Combs' kids beating the drums for Oprah

12:03:00 AM CDT - Thursday, May 03, 2007

By Shannon Littlejohn

One look at the 4- to 6-year-olds who make up the newest percussion group at the Boys & Girls Club in Wichita ought to be enough to convince Oprah Winfrey to attend its new facility's grand opening in June.

It's not that far-fetched to think that the celebrity known for working with disadvantaged children would attend, according to percussion professor J.C. Combs, who has led various percussion groups at the club for the past five years.

Child plays drums
Photo by David Dinell
Deborah Head, 6, shows her drumming skills. Head is part of a project between the Boys & Girls Club and WSU percussion students.
"She gets scads of invitations," said Combs of Oprah. "But she's been doing some openings of Boys & Girls Clubs."

So Combs and percussion students who volunteer at the club are working on a video for Oprah. Cessna is doing the filming; Combs is in the background as WSU students Lauren Hirsh, Nathan Webb, Andy Gilstrap, Brian Lewis and Daniel Cathey work with the groups.

"They're the ones I really want to champion," said Combs. A typical week sees the WSU students working with the older youth in the Samba Band, the Steel Band and African group, and now those 4- to 6-year-olds, dubbed the Lollipop Kids.

On a recent Wednesday, as she arranged a drum semi-circle for the Lollipop Kids, Hirsh talked about the joys and challenges of directing small boys and girls, evident as the room erupted with shrieks of laughter, running boys and hopping girls.

"You have to find a way to take that energy and get them together," said Hirsh. Enabled by club directors and older kids, Hirsh managed to get all 15 children in place in fairly short order to rehearse before filming.

The colorful drums, which Combs received as a donation from the Remo Corp. in California, are various shapes and sizes, including the custom-made lollipop drums that resemble the swirled lollipops of "The Wizard of Oz."

Hirsh reminds the kids: "Hit together right when I clap," and offers other performing tips. She frequently and patiently sweeps the whole group with one hand, two fingers in a V-shape pointing at their eyes and then her own. Soon, they are ready with urging from Combs to watch Hirsh and smile for camera.

Besides the Lollipop Kids, the video also includes the older youth who participate in the club's Steel Band, African group and choir.

Combs tells his WSU students and the Boys & Girls Club youth that there are three possibilities when Oprah gets the video: "we get a letter saying, 'thanks, enjoyed the video' and that'd be the end of it, or 'I loved it; you're going to get plane tickets for the kids to come to Chicago,' or three, 'I love what you're doing; I'm coming to Wichita for the grand opening.' And I say, we won't know until we try."

Everyone's excited about the possibilities, said Combs, who hopes to build awareness for the new Boys & Girls Club facility on the old 21st Street campus of Heartspring, the former Institute of Logopedics.

Oprah no doubt gets plenty of attractive offers. But this one comes with an opening appeal that would melt most hearts from a tiny girl with gorgeous curls:

"I'm Tatyana. I invite you to our grand opening. Here's some of our music!"

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