People

In Good Company

Talking with outdoorsman Ralph Shaw about fly-fishing, native legends and the future of the planet…

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

     

 

The Fanny Bay Hall is rockin’ out.  Eight women are sitting in a circle in the middle of the upstairs studio, discount RX
filling the space with the primal rhythms of Africa, buy viagra
and smiling, allergy
smiling, smiling.  Even when the women frown with concentration, their eyes somehow keep smiling.  

Brenda, Gail, and Nancy are keeping the mother rhythm going with big, steady, satisfying whacks on their big Djembe drums: do da ga do da gi, do da ga do da gi…  Jody, Diane and Erna are laying down a top beat, their hands flying between middle and edge of the drum.  Anke is creating the pulse on the dunduns, tall cylinders that provide the bass and give cues: boom ba da boom ba da, boom ba da boom ba da.  

Monica Hofer is at the tall bass drums, calling out encouragement, her whole body bouncing to the beat all the while.  She puts down her sticks and bops over to her Djembe, looks around the circle, gathering everyone’s attention as if by magic as she plays the universal beat—the signal that something is about to happen.  In unison, everyone switches to the same beat.  With everyone playing together, it feels as if the whole room is one big drum.  The beat gets faster, the women’s hands fly, the energy gathers.  Then Monica calls out, “Now!” and it changes again: Boom-boom, boom-boom, boom! Boom-boom, boom-boom, boom! Boom-boom, boom-boom, boom! Boom-boom, boom-boom, boom! Boom-boom, boom-boom, BOOM!  And it stops.

The silence is full, palpable, vibrating, and then broken as a few women give out big whoops of joy and the room fills with appreciative laughter.  

It’s not hard to understand why Union Bay resident Monica Hofer loves her profession as a drumming teacher.  As well as running ongoing drumming classes, like the one described above, at a number of Comox Valley locations, Hofer provides drumming programs in schools, leads community drum circles and performs, often with her students, at various events.  In all her work, drumming is a pathway to joy, camaraderie, health and freedom.  

Hofer loves to talk about the many health and social benefits of drumming, pointing out that it has a positive effect on everything from the immune system to employee absenteeism to children’s math ability.  There’s even evidence, she says, that drumming on dogs is good for them! 

But the driving force, for her, is always the power of the experience itself.

“Almost every time I go drumming I have a peak experience,” she says.  “There’s something beautiful that happens every time.  There are always the ear-to-ear smiles.  It’s so lovely to be able to bring drumming to people to see the joy on their faces, the fun they are having, the benefits they get from it.  I feel very blessed to be doing this.”

“The reason I drum is that it feels good to drum,” says Gail Peters, a member of the Fanny Bay class described above.  The all-woman group of students call themselves the Drum Divas, or sometimes, the Djembabes.  “It totally takes away my stress and I come out of here energized.”

Drumming is a great way to build camaraderie in a group, says Hofer, and the Drum Divas are a great example.  “They are a fun group, a pretty wild and crazy group.  They love to drum and they’ve gradually built themselves up to be what they are.  They’ve invited friends, and now they’re all friends.”  As well as drumming together every Monday, this group occasionally performs at fundraisers and in settings such as seniors’ residential care centres.  

The power of drumming in groups has been known for millennia.  Ancient societies drummed to raise their spirits, communicate, affirm the unity of the group, scare off enemies, release stress, resolve conflict, honor their traditions, heal the sick, and, on top of all that, have fun.  But in the last thousand years or so, the industrialized Western world has lost the habit.  

“There’s a lot of fear.  People are afraid to dance, to sing, to drum, or do things rhythmic,” says Hofer.  “We don’t do that here in North America, or not much.  Starting from when we’re babies and then when we’re kids, we’re told to be quiet, to sit still, and to walk straight.  But we all need to express ourselves.  Doing this sort of thing opens you up to a whole other world of possibilities.” 

