Book: Innovative Drum Circles: Beyond Beat into Harmony by Mary Knysh
Rhythm is the doorway to community connection. Drum circle facilitators know this well. The organizing power of rhythm and music is revealed every day in their work when audiences are transformed into interacting ensembles. Drums and percussion generate their own kinds of songs, with low grounding bass tones, mid-range fabrics of interwoven patterns, and high spices of bells, blocks and shakers. Some drum circle leaders are comfortable incorporating the full physical spectrum of human-based sounds into their work, from drumming and singing to winds and strings. Some leaders would love to add more tonal complexity and harmony into their percussion offerings, but they are not sure how to enter these realms gracefully. That is where Mary Knysh’s new book, Innovative Drum Circles: Beyond Beat into Harmony comes in.
Going “beyond beat” is set up in workbook format. Each set of facing pages has an activity that can be presented or adapted for groups of varying ages and experience levels, from young children to corporate adults. The book is arranged by chapters, beginning with drum circle basics, then adding elements of musicality that transcend drumming (listening, imitation, conversation, and community).
There is a chapter on culturally-based influences that includes Middle Eastern, Japanese, African and Caribbean rhythms. Each rhythmic activity has its own musicianship element, such as “playing in the spaces,” or “audiating the beat through silent passages.” Then the book moves into vocal, melodic and harmonic activities.
We all know that fully authentic music making is a body-centered experience. Mary’s background in dance and NIA movement has led her to include physical components to all of the book’s activities. You hear it in your head, you move it in your body, you put sound to the movement, and you make the sound come from your instrument. This is an approach that will work on all instrument groups. One can use the activities in this book to fulfill a personal mission to be broadly and inclusively musical; going beyond the mainstays of djembes and frame drums to incorporate voices, melodic percussion, pitched marimbas and boomwhackers, and ultimately every wind and string in the orchestra and band. The book ends with references to current brain research on the value of active and interactive learning experiences. This is a work that music teachers, drum circle leaders, and performers who regularly incorporate audience participation will want to have.
Betsy Bevan created the illustrations and Julie Weber the graphic design and layout. Innovative Drum Circles is available at Music for People workshops, Mary Knysh workshops and at http://www.rhythmicconnections.com/productsregistration.html.
Reviewed by Jim Oshinsky