After a few years hiatus, this month I returned to the highly creative, inspirational (and slightly exhausting) vortex that is the Choral Music Experience (CME) Institute for Choral Music Education that was founded and is directed by Dr. Doreen Rao. This year’s Institute was in Ireland on the beautiful grounds of the University of Maynooth, just outside of Dublin. Working with Doreen and Lee Kesselman, as well as Mandy Miller from Scotland and Mary Amond O’Brien of Ireland, was a fantastic experience, as usual. Great to see old friends and meet lots of new ones. Many of the conductors were from Ireland, some from London, Scotland, USA, China and elsewhere. In residence were three Children’s choirs, who the conductors and myself worked with. My job was to help facilitate connection to the body, through pulse, drumming, movement and singing in traditional styles from Ghana. We had a great time, even doing a session outside one day which can be challenging in Ireland! They learned several parts, choreography and songs for Kpanlogo and our final concert had over 100 people participating from a wide range of ages and experience! What a celebration. So much fun! Connecting to those with similar philosophies and exploring connections makes me very happy. Even better when it is in such an inspiring place such as Ireland. More more!
I have worked for several years with the Capital Grannies, a local chapter of the Stephen Lewis Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign here in Canada. Our connection began with Kate, a talented participant in my adult drumming class, who so enjoyed drumming that she wanted to bring the experience to the women in the Capital Grannies. Their tireless efforts in fundraising for children orphaned by HIV/AIDS in South Africa keeps them very busy, but drumming has added an exciting element to some of their events, and made for a strong bond between the women. Over the years, I have taught them some of the Ghanaian repertoire and adapted it so that they can play sometimes on their own, or with me. I really enjoy playing with them in performance when I can, and we have collaborated several times with my youth group. Sadly, Kate passed away from cancer a few years ago, but her passion for drumming has kept us all at it! The Capital Grannies run an annual Golf Tournament in Kate’s name, as a fundraiser for the Stephen Lewis Foundation. This year’s event last weekend was very successful, as usual, including a new drumming piece! In rare form (these ladies are usually meticulous and long-term planners!) they asked me for a new piece at our rehearsal the week before the event. They learned several new parts of Kpatsa in a short session, which we then drummed at the Golf Tournament dinner! Kudos to all! Its an honour to know and work with these vibrant women.
Its been a LONG while since I posted. Finished my first year of the MA in Music and Culture at Carleton University. All my coursework is now completed except for one practicum course which I am doing in the summer term with a program called Bridges, a joint project between the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) and the Youth Services Bureau (YSB). I am VERY excited to be working with them, exploring the links between the social, physical and mental health of young people and the connection to drumming. I celebrated the end of term with a road trip to Toronto to connect with old friends in music: my high school reunion, as well as a get-together for many of us who were fortunate enough to attend Scarborough Music Camp. The calibre of music education in the Scarborough schools system during the 70s and 80s was phenomenal! All the schools had programs and all fed into the larger “Scarborough Schools” music ensembles such as the Orchestra, Concert Band, Wind Ensemble and Percussion Ensemble. I spent time in many of these groups. Not only did it keep me occupied during high school, but it gave me a taste for excellence, leadership and community, which I have used as my model for my career. It also fostered friendships, and mentorships that continue to this day.
Dropping into the Sir Wilfrid Laurier Collegiate music room (current head of music is a classmate of mine from those days) and seeing the percussion section was fun and strange at the same time. Almost nothing has changed. It was also fantastic to reconnect with fellow percussionists John Andrews and Roger Boyce at the SMC Reunion later that afternoon. Memories of repertoire, social hangs and chats in the back of cargo trucks trying to hold down percussion equipment that rolled around with each turn around the Scarborough streets on our way to perform at various schools came flooding back. So many friends from camp days attended the get-together and we had a blast. Those shared memories of such formative years are wonderful to revisit. Good music education grows good people. Excellent music education changes lives. I was lucky to have experienced this, and I am always trying to pay it forward!
Was very honoured to present at the Power of the Arts National Forum here in Ottawa this past weekend. An amazing conference, bringing together the best of Canada’s grassroots arts initiatives and related organizations and thinkers. The conference is in its second year and is co presented by the Michaelle Jean Foundation and Carleton University. The theme for this year was “Acting Now for Social Change”. I spoke about the embodied rhythm courses I designed at Carleton, as well as the ensembles I direct, both at Carleton and at Baobab Community. I highlighted the benefits to mental and physical health that come from participating in a group musical activity, especially one that is grounded in rhythm and dance. It was my first formal talk in a long time and felt great! Especially when I could follow it up with a performance that demonstrated what I was talking about…both the Carleton West African Rhythm Ensemble and Baobab Youth performers came together for a massed Gahu. We had a lot of fun, rocked the room, got a standing ovation, and a mention the next day by Carleton’s FASS Dean Osborne. Way to go gang! I love getting the two groups together. So much great mentoring, charged energy, and GROOVE!
