Finding a Rhythm

October 15, 2019

The sounds of children playing filled the Chapel Hill Boys & Girls Club. As his peers opened drawers of Legos and ran on the playground, Rea’Shaun sat atop his cajon, ready for his music lesson.

Rea’Shaun and his teacher, David Ingrassia, have been working together through UNC’s chapter of Musical Empowerment since September of 2018.

Ingrassia, a senior, loves playing the drums and hopes to pass that love on to his student. Although Rea’Shaun likes to joke around with Ingrassia, he enjoys his music lessons.

For Ingrassia, playing drums is a social activity.

“It attracts the attention of everyone else so it’s not just like a keep-to-myself instrument. It’s like I can express it with everyone,” Ingrassia said. “He [Rea’Shaun] has fun showing his friends when I’m not paying attention. He hops on and tries to show his friends all cool stuff.”

Rea’Shaun’s friends watched him drum barefoot on the cajon during his lesson. He counted “One, Two, Three, Four” out loud to the beat of Ingrassia’s ukulele strumming. Ingrassia high-fived him when he successfully alternated hands.

The pair used a variety of techniques to keep the lesson interesting.

Ingrassia drew a human face on his hand, using his pointer finger and thumb to mimic the motion of a mouth opening and closing. Rea’Shaun repeatedly punched Ingrassia’s hands in a playful manner.

Ingrassia’s hand praised Rea’Shaun in a high-pitched voice when he drummed successfully. “Good job! You did it!” Ingrassia’s hand said. Ingrassia also used a whiteboard to draw out rhythms.

Rea’Shaun’s favorite part of being Ingrassia’s student is that they get to play tag outside.

“He’s weak at tag,” Rea’Shaun said. “He can never tag me.”

When asked why he enjoys playing drums, Rea’Shaun said he enjoys the speed.

“You can actually do it fast,” Rea’Shaun said. “What sense does that make?” interjected Rea’Shaun’s mother, Irma.

Irma, who was born in St. Thomas, U. S. Virgin Islands, said Rea-Shaun has shown great improvement since last year. She signed her son up for after-school programming at The Boys & Girls Club because of her work schedule.

“I have put him in the after school basically because before last year I didn’t have all the time,” Irma said. “I was coming home all kind of hours.”

Although most student-teacher pairs host lessons at the University United Methodist Church, Ingrassia drives to The Boys & Girls Club weekly and takes extra time to play with Rea’Shaun.

Irma is not afraid to tease her son. Before Ingrassia could answer a question about the hardest part of being a teacher, she interjected.

“Dealing with Rea’Shaun,” Irma said.

When asked how long he had been working with Ingrassia, Rea’Shaun said a month, even though they have been working together for over a year.

“Rea-Shaun will tell you all kinds of things,” Irma said, smiling.

Irma enrolled Rea’Shaun in Musical Empowerment because he was diagnosed with a medical condition, which could complicate the process of breaking a bone while playing sports.

“There is other stuff that he can do. So, I was like ‘Drumming, music – something – so he can not be out here getting in trouble,” Irma said. “Even though he tell you he don’t like drumming – he will be home making so much noise. I mean it’ll be annoying at times but it’s cool to hear him play.”