Steve Osburn definitely has a way with kids. He's kind and funny, yet he easily manages a potentially unruly group without being a girly man. He also gives each kid in his drumming class a big colorful drum, a clever trick if I ever saw one.
When my three-year-old and I arrive, about ten children and their parents are gathered in Oz's Music Environment, a huge room filled with just about every instrument you can imagine. The kids range in age from two to six, and some of the younger ones just look about in wonder. Osburn is teaching us a rhythm. Some of the kids, as you can imagine, are eager to bang the drums. "Let me demonstrate," he says. "Please listen." They listen. He demonstrates. We start again. He's handled it much, much better than I would have.
Next, Osburn plays a game with the kids. He gives them each two little sticks to tap together, make shapes, and sing songs. I assume it's to help them gain flexibility and strength in their wrists. Some of the kids try to whack each other with the batons, but Oz scoots them apart.
This October marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of Oz's Music Environment. Yes, Oz's sells instruments next door in the store, but first and foremost Steve Osburn is a teacher. The first twenty-five minutes of a private music session are free of charge, and you can play anything he's got there — piano, xylophone, hand drums, violin, a drum kit, guitars, bass. He even has this bizarre and really cool Chapman stick, which I suppose is a cross between a piano and guitar. You don't strum but rather tap the twelve strings. The tapping also gives you a vibrato, unlike a piano, with a range of five octaves, unlike a guitar. Oz plays a bit for us during the class, and it's unlike any other instrument I've ever heard.
At the end of class we have a real band jam, with my boy Gabriel at the drum kit, another child playing xylophone, and yet another singing. Gabey picks the song — Queen's "We Will Rock You" — and Osburn accompanies us on guitar. I'm laughing my ass off, but Oz keeps an eye on the kids, gently giving them pointers.
One little four-year-old boy has been to class each time we've come and has good accuracy with rhythm. When we're leaving I ask his parents, an East Indian couple, whether they've noticed progress or improvement since he started. "We just want him to be more comfortable," they say smiling as he runs down the sidewalk. "More friendly in the environment. Then he can choose which instrument to play."
Oz's next monthly drumming session for kids is Saturday, November 6.