This is supposed to be Reading Week in my studies. First of all, I have about 7 deadlines in a 10 day stretch. So, reading yes, but mostly writing and marking. Not all related to my new MA courses, some was Baobab business, including grant writing for our 20th Anniversary season next year.. However, I took the opportunity for a break from studies and spent two magical mornings at the Crystal Bay Centre for Special Education. This remarkable place serves students ages 4-21 with moderate to profound developmental disabilities. This is my second year giving drumming workshops. It is intense, challenging, humbling and so rewarding. My daughter asked me later how it went….I said that I made kids cry that were not crying, and I got kids who were crying to stop. And everything in between. One young man put his cheek to the skin of the drum and just felt the sympathetic vibration for the duration of the class. Its noisy, musical, funny and an amazing way to build community. You never know who is going to get up and dance, or who will memorize the lead drum pattern after one hearing and play it back for the class. The staff are equally inspiring. It is a place filled with special people. I hope to be back next year.
This fall has been a major shift in my life….I started back to school at Carleton University. I am pursuing a Collaborative Masters degree in Music and Culture. I didn’t even apply until the end of June, it all came up rather organically during talks with a colleague there, but feels SO right at this point in my life. I have been looking for a new challenge for the last couple of years, after we reorganized Baobab Community, and going back to school has been on my mind for a while. I am planning on doing research in the field of Medical Ethnomusicology, specifically looking at links between drumming and health and wellbeing in teens and young adults. Being back in school has been SUCH an incredible ramp up….makes me wonder what I was doing with my time before! The interdisciplinary nature of Carleton has always attracted me…I have been teaching there since 1997 and have had the freedom and support to develop interesting and out of the box courses. The music department is situated in the School for Studies for Art and Culture and allows for a lot of cross pollination and flexibility. The faculty are so great and what a treat it is to learn from my own colleagues! This fall I am taking a cultural theory course, a research methods course and a self-directed reading course which is a literature review of a lot of the interesting current work being done in the field of music and health and wellbeing. I’m improving my writing skills, figuring out the ins and outs of online research, spending tons of time in the library thinking, and finally making friends with Power Point. Loving every minute of it so far. Trying to keep up with my other work at Baobab and MASC is challenging, but so far so good, after all, its all connected. But now, head down, back to working on my presentation on rhythmic entrainment.
Summer work takes on many forms and shapes for me. This summer has been a quieter one, with occasional local workshops at various camps, childcare centres and community events. Today I had the privilege of giving drumming workshops for groups of kids in two different family shelters . At the end of the second one, I said to the group, “now we are going to play our finale where we bring in everything we have worked on so far, the two drum parts, the gankogui, the axatse, the singing….” and without skipping a beat the 10 year old boy next to me adds “and our happiness!” I have been doing this for so many years, I can roll with almost any comments and situations that come up. But today I literally felt my insides contract and realign and it was a few seconds before I could continue, I was so moved. Truly a privilege to be there. Throwing the drums in the back of the van, I never know where it will lead but its always interesting and sometimes just takes my breath away.
I had the pleasure of being the Honorary Patron for the MASC Arts Awards this year. MASC does so many wonderful things in the National Capital area its hard to know how to describe them. Linking a wide variety of artists with learning through schools, community programs, seniors centres, they make it possible for people of all ages to experience the lasting impact of arts engagement. I have been a MASC artist since I moved here in 1994 and have had some amazing experiences and met so many wonderful people. In particular, their special events are simply magical. The Young Author’s Festival, LiterARTcy and NumerARTcy among others. They are mostly run by MASC’s wonderful programming director Wendy Hartley and an amazing group of volunteers. The events are robust in content and scope yet offer personalized attention and care to the individuals involved. The MASC Arts Awards are a wonderful example of that. Teachers nominate creative students in grades 6-8 in areas of dance, drama, music, literary and visual arts. The winners and their families are honored in a ceremony and special evening that sends the kids home with scholarships for further arts study. I met the winners a couple of week before the event at a pizza dinner, and had a great time getting to know them and their families. The kids and I jammed a bit and made a spoken word rhythm composition, based on their art forms. We then transferred those sounds to the drums and polished it together. Last night, we shared that with the audience after they had received their awards. The whole evening was memorable, including the individual speeches by the kids, and the presentation of the Jennifer Cayley Award to a previous MASC Arts Award winner who has gone on to pursue the arts. His solo dance was stunning! Everyone left feeling the power of the arts and the difference that a shining spotlight can do for a person. Photos by Micheline Shoebridge
Carleton University, West African Rhythm Ensemble
March 30, 2014
Last night, the Carleton University ensemble I direct had our end of year show. Having experienced cycles of students for many years now, both at the University and in the community with my high school-age group Baobab, I am familiar with saying goodbye. Sometimes students are with me for a brief time, others four, five, even seven years. Its a privilege to share time during such a remarkable period of change in their lives. Being able to make music with them is really a pleasure. Watching their talents, confidence, and skills emerge along with their individual personalities is what keeps me coming back. Its always fresh! You never know when you meet a student, how they will unfold and what they will bring and share with the collective community. So much mentoring happens between them that sometimes I stand back in awe, and just facilitate…they are teaching each other in the best way. Watching them take on leadership roles both artistically and administratively is so gratifying.
This healthy cycle of renewal is sometimes painful, as it is hard to say goodbye to those who myself and the group have come to rely on, but inevitably there will be new faces and talents coming forward. I wish all those leaving WARE the best of luck and look forward to seeing all the new growth that is yet to come.