Field Trip! Gong Meditation

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I created a new fourth year special topics course that I am teaching this term at Carleton University,  called Sound Body Sound Mind: Music and Wellbeing in a Global Context.  It has been a lot of work to put together,  but so rewarding. Based on a lot of the reading, research and writing I did in my recent MA, we are looking at all kinds of topics, linking a variety of disciplines and cultural traditions that have a history of using music as a means to health and wellness. This week our focus was on vibrational healing, looking at studies that show how different forms of sound vibrations can have a positive impact on focus, memory and cognition (particularly beneficial for Alzheimer’s patients). The tradition of gong meditation in Kundalini Yoga is a very old practice but one that is alive and well and practiced regularly here in Ottawa at Prana Shanti Yoga Centre. I have experienced it many times myself and thought it would be a great experiential field trip for the students. So yesterday we all went to Prana Shanti to participate in an introductory class, led by Victoria Lynes. The studio is an absolutely beautiful, calm and welcoming setting; a nice reprieve for the students as we approach mid term. Victoria’s teaching style is very warm and approachable.  After giving us a short background on Kundalini Yoga, she led us in some warm-ups, the Kirtan Kriya, audible and silent chanting (making use of the 84 meridian points on the roof of the mouth), and meditation, including a relaxing gong meditation, letting the complex vibrations of the gong wash over us. We had a short discussion over tea afterwards, on the effects of the vibrations, and the class in general. The students in this course are engaged, thoughtful and open to exploring new ways of looking at music and health. It’s really a pleasure to teach!

 

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Power Drummers!

Leaside Lightning

This week I had the pleasure of drumming with a group of young women in Toronto whose focus and power were amazing! They look very comfortable and at home with the drums, and definitely enjoyed themselves, but you might be surprised to learn they are actually an awesome volleyball team! This is the Leaside Lightning 16U Red team, coached by my brother Bob Armstrong and Adam Billedeau. We arranged a session of team-building drumming, to work on learning new skills outside of the sports realm. Drumming requires many of the same skills as volleyball: focus, non-verbal communication, active listening and awareness, multiple parts contributing to a whole and layers of information all happening at the same time.

Bob and I had discussed the connections between my work and his and have wanted to put together a session like this for a while. In his words, “Adam and I are always looking for new and exciting opportunities to allow the team to become stronger and more cohesive. We search for team bonding events which incorporate unique experiences. When the opportunity to work with Kathy came up, we thought it was a perfect fit. Where on court rhythm is crucial to the team’s success, the rhythm of drumming together seemed like a fantastic way to bring the team even closer. As a high performance team striving to be one of the top teams in the country, any opportunity to improve is important. After the session was completed, we could see  that the girls had enjoyed a great experience all around. A big Thanks to Kathy for her leadership and instruction!! ”

I have worked with many groups of people from all walks of life over my career but I have to say I was surprised at the sheer force and strength these young women played the drums and accompanying percussion instruments with. In fact, we started the session with a simple cross-body hand clapping game from Ghana and their claps were so forceful…I am glad I do not have to face a hit from them on the court! We did some hand drumming from Ghana; a piece called Kpanlogo, which also included layers of syncopated bell and shaker patterns. Settling into a relaxed groove was tricky at first but got better as they added more parts and opened up their ears to the other parts around them. They also jumped into singing with great energy and enthusiasm…perhaps one of the Kpanlogo songs will find its way into their cheers.

Here they are in their natural habitat, winning medals and being awesome teens with their terrific coaches.  Find out more about them and all the volleyball programs at Leaside here!

