Jam Sessions Provide Music Therapy for Young People with Special Needs

Students love wailing on hand drums during the drum circle
portion of Banding Together's weekly jam sessions.
Photo from www.utsandiego.com.
X8 Drums loves a good jam session, especially one that bonds and empowers a group of people. San Diego-based non-profit Banding Together takes the power of jam sessions and drum circles further by providing free music therapy for young men and women with developmental disabilities. Once a week during the 12-week program, professional musicians volunteer to host a jam session using various instruments, including hand drums.

But the jam sessions are about more than playing music. Banding Together uses music to help the students develop verbal, motor, and social skills, including working with others, self control, making friends, and appropriate group behavior. The musicians also double as mentors and are just as excited to be there as the students. In fact, every musician who volunteers comes back!

What we love most about Banding Together? Julie Guy, a neurological music therapist who co-founded Banding Together, told UT San Diego that the hand, bongo, and djembe drums are the students’ favorite instruments. We totally understand. Hand drums are energetic, easy to play, and just plain old fun. They’re also great for community bonding, learning, and therapy. For example, teen student Casey Conley only participates in the jam sessions during the drum circle, which has become a way for him to communicate. Many other students also seem to come alive during the drum circle.

If you live in the San Diego area and would like to volunteer with Banding Together, visit bandingtogethersd.org for contact information.

Lannaya Drum & Dance Ensemble Brings West African Arts to Austin

Lannaya brings the arts and culture of West Africa to Austin
through entertaining and educational drumming and dancing
performances and workshops. Photo from www.lannaya.org.
You don’t have to travel to West Africa to immerse yourself into its unique arts and rich culture. Thanks to organizations like Lannaya, you can experience the rhythms and dances of West Africa right here in the U.S. - more particularly, right here in Austin.

Founded by African Master Drummer Alseny Sylla and New York-based choreographer Suzannah Kincannon, Lannaya is a non-profit arts organization that preserves African Diaspora Arts and educates the local community on West African arts and culture through multicultural performances, workshops, and social interactions.

Performance company members, including both musicians and dancers, work with guest artistic collaborators to create pieces that will entertain audiences while best displaying West African arts and their cultural significance. Company members have performed in Austin and throughout Texas. They’ve even performed at the local Austin City Limits music festival.

In addition to stage performances, Lannaya provides team-building activities and entertainment for conferences, hosts parties and other events, and provides workshops of the general public. Lannaya also offers performances (both entertaining and educational) and workshops for schools, including Kindergarten through 12th grade students and university students. For upcoming performances or programming information, visit www.lannaya.org.

Drummer Jason Barnes Plays First Gig with Robotic Arm

In 2012, drummer Jason Barnes lost his right hand and forearm in a work accident. The accident seemingly left Barnes unable to play and understandably depressed, but his passion for drumming and music was greater than his loss. In the most inspiring of ways, Barnes found a way to play again using a robotic arm. During the Georgia Tech Center for Music Technology Robotic Musicianship Concert on March 22, Barnes debuted his new robotic arm and gave the first-ever musical performance using the GATech robotic drumming prosthesis.

As he told audience members at the concert, it only took about three weeks after the surgery in which his arm was amputated for Barnes to get so bored that he started playing again. “I dragged my drum set out of the garage and proceeded to tape a stick to my arm to see if it was still possible to play the drums,” he said. While playing was painful at first, Barnes pushed on and realized that he could and would play again.

Barnes soon enrolled at the Atlanta Institute of Music and Media, where he met Gil Weinberg, the music professor and musical robot inventor who helped Barnes build the drumming prosthesis. The unique prosthesis allows Barnes to control his grip on a drumstick using his bicep and features a second self-playing drumstick. Watch Barnes rock his first gig using his robotic arm in the video above!

Celebrate Earth Day Every Day with Drums

When it comes to common ground, people often look to the earth to celebrate all of the wondrous sights and sensations we share. There can be little doubt that despite the distance across the planet, each of us reaps the benefits of our planet and its variety of plants, animals, landscape and people. We all breathe the air, drink the water and feel the changing of seasons. As drummers, we are also able to express this unity through our rhythms, especially those that echo the pulse of the earth and our own heartbeats as we are unified in patterns of individuality and community.

Studies have shown there is a rhythmic pulse to the planet, and our daily lives are also constructed around our own patterns. Creating rhythms on hand drums, like a djembe drum or a set of bongos, is a meaningful way to reflect on these patterns of life, and to express gratitude to the earth for connecting us on such a deep level to each other, as well as to the natural world. On Earth Day, especially, it seems essential to take a moment to grab our drums and become part of the universal beat across the world we share. When else can we celebrate the rhythm of life, the drums of our ancestors and the community of music that knows only the language of creativity, expression and fun?

In truth, every day is the perfect day to celebrate the joy of rhythm and drums. The expressive beat of a djembe is welcome in spring, just as it is in winter. Tapping out a beat on a desk can be just as rewarding as a bongo beat on a beach. The connection that rhythm creates between hits on a drum is the same connection that drumming creates between two (or more!) drummers – no matter when, where or how. The reasons we drum may vary, depending on who we ask, but, the motivation and rewards are almost always similar within us all, and the result continues to connect us all across the miles.

Earth Day comes once a year in the U.S., but that should never stop a drummer from connecting to our universal rhythms. Whether your drum of choice is a djembe drum, a pair of congas or a full-tilt drum set, let your own rhythm intertwine with the rest of the world – the planet, the people and the experience of drumming. Celebrate Earth Day every day with drums, and see what a positive impact you can make on the planet!

Babies Love the Sound of Music and the Beat of a Drum!

Pregnancy and the first few weeks of a baby’s life are precious times for the mother and infant that is just beginning to be influenced by the world. For many expectant mothers and fathers, the ability to communicate with an unborn baby is one of the most thrilling and speculative parts of the pregnancy, and the addition of music, reading or even speaking to the “bump” becomes a fun way to pass those months.