Music Therapy hosts their first Black History Month event

Kevin Squires, Rocket Contributor
February 21, 2013

The Slippery Rock University Music Therapy hosted its first ever Black History Month event on Wednesday night.

The event took place at 7 p.m. in Swope Music Building and consisted of a presentation on African music followed by a drum circle with participation by everyone in attendance.

A drum circle is a group of individuals making music together in a circle. Ashley Taylor, senior music therapy major and president of the Music Therapy Club, explains just how important it was to have an event like this in honor of Black History Month. “I think people take for granted the music we have in America and don’t realize how much of it is influenced by African culture,” she said. The Club chose to do a drum circle because it was interactive and offered good cultural information and a unique musical experience.

The event began with an introduction to the impact African music has made on America. “[In America] there existed a love for African music and a refusal to respect the people who made it,” Taylor said. Some of the most successful and popular music in the United States is thanks to African-Americans. “Ragtime, blues, jazz, rhythm and blues, rock and roll, soul, funk, disco, hip-hop, and electronic dance music all have origins from African and African-Americans.” Taylor also explained.

Next, the presentation took a look at African music as a whole and the

various instruments that are used in drum circles, instruments like the djembe.

“The djembe drum is possibly the most influential and basic of all the African drums.” Taylor explained. Roughly translated, “djembe” means “everyone together in peace.”

Taylor felt this was a meaningful message to take away from the event: that everyone was gathered to make music together and enjoy the peace that exists amongst all of them.

Other drums at the circle included the dunun, log drums, frame drums, nesting drums, the sangban, and the bougarabou, among others.

With over 200 different languages in Africa, with different music in each reagion, it can be expected that no drum circle can ever be completely true to its African heritage. The music is also learned by ear and preserved by memory.

Drum circles are used for a variety of different uses such as social activities, signals, tributes, or ceremonies.

After learning all about the instruments, music, and purposes of drum circles, the students attending got the opportunity to be involved. The instruments consisted of primarily of drums of all shapes and sizes but also included wind chimes, rattles, and a kalimba, or thumb piano.

In African culture, and in Slippery Rock, drum circles are for everyone, regardless of musical ability. “Everyone participates. If you aren’t talented at a musical instrument, maybe you would sing or dance, but you wouldn’t just watch.” Taylor says, before encouraging the group to get up and choose an instrument.

Those attending got the chance to use any of the instruments they wanted, sing, lead the group if they wanted, express themselves, and maybe relieve a little stress.

The drum circle seemed to be a hit for everyone who attended. “There was a lot to gain from the event for everyone, Jennifer Benson, sophomore music therapy major explains, “It really brought together music and African-American history.” Non-music therapy majors got to experience one part of what a music therapist may do and maybe a new form of music, and music therapy majors got to learn more about the instruments in a drum circle and where they come from.

“It was also a great way to relax for a night,” she said. Benson led the group singing in a soothing final song that left a tranquil, relaxed atmosphere before the event came to a close.

The Music Therapy Club plans to have more drum circles in the future and encourages anyone interested to attend. The Club also hopes to annually continue its involvement in Black History Month events.

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