Luckily, it doesn’t take much to recover the lost art of drumming.  

“If you’re alive, you’ve got a heartbeat, and if you’ve got a heartbeat, you’ve got rhythm,” says Hofer.  “That’s what I always tell people who say they can’t drum.  I tell them to start with the heartbeat and go from there.  And if that’s all you can do in the circle, I tell you that you’re giving your energy to the circle and that’s important.  Eventually you will have the courage to do more.”

A drum circle is an equal playing field, she says.  “Everyone feels the same when they start.  Even if there are advanced players in a group with beginners, it’s an equal circle because the people who’ve played longer will play something different from the people who’ve just begun.  You feel very equal and very safe.”  A nice thing about drumming in a group, she points out, is that no one really knows whose drum makes what sound, so you don’t need to feel badly about mistakes.

“It’s fun to watch people come out of their shell and realize they can contribute to the circle,” says Hofer.  

Hofer began her drumming journey by following her daughter’s lead.  About six years ago, she took her young daughter Katja with her to see the local band bigredtruck.  “Katja pointed at [drummer] Brett Hearn and said, ‘I want to do that, mom!’  I thought, oh yes, one of my daughters wants to be musical!   Because I’ve done music all my life.  So right away we went to see Brett and asked if he’d give her lessons.  He said yes.” 

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


The Fanny Bay Hall is rockin’ out.  Eight women are sitting in a circle in the middle of the upstairs studio, buy cialis filling the space with the primal rhythms of Africa, viagra
and smiling, site
smiling, smiling.  Even when the women frown with concentration, their eyes somehow keep smiling.  

Brenda, Gail, and Nancy are keeping the mother rhythm going with big, steady, satisfying whacks on their big Djembe drums: do da ga do da gi, do da ga do da gi…  Jody, Diane and Erna are laying down a top beat, their hands flying between middle and edge of the drum.  Anke is creating the pulse on the dunduns, tall cylinders that provide the bass and give cues: boom ba da boom ba da, boom ba da boom ba da.  

Monica Hofer is at the tall bass drums, calling out encouragement, her whole body bouncing to the beat all the while.  She puts down her sticks and bops over to her Djembe, looks around the circle, gathering everyone’s attention as if by magic as she plays the universal beat—the signal that something is about to happen.  In unison, everyone switches to the same beat.  With everyone playing together, it feels as if the whole room is one big drum.  The beat gets faster, the women’s hands fly, the energy gathers.  Then Monica calls out, “Now!” and it changes again: Boom-boom, boom-boom, boom! Boom-boom, boom-boom, boom! Boom-boom, boom-boom, boom! Boom-boom, boom-boom, boom! Boom-boom, boom-boom, BOOM!  And it stops.

The silence is full, palpable, vibrating, and then broken as a few women give out big whoops of joy and the room fills with appreciative laughter.  

It’s not hard to understand why Union Bay resident Monica Hofer loves her profession as a drumming teacher.  As well as running ongoing drumming classes, like the one described above, at a number of Comox Valley locations, Hofer provides drumming programs in schools, leads community drum circles and performs, often with her students, at various events.  In all her work, drumming is a pathway to joy, camaraderie, health and freedom.  

Hofer loves to talk about the many health and social benefits of drumming, pointing out that it has a positive effect on everything from the immune system to employee absenteeism to children’s math ability.  There’s even evidence, she says, that drumming on dogs is good for them! 

But the driving force, for her, is always the power of the experience itself.

“Almost every time I go drumming I have a peak experience,” she says.  “There’s something beautiful that happens every time.  There are always the ear-to-ear smiles.  It’s so lovely to be able to bring drumming to people to see the joy on their faces, the fun they are having, the benefits they get from it.  I feel very blessed to be doing this.”

“The reason I drum is that it feels good to drum,” says Gail Peters, a member of the Fanny Bay class described above.  The all-woman group of students call themselves the Drum Divas, or sometimes, the Djembabes.  “It totally takes away my stress and I come out of here energized.”

