Standing before a packed gymnasium in black socks and a blue Soldotna Elementary T-shirt, Homer-based artist Eddie Wood plucked at the bowl-sized thumb piano cupped in his hands.
Over the soft musical notes, Wood told the staff and students the story of his two weeks as an artist in residence at their school Friday. Wood said he showed up at the school on a Sunday afternoon. Principal Teri Diamond, and music teacher Tor Dahl, helped him unpack his car full of marimbas, drums and shakers, he said.
“Two weeks is way too fast, fast, fast,” Wood said. “I am done and I am sad, sad, sad. But I will be back.”
Once Wood moved his instruments into the school’s music room, he settled down in his home away from home with Hamilton Hunt’s family.
Then the real work began. Wood met with each class three times throughout his two-week residency. He then had to make the hard choice of which four classes would perform with him in front of the school.
Benjamin Stephens’ fourth-graders named the “Green bean wiggle machine,” Erin Radcliff’s fourth- and fifth-graders named “Call and Respond,” Sheryl Hingley’s fifth-graders named the “Rocking Manners” and Shaya Straw’s third-graders named “So Random” danced and played Wood’s plethora of percussion in a final performance. Wood said he is the first artist and residence to spend time at a Kenai Peninsula Borough School District school north of Ninilchik. He was requested at Soldotna Elementary by Debbie Harris, who connected him with Diamond.
Diamond had been trying to bring an artist in residence to her school for some time, Wood said. It was no easy task, he said. The biggest barrier to putting an artist in local schools is finding funding, Wood said. The percussionist storyteller’s trip was sponsored through the Bunnell Street Arts Center in Homer, which received funding from Alaska Council on the Arts, he said. During the final performance many students created their own solos, Wood said. His only guidance was “respect yourself, and respect your instrument,” the rest was all their own doing, he said. Wood said some of the students really took off with the music such as Daniel McCorrie.
“Everyone can do it, but like basketball, skiing or making an omelet, some pick it up faster,” Wood said.
Wood said teaching students is one of his major passions. He said it shows students how to pursue and explore personal interests and introduces them to different art forms that may open their minds to other possibilities.
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