I. Am. A. Professional. Animal.
That statement is much more than a reference to the Muppets. When I touch my drum, I am touching the history of mankind. I am going back to when drums were the first instruments ever invented, when drums became a form of personal expression, when drums established community, when drums helped develop our brains as we evolved from animals into humans… I am in touch with my animalistic side. I am in touch with the rhythm inside of me and the need to release it. I want to touch others with my music and I want others to share their music with me.
I am a performing arts instructor. Outside of music, I also have a bachelors in Theatre Studies, bachelors in Film & Video Studies and a Master’s in American Studies, which focused on the role of visual and performing arts in social movements. I also have professional experience teaching English, mostly Creative Writing, including lyricism and poetry.
I am a percussionist performer, but I also have experience in acting and public speaking for large audiences. For example, with Drum Cafe, I would facilitate “drum circles” with anywhere between 100-700 participants, acting as an interactive motivational speaker during breaks between musical exercises or songs. Additionally, I have performed/presented at a few conferences including the 2018 Dikes of Courage conference in Lisbon, Portugal and the 2019 Aesthetics of Restraint conference in Venice, Italy.
Currently, I am teaching mostly drum set to female and LGBTQ2+ youth at beginner and intermediate levels. However, my instruction and performance skills include full concert percussion, such as four mallet marimba and rudimentary snare.
My education and career started in Washington, D.C., but I spent five years living in Austin before taking some time to study and work in Europe. I just returned to Austin (early Fall 2019) and am currently auditioning for bands.
There are plenty of impressive artists and teaching artists but few that recognize how the creative process – and even the process in which we experience the product – are rituals with transformative effects for both the performer and the audience. These are rituals that should be highly praised and celebrated, whether they are intended as a profession or just as a hobby. In regards to playing percussion, I’m particularly drawn to the therapeutic benefits, the social benefits, and what I like to refer to as the “brain benefits“. At this point, this “About Me” page is almost an “About the Powers Of Percussion” summary. There are hundreds of YouTube videos and books out there that go into much greater detail about these benefits, which bleed into each other, and how to maximize these effects.
(Much of my work stems from Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed. I also have training in Servant Leadership, Youth Program Quality & Youth Voice, Special Needs, Social/Emotional Learning (self/social awareness, self-management/relationship skills, responsible decision-making), Trauma-Informed Care, Cultural Responsiveness, and Cultural/Racial Awareness/Sensitivity in regards to Identity and Power/Privilege. In providing this “About the Powers of Percussion” summary, I pull some keywords from said models and concepts.)
Let’s start with the personal benefits… The therapeutic benefits. Drumming is much more than just a source of personal expression. Research has shown that rhythm can help with a variety of illnesses and conditions, even the immune system. As a child, drums was a great solution for my issues, particularly my aggression and inability to focus. I have had several students with similar conflicts including stress, burnout, depression, self harm, and low self-esteem.
Although my work can be considered therapeutic, “Drumming should not be considered a stand-alone cure for any major health problem” writes Christine Stevens, certified music therapist and masters level social worker. “It is a complementary strategy that can be customized to meet your own individual needs. The drum alone cannot heal anyone. Healing, like rhythm, does not come from the drum; it comes from within you.” (The Healing Drum Kit Guidebook, page 27) I am not a doctor and I recommend that anyone with a major health problem who deeply wants to use music as a primarily strategy to reach out to music therapists and programs such as Austin Music Therapy.
If you meet an egotistical drummer, they are already a terrible drummer. The job of the drummer is not “to keep the beat” but to compliment the other musicians and unify them. The drummer shares leadership responsibility, but they, above all, are a servant to the music. If you meet a humble, modest drummer, you have met a very skilled drummer.
Moving on: the benefits drumming in your community… The social benefits. The best percussionists in the world aren’t the ones with the fastest hands, but the ones with the biggest ears. By that, I mean: percussionists who are critical thinkers are open to the sounds surrounding them and open-minded to where, how, when, and why those sounds were created. They truly understand the role of the “rhythm section,” how the drummer holds it all together, by absorbing those sounds, using abstract and mathematical means to organize them and compliment them. In other words, percussionists are skilled communicators because they are great listeners and improvisers, great allies and leaders.
In parallel… My favorite percussionists are not only the ones who live in the moment, but those that have their own unique style. In other words, their life isn’t dedicated to being the next Buddy Rich but to discovering inspirations from all over the world that influence their own unique style. Thus, perhaps the greatest social benefit is to improve creativity in collaboration!
And now for the brain benefits! Dr. Aniruddh Patel with The Neurosciences Institute explains how learning the universal language of music will improve your ability to master languages in general. How else does drumming make you a smarter person, beyond simply increasing multi-tasking and hand-eye coordination skills? Or how can drumming simply help to repair the brain, such as with Alzheimer’s? For Mickey Hart from Grateful Dead (see video below), these questions have been of interest to him since the 80s. Two almost identical articles on the internet, “It’s Official, Drummers are smarter than you (and everyone else)” by Ben Kaye and “Science Shows How Drummers’ Brains are Different from Everybody Elses” by Jordan Taylor Sloan were published in May 2014 after a study in Stockholm finding the link between drumming and creative problem-solving skills:
“Researchers at the University of Oxford discovered that drummers produce a natural “high” when playing [individually or] together, heightening both their happiness and their pain thresholds. The researchers extrapolated that this rhythmic euphoria may have been pivotal in mankind establishing communities and society. Essentially, drum circles were the very foundation that made human society possible.” – Ben Kaye
I believe drumming is an innate quality in all humans. If you have a heartbeat, you can drum. We need rhythm to survive and those who embrace drums as a method of survival will not only be healthy, happy individuals and likely key members of their communities and greater society, but will always be young at heart. To conclude…
ANYONE WHO WANTS TO DRUM, CAN DRUM. (Why would anyone not want to drum?)
When I was little I was told I could not drum because I was a girl, hence why I cut my hair short and I started calling myself Dannie (as oppose to Danielle). With a tomboy mother who worked as an architect/engineer, a highly male-dominated field at the time, I knew having a vagina was a silly reason to not play the drums. From there, I developed the mentality that anyone can drum. Well, I’ll be honest… I didn’t completely embrace this philosophy till my late twenties. When I was first teaching, I was adamant that there was the “perfect” instrument for everyone and drums just wasn’t it for some folks. Then two things happened. One, my uncle said to me, “When you should me, I’ll should you.” He was right, I’m not sure I have the right to tell any student, “Actually, yeah, you should do guitar instead…” Two, I started to meet more drummers like Evelyn Glennie, who is a deaf percussionist, and find drummers like Dean Zimmer, who is described as a “handicapable drummer”. See their videos below!