People

Feeling the Beat

Local drumming teacher draws on natural rhythms to educate, soothe and celebrate

Monica Hofer

Monica Hofer

Photo by Boomer Jerritt

Hofer soon noticed that she had an irresistible urge to join in when Katja was practicing.  “I’d be listening, and you know, I’d be…”—bang de ga bang de ga bang—she taps out a rhythm on the table to demonstrate what she means.  “I thought, someone needs to drum with her, so I need to get myself a drum.  

 

“I got myself a little Djembe and discovered that it was my life’s calling.  

“It was as simple as that.  I started drumming and realized, oh my gosh, I’m meant to do this, I should have done this all my life.  And I always have been interested in rhythm.  I love to sing, I love to dance, and I can’t drive without tapping my hand somewhere on the car.  I came to realize that as I got into drumming with her.  

The student was ready—and the teacher appeared.  One Saturday about four years ago, Hofer was at the Comox Valley Farmers’ Market with her family when she heard the irresistible beat of authentic African drumming.  Master drummer Kocassale Dioubate (www.therootsofrhythm.com), who had just moved to Canada from Guinea, was playing on the market stage.  

“I thought, ‘Oh, I’ve found my teacher.’  I went up to him on his break and started babbling, which wasn’t that effective because he spoke only French at the time.”  They soon sorted out the language issue and Dioubate agreed to be Hofer’s teacher.

“So I purchased a bigger drum,” she says with a laugh. She estimates that she now owns between 30 and 40 different types of drums.  Hofer studied with Dioubate intensively for six months, until he moved to Vancouver.  She now considers him a friend, teacher and mentor.

Hofer continued to study with Dioubate when she could.  Also, intrigued by just how good she felt when she drummed, she began to research the benefits of drumming.  She was particularly excited to read about the benefits and the popularity of drum circles.  

A drum circle can be defined as “a group of people working together to create in-the-moment music using drums and percussion instruments,” according to www.drumcirclemusic.com.  A drum circle is not a percussion ensemble performing a prepared piece of music, or a drumming class led by a teacher, nor any group that is re-creating music it has played before.  It’s a unique event that is spontaneously created by the participants, often with the help of a facilitator (a musical guide who helps the group achieve its goals).  The goal is not perfection or performance, but rather personal or group development and wellness, or just plain fun.

Drum circles are considered a form of recreational music making.  The word recreational actually means “refreshment of strength and spirits after work,” which is what drum circles do.  

Recent scientific research on the healing effects of drum circles documents the power of this “refreshment.” Not only does participating in drum circles create a drop in cortisol, an indicator of stress, it also significantly increases the number of beneficial macrophage cells or “killer cells” in the body.  These cells fight cancer, viruses and other illnesses.  

Hofer went to Vancouver to study with drum circle guru Arthur Hill, and became a certified drum circle facilitator.  At that point she began leading drum circles and teaching hand-drumming classes.  

The next step of her education was a trip to Utah where she trained to become a certified HealthRHYTHMS facilitator.  

HealthRHYTHMS is a group drumming program developed by the drum-making company Remo with the support of neurologist Bernie Bittman.  Bittman studied different ways to facilitate drumming in groups and measured which approaches had the best results for health and wellness.  The HealthRHYTHMS protocol is based on this research.

“It includes things like deep breathing, visualization, and an ice-breaker social component.  It’s a fairly improvisational approach, rather than teaching a specific rhythm.  There’s a lot of self expression; you just pour out what you need to.  We put messages into the drums, we drum out our names, we drum out whatever comes to our minds,” says Hofer.

Through HealthRHYTHMS, Hofer learned of yet more research proving the benefits of drumming.  For instance, when companies provide a drumming program for employees, sick days and turnover rates go down, and camaraderie rises.  When university students take part in a drumming program, drop-out rates go down.  In the schools, drumming helps children with ADHD and other behavioural challenges.  (For scientific references and more info, go to www.remo.com.)

Hofer says some of her most powerful work has been with children in the schools; she’s delivered drumming programs in seven schools so far.  “We’ve had big performances with up to 90 kids on a stage.  Afterwards their teachers ask how I make 90 kids start and stop at the same time.  

“The kids love it.  And there are all kinds of benefits to taking it into the schools.  Not only do they get a music program that’s unusual, it spills over into other areas of school work.  Teachers say it helps in math—doing the rhythm exercises and learning to count.  It helps with concentration because they’ve had to concentrate in drumming but they’ve also been allowed to express themselves and release a whole bunch of energy.  

“And it helps with cooperation.  In a drumming group, everyone is essential; you can’t leave anyone out.  You need to cooperate—and you see that it’s fun to cooperate.  Also they learn about Africa, so there’s a social studies aspect.  I find a lot of times the kids who are quite quiet or are sort of outsiders in school really shine; they really come out,” says Hofer.

Hofer wants to do more drumming programs in schools, and has many more plans and dreams for her work.  In the new year, she’ll be offering classes in downtown Courtenay in the Got It! Need It! Want it! store, which has built a special drumming room expressly for that purpose.  Also, she wants to start up a women’s drumming circle in the Valley.

“I’d just like to see more people drumming,” she says.  “Really, that’s my main goal.”

Hofer is also a Doula (birth attendant) and certified pre-natal instructor.  She’s thinking about offering drumming for pregnant women.  “You really are connected to the earth when you drum; there’s the heartbeat; you are so connected to mother earth.  It’s very primal.  One thing I’d love to try is drumming a baby into the world.  They do that in Africa.  There are cultures where you’re born with a song.  They sing or drum to you when you’re born.”

As well, she’s got long-term plans to offer drumming workshops in Hawaii and the Dominican Republic.

The combination of warm weather, beaches, free time and the fun of drumming is certainly attractive.  But Hofer wants people to know that drumming is accessible any time, any place, to anyone.  “It’s easy to find a drum, or you can drum without a drum.  Take one of those big water bottles that go on those water dispensers, turn it upside down and drum on it.  Or just turn a bowl over!

“We’ve all got the rhythm in us; we all spent nine months in the womb, listening to our mother’s hearts,” she says.   

FMI visit www.rhythm-spirit.com