My name is Pranav, and I am one of the Common Vision Fruit Tree Tour Drum Circle facilitators. As a lover of drums and drumming, it is a honor for me to serve the youth as a teacher of drumming concepts and techniques this year on Fruit Tree Tour. I thank all of the West African drum masters who have touched my life as a drummer, and also Common Vision's legendary drumming crew of this year and of yesteryear.
The Drum Group involves up to 50 students learning to play music together with Common Vision's 50 donated djembe drums. The drum group focuses on community building, respect, interconnectedness, positivity, and, of course, rhythm. Common Vision's West African style djembe drums have been on-board for almost five years and live within an amazing “drum tetris” in the under-storage compartments of BamBoomBox bus. Every day that we have the Drum Circle rotations, these drums are brought out from under the bus and into the schoolyard or community center where we are working and used as teaching tools.
With games and rhythm lessons, students learn to play together while creating a unified song on the drums. In addition to the drumming patterns involved in West African traditional music there are also dances and singing parts. Dancing to the rhythms is also taught at many of the groups. When it's at its best, the drumming and dancing comes together at the end of the session to create a group celebration that is unifying, fun and exciting.
Our facilitators teach, but are also students of west African drum and dance. The drumming techniques that are taught and the process of playing the drums with one another help to demonstrate many of Common Vision's key concepts. Respect is the first key concept that students are introduced to, this is done before they can touch the drums. We emphasize the importance of caring for the drums and of actively listening and paying attention to the facilitators while we are speaking or drumming. Listening is a crucial aspect of playing music and is also a crucial form of respect that we ask of the students so that they will be able to get the most out of the drum circle.
Community, interconnectedness, and cooperation are all involved when djembe drums and rhythms are played in unison by a large group of people, often accompanied by dancing and singing. Positivity is emphasized by the joy of the students as they get to play these instruments, and the encouragement that we offer as facilitators to come together as one “band”. This form of unification creates sweet sounding music and an atmosphere of group celebration.
We usually start off with a drum & dance demonstration and introductions. We introduce ourselves and the drums that we are bringing to the group. These are djembe drums, which are a west African style of hand drums, made with goat skin and wood. There are also a set of 3 dunun drums, which are traditionally played to accompany the djembes. The dununs are played with sticks by our facilitators and are made from thicker cow skins.
Many games and exercises can be used during the session depending on time, space and the age of the students. Typically, we start by teaching the proper postures and positions of the body and hands. Then the “break” is explained and used as a way to communicate to the group with a particular drum phrase when to all stop drumming at the same moment. This break can then be used as a signal to stop together after students “let loose” on the drums.
The heartbeat rhythm is utilized as another drum exercise. It is a rhythm that all people share within our bodies showing that we all have something in common. We use the heartbeat in order to practice the techniques of bass, tone and slaps, which are how we describe the three basic djembe drum sounds.
After the more simple introductory sections, we move towards more advanced drumming and oftentimes dancing too. Call & response on the drum is the most fun drum game for me. I am always amazed at how good children can be at repeating the complex rhythms that I play for them. In the game, students copy drum patterns and gestures from the lead djembe drummer while the dundun drums are used to play an accompanying rhythm and keep the beat.
After this we will generally start teaching traditional west African style djembe rhythms and dances. The rhythms of the songs “Fanga”, “Yankadi”, and/or “Kuku” are usually taught, which have fun and simple traditional djembe parts originating in West Africa. The students sometimes have the option to learn the dance moves for the songs being played, and then can come back to the drum circle for an amazing dance party.
Overall, the Fruit Tree Tour drum circle offers a great opportunity for youth to get an introduction to West African style drumming and dancing, while also teaching the key concepts of health, respect, interconnectedness, community, cooperation, and positivity. Its a lot of fun to be a part of the drum circle at schools, partially because I love drumming, but mainly because of the joy and knowledge that it brings to the children who get to participate.