More than 10,000 Santa Clarita Valley students and community members are expected to "Rock the Rhythm, Beat the Odds" at College of the Canyons' Cougar Stadium in Valencia on Friday morning, May 18, in an attempt to set a new Guinness World Record for the world’s largest percussion ensemble.
Serving as director of the massive assemblage will be Mickey Hart, the renowned world music drummer and percussionist who first earned fame as a member of rock band The Grateful Dead, and is an active instructor and proponent of music in education in schools.
The stadium gates will open at 10 a.m. and the event starts at 11. The attempt is set to start at 11:30. Guinness representatives will verify the numbers and certify the success or failure of the attempt within 36 hours. The current record to beat: 10,102 percussionists playing simultaneously, set at the Hong Kong Coliseum in Hong Kong, China, on July 2, 2002.
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The local "Rock the Rhythm, Beat the Odds" world-record attempt is being produced by the COC Performing Arts Center's K-12 Arts Education Outreach Program, with generous support from Remo Inc., the world-renowned, Valencia-based drum and percussion instruments manufacturer, as well as several other local businesses, organizations and community members.
Remo founder Remo Belli, holding a "sound shape," and Adam Philipson, Performing Arts Center managing director, spoke with KHTS News from the floor of Remo's massive plant in Valencia, California.
Remo will provide percussion instruments and other forms of logistical support for the event. The company is now manufacturing more than 11,000 "sound shapes," the small percussive circles or squares that will be used at Cougar Stadium. The sound shapes and tapping sticks will be distributed to all students and other local residents who enter the stadium.
"Rock the Rhythm, Beat the Odds" is the culmination of the 2011-2012 school year's "Beat the Odds" program, a research-based activity that seeks to maximize creative expression while building social and emotional skills. Emphasizing the process of learning over performance, "Beat the Odds" has shown to significantly improve a variety of behavior problems in children. The "Rock the Rhythm, Beat the Odds" event was created to focus attention on and increase awareness of the importance of arts in education in schools. "Beat the Odds" is a proven program to easily get this education into schools.
Starting last fall, as part of this school year's "Beat the Odds" curriculum, every sixth- and seventh-grader in the SCV began to receive a hybrid lesson of music and rhythm instruction. The sessions were designed to maximize each student’s creative expression, build social and emotional skills and emphasize the process of learning over performance. Some schools did receive the full eight-week "Beat the Odds" program.
"I think 'Rock the Rhythm' is going to spotlight how the (Santa Clarita Valley) managed to get together to see the importance of what this is all about, and how underlying all of this is education," said Remo Belli, who founded Remo 55 years ago and has been involved in music in education for 54 years.
"'Beat the Odds' is really a program that has to do with behavior," Belli said. "What we're trying to do is develop a program in which the arts in general — in this instance, music and rhythm — has a curriculum that can be accepted by many different people. So far in the three years we've been at it, it's very good. (The "Rock the Rhythm" event) is, as a matter of fact, a celebration of what we believe is a successful program in the area."
"'Rock the Rhythm' is a culmination of a year-long endeavor, yes, but in another way, it's the beginning celebration of what's to continue," said Adam Philipson, managing director of the Santa Clarita Performing Arts Center at College of the Canyons.
"In the schools where we have done even one ("Beat the Odds") session, or some of the schools that have actually done the full-length (eight-week) session, what we're hearing from teachers, community members, parents, principals and assistant superintendents is that this program is a powerful tool to build community and to really shift behavior in the kids," Philipson said. "One of the things we also hope, at least in our community, is that we're taking a stand that the arts cannot be cut when budgets are tough, that the arts are critical in developing a whole child."
"Beat the Odds" is not just about music education, it's about music in education, Belli emphasized.
"I think once (music is) understood as a component of education, then it starts to make sense, because (music) contributes," he said. "And we know this now — it's no longer anecdotal. There is way too much information that already substantiates (the value of) music in education — as a matter of fact, the arts in education. But of the arts, music happens to be able to lend itself to the greater population, and seems to be a little more interesting than some of the (other) arts. So it's really music in education, the arts in education. Now you're beginning to deal with education and what it truly means. You're not necessarily going to end up being a professional musician, but it really is a serious component of the brain, and this is what science is now able to show us graphically. So, we're just messengers. We've just come up with a way that we hope delivers one hell of a message."
Belli and Philipson, along with longtime arts education and COC supporter Rita Garasi, got together and hatched the idea for the "Rock the Rhythm, Beat the Odds" event as a way to "create exposure for arts in education and cast a national spotlight on what we have been able to accomplish thus far as a community with respect to arts education," Philipson said.
"I'm grateful we have the technology here," Belli said, referring to Remo's 216,000-square-foot state-of-the-art manufacturing plant in the Valencia Commerce Center, west of Interstate 5. "It's amazing that we can do something like this in (the Santa Clarita Valley), the only place in the world, by the way, where something like this could be done, initially. It can only be copied later. This simple item here, the sound shape, is actually patented. So we're able to produce the equipment and the tools."
Speaking of grateful, Belli said longtime Dead drummer Mickey Hart jumped on board as director of the "Rock the Rhythm, Beat the Odds" event as soon as he was asked.
"I've had the good fortune, I guess, going back to the '60s, whether it was Mickey Hart or Ringo Starr and all the other folks, (that) they've all been friends and customers," Belli said. "Mickey is truly involved in the whole idea of music and brain, and he's very serious about it. So, when I was discussing some of the plans we had (with him), he said, 'Count me in.' A lot of people in the entertainment business really are very supportive of this. This is where Mickey Hart comes in."
Philipson said COC's partnership with Remo for the "Beat the Odds" program to further arts and especially music in education also gets full support of the college's chancellor, Dr. Dianne Van Hook.
"She's very in-touch with business, and she's hearing from all of the local businesses and businesses in the state that leaders are concerned that when kids are coming out of school and college, they are not necessarily able to solve problems that are prevalent in our century, in our culture, right now," he said. "Those people need to be able to think outside the box, form meaningful partnerships, be creative — and this is what the arts teaches. We know this, and we see it all the time. So, this is one of those things where a lot of people have come together to make this moment. It's pretty astounding."
"When you put all the ingredients in, this is one hell of a soup," Belli said.
If even a few of the 11,000-plus hoped-for "Rock the Rhythm, Beat the Odds" participants are inspired to become drummers or percussionists, that's just fine with Belli, whose privately held company now employs 287 people. "If we create a bigger demand for drums, then I'm going to employ that many more people," he said.
Philipson is confident SCV locals will be able to set a new world's record May 18.
"We will break that record," he said. "We have 7,200 kids — that's every sixth- and seventh-grader in the Santa Clarita Valley, all five school districts. We will have other schools participating as well. We will have some other groups that want to come out, businesses, and we're opening this up to the public after (the) 7,000 kids with (their) parents. So, we're not that worried. We think we can accommodate, altogether, about 14,000. We're probably going to get in there around 11,000. That's how many sound shapes we're making."
Should percussion ensemble participants bring their own percussion instruments?
"No need to — just show up," Belli said. "I guarantee you, a good time will be had by all. We'll be in the history books and we'll try to keep it there."
For more information about the "Beat the Odds" outreach program and the "Rock the Rhythm, Beat the Odds" world record attempt, visit www.rocktherhythm.org , and check out the promo video. Find out more about the PAC's K-12 Arts Education Outreach Program at www.canyons.edu/Offices/PIO/CanyonsPAC/k12arts.html .
Photos: Stephen K. Peeples.