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.
Spent last week in North Carolina where I was teaching and performing with students from the Forsyth Country Day School, north of Charlotte. Grades 6-12 chorus, band and orchestra students had workshops in Bobobo, Kpanlogo & Gahu. My host Jeremy Truhel is head of Fine Arts at the school, and we met when I was teaching at Ithaca College CME a few summers ago. This is my second visit to the school and we had a blast! The week culminated in an “informance” for most of the Lower School. What a great and supportive faculty and school community. I was generously fed and housed by one of the faculty member’s family and had a real taste of the south, with more than a few interesting stories. It was very cold there, particularly for them, but also for me! There was a lovely waterfall next to the outdoor breezeway between buildings and each day it became more and more frozen until there was only a trickle. That area missed the snow while I was there and I was able to get home safely but shortly after, schools were shut down and terrible snowstorms hit.
Had a great evening last night with the Ottawa Rhythm Initiative whose mandate is to develop tap dancers musically, through focus on improv, form, rhythm and working with live musicians. We’ve been talking for a while about collaborating, and last night I gave a workshop to their members, in the drumming and dancing of Kpanlogo. They have so much musicality and what they do with their feet is truly awesome so it was fun to see them apply those skills to hand drumming and African dance choreography, and really get their groove grounded. We ended the evening with a jam, some tapping and some playing instruments with me. They have been inspired by the wonderful Heather Cornell whose innovative work in music and tap is truly extraordinary. I had the pleasure of seeing her perform in Montreal last spring, and even took a tap workshop with her the next day, using a pair of borrowed shoes. I could hear and feel all the rhythms, but getting my feet to express them was a different story….planning to try again. Very lucky to have ORI here in Ottawa and I look forward to future collaborations.
Just finished a week of work in the Kitchener Waterloo area. I was hosted by Dr. Lee Willingham, Gerard Yun, and the Laurier Faculty of Music. I had the opportunity to work with the Music Education students, the percussion students, some masters students and to do some work in the community at Grebel College, and STEW Suzuki school. An inspiring week for me, and great to reconnect with old friends and colleagues, as well as new ones!
This blog will have occasional news or thoughts about drumming related experiences. I’ve been lucky to have had so many wonderful opportunities and gigs over the course of my career so far….many of which will just stay embedded in my body and mind and soul. Finally putting together a website gives me a place to share some from this point forward…..