Drumming is a great way to build camaraderie in a group, says Hofer, and the Drum Divas are a great example.  “They are a fun group, a pretty wild and crazy group.  They love to drum and they’ve gradually built themselves up to be what they are.  They’ve invited friends, and now they’re all friends.”  As well as drumming together every Monday, this group occasionally performs at fundraisers and in settings such as seniors’ residential care centres.  

The power of drumming in groups has been known for millennia.  Ancient societies drummed to raise their spirits, communicate, affirm the unity of the group, scare off enemies, release stress, resolve conflict, honor their traditions, heal the sick, and, on top of all that, have fun.  But in the last thousand years or so, the industrialized Western world has lost the habit.  

“There’s a lot of fear.  People are afraid to dance, to sing, to drum, or do things rhythmic,” says Hofer.  “We don’t do that here in North America, or not much.  Starting from when we’re babies and then when we’re kids, we’re told to be quiet, to sit still, and to walk straight.  But we all need to express ourselves.  Doing this sort of thing opens you up to a whole other world of possibilities.” 

Luckily, it doesn’t take much to recover the lost art of drumming.  

“If you’re alive, you’ve got a heartbeat, and if you’ve got a heartbeat, you’ve got rhythm,” says Hofer.  “That’s what I always tell people who say they can’t drum.  I tell them to start with the heartbeat and go from there.  And if that’s all you can do in the circle, I tell you that you’re giving your energy to the circle and that’s important.  Eventually you will have the courage to do more.”

A drum circle is an equal playing field, she says.  “Everyone feels the same when they start.  Even if there are advanced players in a group with beginners, it’s an equal circle because the people who’ve played longer will play something different from the people who’ve just begun.  You feel very equal and very safe.”  A nice thing about drumming in a group, she points out, is that no one really knows whose drum makes what sound, so you don’t need to feel badly about mistakes.

“It’s fun to watch people come out of their shell and realize they can contribute to the circle,” says Hofer.  

Hofer began her drumming journey by following her daughter’s lead.  About six years ago, she took her young daughter Katja with her to see the local band bigredtruck.  “Katja pointed at [drummer] Brett Hearn and said, ‘I want to do that, mom!’  I thought, oh yes, one of my daughters wants to be musical!   Because I’ve done music all my life.  So right away we went to see Brett and asked if he’d give her lessons.  He said yes.” 

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


The Fanny Bay Hall is rockin’ out.  Eight women are sitting in a circle in the middle of the upstairs studio, public health
filling the space with the primal rhythms of Africa, and smiling, smiling, smiling.  Even when the women frown with concentration, their eyes somehow keep smiling.  

Brenda, Gail, and Nancy are keeping the mother rhythm going with big, steady, satisfying whacks on their big Djembe drums: do da ga do da gi, do da ga do da gi…  Jody, Diane and Erna are laying down a top beat, their hands flying between middle and edge of the drum.  Anke is creating the pulse on the dunduns, tall cylinders that provide the bass and give cues: boom ba da boom ba da, boom ba da boom ba da.  

Monica Hofer is at the tall bass drums, calling out encouragement, her whole body bouncing to the beat all the while.  She puts down her sticks and bops over to her Djembe, looks around the circle, gathering everyone’s attention as if by magic as she plays the universal beat—the signal that something is about to happen.  In unison, everyone switches to the same beat.  With everyone playing together, it feels as if the whole room is one big drum.  The beat gets faster, the women’s hands fly, the energy gathers.  Then Monica calls out, “Now!” and it changes again: Boom-boom, boom-boom, boom! Boom-boom, boom-boom, boom! Boom-boom, boom-boom, boom! Boom-boom, boom-boom, boom! Boom-boom, boom-boom, BOOM!  And it stops.

The silence is full, palpable, vibrating, and then broken as a few women give out big whoops of joy and the room fills with appreciative laughter.  