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Patterns and Repetition

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This past week I had a blast working in Toronto with Nexus, Suba Sankaran and Christine Duncan as part of the Jackman Humanities Symposium entitled: Reich, Rhythm and Repetition: Patterns in Music, Speech and Science. The whole program can be found here. Russell and I worked together on a presentation about Reich’s Drumming music and the connection to West African drumming rhythms. Nexus performed the bongo section of Drumming which is always spellbinding, and I spoke about Atsiagbekor, and the 12 beat gankogui cycle, demonstrating a bit of it with Nexus and Ray Dillard with, and for the audience. I really enjoyed the funny and enlightening presentations on sound and science by Garry Kvistad and Stephen Morris. A  highlight was getting to sing in between Suba and Christine on Russell’s new piece “The Birth of Time”. I am so fortunate to have studied with members of Nexus at UofT in my undergrad, way back, and I am so grateful for continuing friendships and creative projects such as this one! Thanks to Peggy Feltmate and Rory for photos!

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Korean & Ghanaian Percussion Mash-up

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Last night, the ensemble I direct at Carleton University (WARE) performed with the amazing Korean percussionist, vocalist,  and all-round nice & funny guy, Dong-Won Kim. This fall he has been the artist-in-residence in Carleton’s Music Department thanks to the substantial efforts of faculty member Jesse Stewart. All the students have benefited from his expansive yet down to earth approach to making music. For this performance featuring the Fusion Ensemble directed by Wayne Eagles, and the West African Rhythm Ensemble, we found ways to integrate the styles of music with this master player and improvisor. We performed two pieces with him, first a cool improv on the 12 beat patterns found in Atsiagbekor. Using additive and subtractive conducting we found some really great grooves to hang out with together. Then we invited him to improvise on two movements of  the Dagbamba piece Takai, which we specially learned for this performance. Thanks to guest drummers Rory Magill, Jona Thomas and Kira Montfort who played luna and gungon with me in support of the spinning dancers.  Here is that piece. Thanks to Vanessa Corriveau for the video which I will upload as soon as I can make it smaller!

WARE 2016

 

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Ghana Festival 2017!

photo: Ian Holland

REALLY excited to be planning this amazing Festival for July 2017 with my longtime teacher and friend Kwasi Dunyo. Please see the link below for info and contact me if you are interested or want more information! kathy@kathyarmstrong.ca

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Done :)

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Was very happy to defend my thesis Drumming Up Health: A Case Study of Carleton University’s West African Rhythm Ensemble yesterday. My examiners had some great questions that sparked some thoughtful conversations. A special treat was being able to have Rory & Iris in the room, along with some of my colleagues and other grad students. After a little over 90 minutes we left the room for the deliberation. When we were called back in I was thrilled to hear I passed with high distinction and the committee is  recommending the thesis for a Senate Medal. Woohoo! Its been such a great experience to be back in school again, and find ways to articulate the powerful health benefits of drumming and dancing. I learned so much and am really excited to apply it to my future work.  I have to especially thank my colleague and supervisor Prof. Anna Hoefnagels who encouraged me to start this project and helped every step along the way. What a great mentor and friend she has been! Definitely spent some time celebrating later with good friends. Thanks to everyone for supporting me through this process. Now back to those few (!) things I put on the back burner about two years ago……

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Addendum: Senate Medal Awarded! See here for details.

 

 

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Inspiring week of gigs

  • IMG_0165Now that I am almost finished my degree, I am able to take on some more freelance work…this week was busy and very special and reminds me why I am so committed to drumming with others. The week started with workshops in two family shelters, drumming with toddlers, kids & moms. They enjoyed themselves and gave me a beautiful handmade card to take home.

I also gave two drumming sessions to youth in the Young Voices Can!  Summer Experience at Ashbury College. This amazing organization focuses on reducing both Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, as well as preventing marginalized youth from becoming radicalized. Their vision is to foster understanding, patience, open communication and co-existence by teaching conflict resolution and leadership skills, and enabling youth to come together for an extended stay filled with dialogue, reflection, learning, team building, self-awareness – and, of course, fun! My drumming workshops used rhythmic patterns that modeled dialogue between the youth. We had a great time and ended up performing our Kpanlogo segment for the Board and invited guests at the sharing on the final presentation. We are looking at a future partnership between Young Voices Can and Baobab Youth! I am looking forward to that collaboration.

