Monday, February 25, 2013

An Inspiration: The Work of Jim Donovan

Sitting in a room with 20 strangers, drumming and singing a traditional Congolese song is not how I typically spend a Friday night. This was way better.

My Google search into the world of group drumming started after a meeting with four other graduate students. The five of us were expected to write a research paper and present on a specific group therapy. The population and intervention was up to us. The group picked kids with ADHD and I sold them on drumming. Now it was time to figure out what the hell I was actually going to do.

Jim Donovan was one of the first names to pop up. Jim is a founding member of the multi-platinum group, Rusted Root. Now married with three daughters, he teaches at Saint Francis University in Pennsylvania and is a legitimate tour-de-force in the "group drumming for wellness" movement. He has developed and shares a variety of drumming workshops all over the world. These include workshops designed for corporate organizations, therapists, educators, and other "helping" professionals, and the general public.
Jim brought his two-hour "Rhythm Renewal" program to Baltimore County. What an incredible experience! He provided full-sized djembes—most imported from Africa—for everyone to use. The group was a mix of "drummers" and "non-drummers," but Jim had the group drumming within minutes. Aside from Jim's obvious musical strengths, he is a great facilitator and motivator. From the start he eased any insecurities and trepidation. As I like to say, "It's not a performance, it's just play." He encouraged to respond to musical "mistakes" with a smile. Good stuff.

The program was rooted in wellness and community-building. Jim led us through many exercises—with and without drums—reminding us to do so with intention and mindfulness of the moment. Personally, it was an honor to meet and thank him for trailblazing a path which I have chosen. Jim is one of the few doing this work at a professional and consistent level. The fact that he is as friendly as he is impressive made the experience all the more enjoyable.

Check out all of Jim's upcoming workshops!

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Musician and The Therapist: How I Bridged Two Paths

Up until 2009 I felt I was traveling down two distinct paths. I had been writing and performing music for many years and was beginning to attract a steady stream of drum students. I was also a year into a graduate program in mental health. The bridging of these paths became evident when I discovered a research study led by a neurologist and now personal hero of mine, Dr. Barry Bittman.

Although drumming has been used therapeutically for thousands of years in virtually every culture—legitimacy in our "evidence-based" culture demands hard science. Dr. Bittman "legitimized" drumming when he published results showing significant decreases in stress (cortisol hormone) and increases in immune function (cancer and virus fighting "Natural Killer" cells) following a designed group drumming protocol.

With this research and the wealth of studies that followed, I soon found every possible way to integrate music-making into my coursework. I wrote research papers and presented on "Group Drumming: A Stress-Reducing Modality," "Family Therapy Group Drumming," "Drumming in ADHD Group Therapy for Children and Adolescents," and more. During my internships I brought this work to life by integrating drumming in individual and group therapies and classroom workshops in an inner-city elementary school and a specialized middle school program for adolescents with severe emotional and behavioral disabilities.

In future posts I plan to share my experiences from Dr. Bittman's 3-day workshop in which I became an endorsed facilitator of his evidence-based protocol (HealthRHYTHMS), how I came to form my Beatwell drumming workshops for clinical and non-clinical populations of all ages, and much more.


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Benny Greb Master Session Announcement!

Now this I'm excited about...

Next month I will be traveling to Big Indian, NY in the Catskill Mountains to assist internationally renown drummer, Benny Greb!

Benny will be traveling from Germany to bring his Master Session to the US for the first time. The camp is already sold out! I can't wait to pick him up from Newark Airport on March 13.

Benny's been voted by the readers of Drum! Magazine as "Best Clinician" for three years straight. I'm looking forward to working with and learning from him and meeting the 25 students who will be traveling from all over the world.

I'll be posting content on here covering the entire week. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

My Open Call to Musicians

"With great power comes great responsibility."

Musicians—I'm looking at you!

Whether I'm speaking to a lecture hall of graduate students, a first grade classroom, or my 68-year-old drum student, I am always urging them to discover and own the artist within.

The problem is, most people don't consider themselves to be one.

Once they can shift their perspective, most realize that we have always been artists, making artistic choices every waking moment. The shoes that the guy in the first row put on that morning was an artistic choice; The fact that he chose to sit in the front was an artistic choice.

We are all artists literally "creating" our lives—if you choose to look at it this way.

Not everyone identifies with this, and that's okay. But as a musician, I know you can relate—and your skills run deeper than just musical talent.

Our educational system is currently fixated on the STEM paradigm. Our future leaders are being fed an academic diet heavy in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. They are also taught with higher standardized test scores in mind as an end result.

These subjects are undoubtedly important and these skills will ensure a competent and competitive workforce. But will it produce creative thinkers and problem-solvers?

Many have said that the paradigm should be changed to "STEAM" to include Art, myself included. But I realized that the problem-solving and critical thinking skills that job creators and higher education stress are rooted in creativity, and necessary in EVERY school subject. I do think music class, and visual arts, and theater are important in a child's school day—but creative inquiry should be enhancing every class.

My larger point is that artists are the leaders. It will be the artists that solve our greatest challenges related to energy, disease, and poverty. It will be the artists that create the next Twitter or further revolutionize the music industry.

As a musician, I'm looking to you as a leader. You are familiar with creating within infinite possibilities (improvisation), you know how to effectively work with others for a greater cause (group performance), and you have gotten over the initial hurdle of seeing yourself as an agent of change (the artist).

No one is expected to move a mountain, but small or large, you can contribute in an endless amount of ways. You will influence those around you and become a leader in the process. All it takes is a little creativity—and I know it's in you.