It’s not hard to understand why Union Bay resident Monica Hofer loves her profession as a drumming teacher.  As well as running ongoing drumming classes, like the one described above, at a number of Comox Valley locations, Hofer provides drumming programs in schools, leads community drum circles and performs, often with her students, at various events.  In all her work, drumming is a pathway to joy, camaraderie, health and freedom.  

Hofer loves to talk about the many health and social benefits of drumming, pointing out that it has a positive effect on everything from the immune system to employee absenteeism to children’s math ability.  There’s even evidence, she says, that drumming on dogs is good for them! 

But the driving force, for her, is always the power of the experience itself.

“Almost every time I go drumming I have a peak experience,” she says.  “There’s something beautiful that happens every time.  There are always the ear-to-ear smiles.  It’s so lovely to be able to bring drumming to people to see the joy on their faces, the fun they are having, the benefits they get from it.  I feel very blessed to be doing this.”

“The reason I drum is that it feels good to drum,” says Gail Peters, a member of the Fanny Bay class described above.  The all-woman group of students call themselves the Drum Divas, or sometimes, the Djembabes.  “It totally takes away my stress and I come out of here energized.”

Drumming is a great way to build camaraderie in a group, says Hofer, and the Drum Divas are a great example.  “They are a fun group, a pretty wild and crazy group.  They love to drum and they’ve gradually built themselves up to be what they are.  They’ve invited friends, and now they’re all friends.”  As well as drumming together every Monday, this group occasionally performs at fundraisers and in settings such as seniors’ residential care centres.  

The power of drumming in groups has been known for millennia.  Ancient societies drummed to raise their spirits, communicate, affirm the unity of the group, scare off enemies, release stress, resolve conflict, honor their traditions, heal the sick, and, on top of all that, have fun.  But in the last thousand years or so, the industrialized Western world has lost the habit.  

“There’s a lot of fear.  People are afraid to dance, to sing, to drum, or do things rhythmic,” says Hofer.  “We don’t do that here in North America, or not much.  Starting from when we’re babies and then when we’re kids, we’re told to be quiet, to sit still, and to walk straight.  But we all need to express ourselves.  Doing this sort of thing opens you up to a whole other world of possibilities.” 

Luckily, it doesn’t take much to recover the lost art of drumming.  

“If you’re alive, you’ve got a heartbeat, and if you’ve got a heartbeat, you’ve got rhythm,” says Hofer.  “That’s what I always tell people who say they can’t drum.  I tell them to start with the heartbeat and go from there.  And if that’s all you can do in the circle, I tell you that you’re giving your energy to the circle and that’s important.  Eventually you will have the courage to do more.”

A drum circle is an equal playing field, she says.  “Everyone feels the same when they start.  Even if there are advanced players in a group with beginners, it’s an equal circle because the people who’ve played longer will play something different from the people who’ve just begun.  You feel very equal and very safe.”  A nice thing about drumming in a group, she points out, is that no one really knows whose drum makes what sound, so you don’t need to feel badly about mistakes.

“It’s fun to watch people come out of their shell and realize they can contribute to the circle,” says Hofer.  

Hofer began her drumming journey by following her daughter’s lead.  About six years ago, she took her young daughter Katja with her to see the local band bigredtruck.  “Katja pointed at [drummer] Brett Hearn and said, ‘I want to do that, mom!’  I thought, oh yes, one of my daughters wants to be musical!   Because I’ve done music all my life.  So right away we went to see Brett and asked if he’d give her lessons.  He said yes.” 

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


Ralph Shaw’s love of fly-fishing and his close friendship with renowned fly-fisherman Jack Shaw led him to publish ‘The Pleasure of His Company—The Fishing Diaries of Jack Shaw’, <a href=

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Photo by Boomer Jerritt


Ralph Shaw leads me through a crowded  basement, nurse past shelves and fridges stocked with smoked salmon and untold other delicacies and underneath fishing rods balanced in dusty rafters.   We emerge in a tiny room of indescribable clutter and boundless character that serves as workshop and home office for the author, environmentalist and avid outdoorsman who will prove to be one of the most interesting people I’ve met in recent years.

