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The Spirit of World Drumming in Special Education Programs

by Jeff Stewart

Children of all ages are struggling with a variety of disabilities and need
opportunities to:

- creatively express themselves
- release stress/anxiety in a positive way
- have their talents showcased to our community, families, teachers/educators
- have fun and experience great success

2005-2006 myself and two close colleagues put our three brains
together. Guy Campeau came to Steve Sheehan and me with the great idea of applying for a grant (S’cool Life Fund) to get drumming happening in the special education classroom in our schools. In the spring of 2006 our school board was awarded with a grant of $9900.00 from the S’cool Life Fund!

The grant allowed us to purchase seven sets of Remo drums (pre-tuned Djembes and Tubanos) along with Remo sound shapes and two toned Agogo bells. Ralph McIntosh from our Music/Arts Task Force worked very closely with us to organize the program so to make sure to reach all of our Public Schools. He works very closely with us along with the board/principals/special education teachers to make this wonderful program a great success.

As a committed team we organize the school year into three cycles. At the beginning of each cycle we bring the special education teachers together from the first set of seven schools to participate in a workshop. I take the special education teachers to a hands-on workshop and give these wonderful educators’ tools which they can bring back to their students in the classroom.

Each teacher is given a set of drums and resources to empower their students, tools that they can use to express themselves. We inform the teachers that at the end of the cycle (2 ½ months) that all students and teachers will come together to perform for the students families.

Myself, Guy Campeau, Steve Sheehan and Ralph McIntosh remind the teachers that they have nothing to be nervous about; for they don’t have to prepare their students (class) to perform a solo. I also let the teachers know that their students need not feel nervous or stressed.

I always spend time with the students before the performance talking and connecting with them to reassure them so that they are not nervous. All I ask them to do is to keep their chin up, yes to look at my big forehead, keep their ears open and most importantly to smile with SPIRIT.

It is my job as a drum circle facilitator to guide all of the students on a musical journey. It is so important for us as educators to provide our youth with an environment so they can express their feelings and share their talents with their families. You can see the spirit glowing through their eyes and flowing through their hands and mallets onto the drums, families showing tears of joy. I always stress the importance of having their students all involved in participating and not to focus on the complexities of drumming.

It is incredible what you can have students perform on a variety of Remo hand drums, sound shapes and percussion. These students can perform many rhythms through a combination of bass and open tones and I have on many occasions demonstrated that they can sing and play these rhythms using Babatunde Olatunji methodology.

Goon/Doon = Bass Tones
Goe/Doe = Open Tones

It is amazing how the kids can follow all facilitation cues. These facilitation cues range from:
- call to the groove
- stop cuts
- dynamics
- sculpting
- accented rhythms
- call & response
- rumble to the groove
- showcasing

The power of the drum is a great tool that needs to be used to support children who are struggling with a variety of disabilities, lack self-esteem, confidence, well being and spirit.

Oliver Sacks states in his book “Musicophilia” that through observation and participation in a drum circle in New York (led by Matt Giordano, a gifted drummer with severe Tourette’s Syndrome) with 30 other people with Tourette’s,. “Once the drum circle started, with Matt leading them, all the ticking (a symptom of Tourette’s) disappeared within seconds”. “Music here had a double power: first, to reconfigure brain activity, and bring calm and focus to people who were sometimes distracted or preoccupied by incessant tics and impulses” (pg.229).
Oliver Sacks:
Physician, Author, Professor of Clinical Neurology and Psychiatry at Columbia University

“The Spirit of Drumming is the Soul of Life”.

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