Probably the most unusual gig this week was being asked to be a guest judge at the Poetry Slam that was on the opening night of the House of Paint Urban Arts Festival. Hosted by Just JamaalJohn Akpata, the evening was an incredible showcase of talent. Probably the highlight for me was an impromptu performance by one of the other judges, PrufRock Shadowrunner of one of his most famous poems called “Countdown”. Check it out here you won’t be disappointed!  Needless to say, I did not perform spoken word poetry 😉 but I learned a lot and had an amazing time. Sometimes depending on freelancing for a lot of my income can be challenging, but weeks like this one make it totally worthwhile.

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Drumming UP Health!

Screen Shot 2016-08-30 at 3.31.28 PMAfter an intense two year journey, I put the finishing touches on my thesis, Drumming UP Health: A Case Study of Carleton University’s West African Rhythm Ensemble. It is sitting with the examiners now and I will defend on September 2. It’s been wonderful to be back in school, get caught up on exciting current research in many disciplines, and develop more writing and speaking chops. When done, I’ll have a second Master’s degree….an MA in Music and Culture. Thanks to all at Carleton University, but especially my thesis supervisor, Professor Anna Hoefnagels.

The thesis itself examines the ways in which participation in the Carleton University West African Rhythm Ensemble (WARE) contributes to positive health and well-being for the students involved. Themes of participatory musics, musicking, rhythmic entrainment and repetition are explored in relation to the experiences of the members of the group. I engaged both current and former  members of WARE in surveys, audio interviews and email questionnaires. We looked at mental, social and physical health benefits, and there was certainly strong evidence of the positive effects of this kind of drumming, dancing and singing.

Really enjoyed my role as researcher with the amazing students that I have the privilege of working with…and who I will see again in a few weeks for the start of the new term.

Very powerful stuff this drumming. No surprise there.

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Graduate Conference & old friends!

myself, Michael Bakan and Anna Hoefnagels

with Michael Bakan and Anna Hoefnagels

In my second year of this MA at Carleton, I am mostly working on my thesis, having finished all my coursework by the end of last summer. However, our music department, along with Ottawa U, hosted a two day graduate conference last weekend. My research has involved a lot of reading of course, and its amazing to discover that people I went to school with have made such wonderful contributions to a variety academic fields. One of those, is Michael Bakan who was a percussionist at University of Toronto Faculty of Music when I was there. A few years ahead of me, Michael was a terrific performer, but he soon found his way into ethnomusicology and has published extensively on Balinese music,  and music and autism among other topics. You can find a lot of his inspiring work on his website. Our graduate supervisor, Dr. Anna Hoefnagels invited him to give a keynote address at our conference, which was really terrific. He discussed the music and autism projects he has been working on in Florida where he is on faculty at FSU in Tallahassee. He has also been conducting interviews with adults with autism, including a student at Carleton who I worked with both in the rhythm classes I teach as well as the West African Rhythm Ensemble I direct. In his presentation, Michael suggested an open model of neurodiversity as a means to exploring the connections between autism and music, without the usual labeling that often accompanies diagnosis. It was fantastic to see Michael again after so many years, and have a chance to catch up!

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Nexus

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Nexus was in town for ChamberFest this week. They presented two suites of music at the beautiful Dominion Chalmers Church. The arrangements were by Russell Hartenberger, the first a beautiful set of Iranian songs that featured soloist Sepideh Raissadat who sang and played setar. Then a very fun suite of songs by the legendary New York composer poet and inventor, Moondog. One of the movements required an “untrained voice” to sing some of the poetic lines. I got the call 😉 Beautiful and simple lines, beginning with “I’m this. I’m that.” It was sure fun to have a singing gig with Nexus. They have recorded that combination of music and you can find out more about that here. Dinner out later, with Nexus all on one side of the table, provided an opportunity for me to try out the panorama feature on my phone. I’m indebted to these musicians for their teachings and amazing musical journeys that they generously share with so many. I first heard them in highschool and then later was fortunate enough to study and work with them at University of Toronto and elsewhere. Always great to reconnect with them and their families.

Nexus night

 

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