We’ve met to discuss Shaw’s new book, a compilation of the diaries of long-time friend and renowned fly fisherman Jack Shaw (no relation, although the two look like brothers).  What emerges from our conversation, however, is a poignant, philosophical discussion of fly-fishing, ecology, and no less than the future of human existence.

A dynamic octogenarian who has spent a lifetime in the wilds of BC and Alberta, Shaw is about as engaging a man as one could hope to join in candid conversation.  Born in Cold Lake, Alberta in 1926, he’s been a trapper and an elementary school principal, has contributed to countless books on fly-fishing and outdoor pursuits and has been appointed to the Order of Canada, our nation’s highest civilian honour, for his extensive conservation work.

In the early ’70s, Shaw was a driving force behind the establishment of the McQueen Lake Environmental Education Centre, 2.6 square kilometres of preserved wilderness northwest of Kamloops where people still go to experience nature and to learn about ecological systems.   

“As an educator,” he says, “all my life I’ve wanted to teach people about how natural systems work.  We wanted a place where we could take children to study a natural system.”

From an entirely undeveloped parcel of forest, Shaw and his cohorts created a full-fledged environmental education centre where students could come from all over British Columbia to learn about nature.  More than 30 years later, the centre is still fully operational and now boasts a modern science centre and, as Shaw enthusiastically points out, an “amazing” composting toilet that can handle 60 to 70 people a day.

Ushering me gently back to the subject, Shaw gestures toward a framed photograph of Jack Shaw sitting atop a workbench that’s obviously a well-used fly-tying station.  The photo is barely visible beyond the brightly colored feathers and other fly-tying materials that blanket the entire workbench like a Technicolor fungus.  

“What that man knew about systems,” he says reverently, “well, he’s forgotten more than most of us will ever know in terms of ecology, climate change and things like that.”

Jack Shaw’s story began in 1925, when his family moved to BC from Montreal when Jack was nine years old.   Although he left school to join the workforce just two years later, Jack’s innate curiosity and his passion for fishing drove him to experiment with new techniques that would change the face of fly-fishing.

By the time Ralph met him for the first time in 1956, Jack had already pioneered the art of tying imitator-pattern flies and had become an expert on the insects, especially chironomids, that he wanted to duplicate.  He even learned to imitate their natural movements by the deft manipulation of his fly rod.

“He was a magician with a fly rod, there’s no other way to say it,” says Shaw.  “He was the guru, and you couldn’t help but learn from him if you spent much time with him.  His work changed the way we fly-fish.”

Shaw’s new book, The Pleasure of His Company – The Fishing Diaries of Jack Shaw, is set to be released on December 6 and is a tribute to his close friend, who passed away in February 2000.  

The 232-page book is an edited version of more than 300,000 words that Jack penned during his many fishing trips, and it features beautiful paintings of Jack’s flies by Campbell River artist Larry Stefanyk, also the publisher of Island Fisherman magazine.  

“This is a pretty significant book,” says Shaw, not without humility.  “It impresses because it’s a big, thick tabletop book; it really is beautiful.”

A leather-bound limited edition of the book has already received lots of interest and advance orders, significant given the $135 price tag, and Shaw is confident that the 1,100 first edition hard covers will be equally successful at $39 a pop.   

Never one to pass up an opportunity for ecological philanthropy, Shaw is donating all proceeds from the sale of his book to the McQueen Lake Environmental Education Centre, and to the Fisheries Association of BC to teach children how to fish.

While Shaw is optimistic about the book’s success based on the tremendous support from private donors that he’s received so far, to the tune of nearly $20,000 in production costs, he admits that he’s a wading into new territory when it comes to marketing his creation.