her students. She got the idea when she saw some orange paint buckets and turned them over to convert them into drums. She purchased more orange buckets and already had a small drum set—and that’s what she used to begin the student drumline. 

After a while, she realized her students were ready to advance. She then borrowed some percussion instruments from Jimmie Tyler Brashear Elementary School and Kimball High School. Through her resourcefulness, and with the support of her school and community partners, she’s been able to realize her vision of a drumline. 

To watch a video of her students performing, click here.

“Ms. Birdsong is not only expanding opportunities for our students through the drumline, as they are learning to play instruments at an early age, but she’s also giving students more tools to be successful beyond their elementary school years,” said Clement Alexander, Webster principal. “The students look forward to her class, and the sense of pride and joy that they exude onstage is contagious not only in the school but in the community.”

Birdsong, who began her teaching career at Webster in 2017, is a graduate of Texas Women’s University and is a certified music therapist as well as a modern band teacher at her school, in addition to teaching the drumline. 

“I know that musicians like to teach quarter notes,” Birdsong said. “But I like to teach emotions. Every time somebody comes into my classroom, I check-in on them.” 

She tries to keep the line of communication open and uses the strategies she has as a music therapist to help students express those emotions on their instruments. That’s why, she believes, that when people hear them perform, they feel happy—they are hearing the students’ emotions transmitted through their instruments, Birdsong said. 

Working with her colleagues, she is trying to help build community and unity. One of the things she has done is create songs for each house at Webster, which is part of the Ron Clark Academy House System. Birdsong is part of House Amore. To see her students sing their house song, click here.

She says her program not only gets students excited about learning, but also thinking of the future. Several of her students have already expressed interest in attending historically Black colleges and universities to pursue a higher education and be part of a marching band.  

She makes sure to include other genres that her students are interested in such as hip hop, music on TikTok, and is looking to incorporate mariachi music in the near future inspired by third-grader Jade, who performs with her family’s mariachi band and who wants to be able to sing mariachi at the school. 

Birdsong says that one of the motivations of bringing different music opportunities to her students is because of the important role music played in her education. 

“When I was a student, I lived and breathed music,” Birdsong said. “I’m also trying to provide something that I didn’t get as a student– the emotional support and the opportunity to play instruments at this level in elementary school. I’m giving them something that I wanted as a kid,” she said. She does it for the “love of music.”


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