Sumter's Next Generation, presented by CCTC: Lemira Elementary Percussion Ensemble loves sound, support of being in the band


In the hushed hallways, silence holds its breath in anticipation.

Suddenly, the tap of sticks against the drumheads bounces off the brick walls, its cadence cutting through the once-serene atmosphere and painting the walls in its infectious rhythm.

If you aren't captivated by the sound alone, then the tiny maestros responsible for the undeniable beat will surely bring you to your feet.

Meet Lemira Elementary School Percussion Ensemble - fifth-graders Haven Alston, Mason Strong, A'rmani Wheeler and Desi'onna Wright, accompanied by fourth-grader Bentley Frierson and third-graders Nathan Bellinger and Dorian Haggins.

The percussion ensemble is not new to the elementary school. For decades, young lions - the school's mascot - have been infusing the school's legacy with the contagious energy of drumbeats and cymbal crashes. But for this next generation, joining the ensemble goes further than bringing the noise; it is about believing in themselves.

"I wanted to join a percussion ensemble because last year I saw the kids doing it, and I thought maybe I could do it, too. It's always been my dream to play some instrument," shared A'rmani, who plays cymbals. Never having played an instrument before, A'rmani braves the nerves that fester ahead of every performance, that little voice inside her head encouraging her to breathe and make the most of the moment.

Same as her bandmate, Haven. Having been musically involved in school since kindergarten, the bass player first got his taste of the percussion ensemble on the toms - a cylindrical drum with no snares - before falling in love with his current instrument. He recalled when he was bitten by the musical bug as a once-wide-eyed kindergartner in awe of his elder percussion schoolmates.

"I think it was the 100th day of school parade or something like that, and we had a parade through the school. When they came down to kindergarten hall - because I was still in kindergarten - I just heard the music, and I just looked at them; they were having fun," he reminisced. "They were laughing, and they were looking at us; I just really wanted to do it."

And so, he did. Over time, Haven would be joined by his peers, including bandmates Mason, who plays toms, and Desi'onna on cymbals.

Mason had a knack for music, learning to play drums from watching videos online and through admiring his siblings on their musical journey. He would explore the extent of his skills, going on to create a masterpiece titled after himself, "Strong Cadence," its rhythmic flow executed flawlessly by the band and hopefully loved by future bandmates to come.

As for Desi'onna, she assured it could happen as long as her future lions believe in themselves, just as she had. Last year, she conquered her fears of not being good enough to join the band and has since found joy in all the performances she's aced and friendships she's made. "Don't doubt yourself," she encouraged her younger bandmates with great sincerity.

But with so much courage and camaraderie among these talented students, who's leading the pack? Meet Franklin Moore, a Sumter native and music teacher at Lemira. Moore originally pursued a career in health care, working as a medical assistant at a local doctor's office. Seeking a change, an opportunity came about through word of mouth that a music position was open within Sumter School District. A beat later, Moore found himself surrounded by young minds in pursuit of a beat.

"When I first became a teacher, when I first got in the classroom, everything became real. At that point, I was like, 'How am I going to do this?'" Franklin said. "But I don't rely on my own strength, and I push through and make it happen. It's a learning process for me as well; the students learn, but it's also a learning process for me. So, every day it gets better; every month, every year it gets better."

In two years, Franklin made an impression on his students that left them - specifically his fifth-graders - already missing his "fun," "funny" and supportive nature, at least for A'rmani, Desi'onna and Haven. Mason, with his humorous nature, assured he would be back at Lemira when time permits, helping his teacher and soon-to-be-former bandmates keep the beat going.

Speaking of bandmates, once the quartet of fifth-graders moves on to middle school, only three members will remain - Bentley and Dorian, both on snare, and Nathan on toms. Though Franklin will hold auditions to replenish the great talents he lost, his three remaining pupils are excited for what the next few years hold for them. Each having been moved by the soul-awakening sounds of drumlines in person and online, the trio is excited to carry the torch into the next school term and take the Lemira Elementary Percussion Ensemble to the next level.

The young band has played at many performances in the community, each one being louder than the last. They're left reeling from the applause and support they get from friends, family and fellow community members, fueling them to continue their hard work on their craft. This kind of enthusiasm for music is one Franklin couldn't be happier to facilitate among his students, as the same couldn't be said for him as a young child.

"When I was younger, I knew that I was talented, but no one would give me a chance. No one would sit down, no one would teach me the things that I needed to know. I've worked health care before, but God led me here, and I tried to ask him 'Why?' But every day my purpose becomes more clear. It's to give those students the opportunity that no one else may never present to them, so that's one of the reasons I do what I do," he expressed. "I thank them for their dedication, their perseverance, hard work [and] tolerating me because I can be hard, Ms. [Keimora] Solomon can be hard. But I thank them for allowing me to cultivate the gift that's on the inside of them."