Kathy in Ghana

Kathy Armstrong combines her training in classical percussion and music education with her twenty-five years of studies in Ghanaian music and dance to offer an integrated and community based approach in her work. She received her BMus. and MMus. from the University of Toronto, studying with Russell Hartenberger and Robin Engelman of Nexus, and focusing on education and world music.  She travelled to Ghana in 1990 to begin studies with Kwasi Dunyo, and two years later facilitated his first trip to North America. She is the founding director of Baobab Drum Dance Community and teaches at Carleton University. Kathy recently completed an MA in Music and Culture at Carleton, where she received a Senate Medal for her work researching the links between drumming and health and wellbeing.

As a performer Kathy has performed with Nexus and the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, the National Arts Centre Orchestra (Ottawa) and at Expo 98 in Lisbon with John Wyre’s Heartbeat Ensemble. For several years she was a member of the Toronto ensembles  Evergreen Club Gamelan and Flaming Dono,  and toured with both those groups in Western Canada, Europe and at Sound Symposium in St John’s. Her extensive performance work with choirs began in 1992 with an invitation from Dr. Doreen Rao to be on the faculty of her Choral Music Experience Summer Institute in Illinois. The creative synergy of Doreen’s vision, the children’s choir movement at that time,  and their openness to exploring African music and movement, generated some unforgettable large group performances, including in England’s Canterbury Cathedral, St Martin’s in the Field, and an ancient outdoor Roman market place in France at midnight. Kathy has also led performances of Ghanaian music at the World Senior Games, Blues and Folk Festivals, street parties, bars and hotel ballrooms.

As an artist-educator Kathy has worked with Volcano Theatre and Queen of Puddings Music Theatre,  and been artist in residence at Queen’s University Faculty of Education, Laurier University, Ithaca College and University of Wisconsin-Madison among others. She has  been the keynote presenter at the Scottish Music Educators National Conference and a clinician at Festival 500 in St. John’s Newfoundland. Since 1997, Kathy has taught at Carleton University, in the School for Studies in Art and Culture, developing ear training courses centred on rhythm and movement, a seminar in Issues in African Music, and a Music in Culture course in Ghana. She is also the founding director of the Carleton Music West African Rhythm Ensemble. Kathy was a longtime artist educator with MASC, teaching in schools and designing and implementing workshops for teachers linking the arts to several curriculum areas.

As a facilitator she has brought the unique gifts of Ghanaian drumming to team building, development and wellness retreat sessions with Boards of Directors, management and creative teams, corporations, non-profits, educational conferences, health care centres, community groups and  seniors’ homes. Kathy’s interest in the organizational leadership work of Margaret Wheatley, David Whyte and others, led her to complete a year-long training program in Psychology and Group Leadership at the Concord Institute in Massachusetts with Dr. Tom Yeomans.

As an artistic/executive director Kathy founded and led Baobab Tree Drum Dance Community for twenty-five years (1995-2020), a non-profit organization dedicated to music education through Ghanaian music and dance in performance and class settings. A catalyst for creating intercultural learning opportunities, Baobab was an early leader in Community Music, using multi-age groupings to foster healthy relationships and connections among people of all ages in the Ottawa area. Baobab’s unique youth program engaged in collaborative partnerships with several choirs, jazz groups, orchestras, individual artists and visiting Ghanaian masters to enrich the group’s creative capacity. Performances at the National Arts Centre, the Senate at Parliament Hill, Ottawa Folkfest, Westfest and Bluesfest, as well as tours to Banff, Toronto, London, Kingston, Peterborough, Washington, Boston and Syracuse have introduced thousands to the vibrant energy of the Ghanaian drumming and dance forms. Baobab always lent its performing skills for local charities, creating special events with the Capital Grannies, One.org, CHEO, Osu Childrens Library Fund, the Food Bank, the Ride, and the Youth Services Bureau, among others. The program was documented in the 2001 film, Footsteps to Ghana, directed by Francois Desrochers. In 2011, Kathy was honoured by the Ghanaian Community Association of Ottawa for her contribution in promoting Ghanaian culture, and in 2017 she was asked to join the council of elders in the village of Dagbamete, in appreciation of her arts and development initiatives linking Ghana and Canada. In Baobab’s final season she did a feature interview with Adrian Harewood on CBC TV’s Our Ottawa.


“Just wanted to let you know how much I appreciated your wonderful workshop yesterday with the choir. It always amazes me how much fear there is inside of adults, and to see you coax out courage and enjoyment was such a treat for me. Your friendly encouraging manner made everyone feel at ease and willing to take risks.” - Caroline Spearing, interim director of Jubilate Choir, Toronto

“The choristers enjoyed their time with you immensely. Of course the African drumming, singing and dancing are themselves appealing activities, but combined with your magical manner, it is an experience to be treasured. You have such an incredible gift for communicating your high standard of expectations while at the same time making everyone feel comfortable by creating such a positive and welcoming atmosphere. Thank you for sharing your unique gifts with us all!” - Catherine Glaser-Climie, Founder /Director Cantaré Childrens Choir, Calgary

“ Congratulations on the magical workshops you provided for the Integrated Arts A.Q. course this summer. The teachers on the course consistently applauded your sharing the intricacies of Ghanaian arts with such engagement, knowledge, respect and enthusiasm. You enrich our professional portfolio of integrated/holistic arts, however it is essentially your message for a more balanced, celebrative and contemplative life that is the fundamentally profound feature of your enormous contribution to the program.” - Michael Wilson, Ed.D. University of Ottawa, Faculty of Education

“An amazing transformation happened the Ottawa Grace Manor. Kathy Armstrong brought her hand drums to do a workshop, and the staff and volunteers watched as residents who have dementia magically began tapping their drums in rhythm and danced to the beat. These are residents who are not able to feed themselves or communicate. It was absolutely beautiful. “ - Marsha Goodfellow, Grace Manor

“Thanks for teaching me African Dances. The moves are so cool! Everyday I’m always looking forward to dancing! You made my week in Oregon brighten with the joy of dancing! Thanks! I’m sure that everyone enjoys dancing as much as I do! “ - young chorister in Portland, Oregon

“Weeks later, students continue to remark on the richness of Kathy Armstrong's workshops at Laurier. The balance of interesting musical practice, combined with practical instructional strategies, all delivered by Kathy's warm personality and well-designed sessions resulted in pure magic!” - Dr. Lee Willingham Associate Professor, Faculty of Music, Laurier University