Matt Sims turned a corner in the maze of basement hallways in the Salvation Army Boys and Girls Club. Suddenly, a girl appeared at his elbow.
“Now?” she asked.
“Not yet, Naomi,” he said.
She lingered a moment, then drifted into a nearby room where a dozen kids practiced footwork in a hip-hop dance class.
Matt is the director of the Central Virginia Salvation Army's School of Performing Arts, a program that gives free music and dance training to kids in the greater Richmond area. It was a sunny Thursday afternoon in late fall, and the Boys and Girls Club buzzed with elementary and middle school kids doing homework, talking about doing homework, eating a hot meal, messing around, dancing, talking about dancing--and one persistent girl in glasses waiting for something else.
Matt was showing me around the rooms the arts program uses inside the club. I was on assignment for the Times-Dispatch, writing an article which would run in advance of an upcoming Salvation Army Christmas concert. (The article ran Monday.)
He led me back into the Instrumental Room, smaller than my sister-in-law's master bathroom, where several keyboards shared space with drums, milk crates filled with tap shoes, and a laundry basket with a packages labeled "Trombone Maintenance Kit."
We talked about the school's work a bit more, then Matt said with a half-grin, “If you want, the kids would love to perform on drums."
He stuck his head out of the room and flagged down a passing child to go round up the percussion students. Within a minute, Naomi popped in, along with three boys. Soon, each sat on an upended 10-gallon bucket, with another in front for drumming.
Matt settled down on a bucket. “Do you remember your parts?” he asked. After a quick review, he pointed at Gerald, the youngest, to set the beat. Music from the dance class down the hall worked at cross-purposes with Gerald, and Naomi looked up at me and pointed her chin at the door.
"Close that," she said. "It's distracting." Just straightforward, assured.
One by one, each child entered with a different rhythm. Matt led them through a tempo change and a few call-and-response shouts. Gerald bit his lower lip in concentration, Justin dragged sometimes. Brandon wavered between confidence and hesitancy, but Naomi was bright and on.
After the performance, I asked each kid to tell me about why they like drumming, or something along those lines. That's when I learned a bit about Naomi's family, which is in the T-D article. I bet there's much more to her story. Naomi strikes me as being a natural achiever; I really hope her story keeps on going, and whether or not music is always central to it, music seems to be having a crucial role right now.