So what do you have planned for the Dec. 3 workshop in York? The idea is to create an experience in a short period of time where people can . . . experience some very powerful transformation. We set up conditions where people learn to use different tools (including) rhythms. We use sound that we make with our voices. We do some visualization. We do some meditation. I invite people to look at things in their lives that aren't working so well and find ways to adjust. It's completely interactive. There is a lot of support that happens within the group. Even though some of it can be intense, it's quite a lot of fun.
Have you had transformative experiences with music? It's been going on for quite a long time. The only way I could ever bring ideas like this to people is having gone through them myself. There are things that we will do that will create a kind of challenging situation so that people can check out for themselves what their tendencies are and how they react to things that make them uncomfortable. (I teach them how to) use . . . the music, the toning (and) the visualization.
So people will be able to use these techniques to help them when they are stressed, uncomfortable, etc.? The whole intention is to create and to really demonstrate things . . so that if they see something that resonates with them, whether it's using a dream, working with other people in a circle, simple vocal toning (or) simple breathing (and) utilize it as an ally.
You are doing graduate studies at Saint Francis University. What is your focus? What I do is I created . . . a percussion intervention program for kids with disabilities. The specific focus right now has been on autism, but we'll be expanding this to many different disabilities and . . . adults, too. It's all based on the idea that . . . we can use music and rhythm even if we haven't been trained as a musician. We can utilize lots of different parts of the musical experience without having to play a classical violin concerto. The most important part of it is bringing empowerment to the child. (Children with a disabilities) sometimes they have the issue of feeling that they don't have power in the world. The ability to make sound gives an automatic reinforcement to the participant. There's a lot of research that talks about the stress relief aspect of percussion and drumming. We definitely capitalize on that.
Have you always been interested in drumming? I've been drumming since I was 11. I would have started sooner if my parents would have let me. I'm 42 now, so it . . . seems like forever. I was a professional musician (and) performer before I was teaching. What I found really fascinating about playing in front of tens of thousands of people is how they would react to rhythm (and) how they would react to music. That really gave me the inspiration to think about ways to take it to people directly and to show them how they could do it themselves.
You seem to use different methods and instruments from different parts of the world. That's tremendously intriguing. As I've been . . . studying different music from around the world, there is a very common thread that shows us specifically in pre-industrialized cultures. At the heart of the healing part of these communities . . . are percussion instruments (including) rattles and single-handed drums. Similar instruments (and) techniques show up without these (cultures) being able to have any contact with each other. To me, that says something that's pretty powerful.
Do you have a lot of different drums? I have a pretty giant collection. I have pretty close to 100 or so. I bring most of it with me . . . because not everyone has a drum to use. The main drums I have are African drums. I don't like to collect things just to put them on the shelf. I'm more interested in getting them into people's hands.
Any other projects in the works? (My book) is in the editing phase and should be released in the springtime. It's called "Serving the Groove." It's part memoir and part motivation. I talk about stories and experiences that I've had over the year playing with people like Carlos Santana, for example, really shaped me. It kind of gives context to a lot of the ideas that I use and share with people. A lot of it is colorful and revealing. I'm going to start recording (a new album) in the next month or two. It will be the first time that I recorded where I'm singing on anything. I'm quite excited about it. There was a point in time that I thought my voice was terrible At one point, someone had said something to that effect . . . and I stopped singing for the past 10 years. It's almost came back as kind of a self-therapy. It's been a really satisfying, cathartic experience.
- ERIN McCRACKEN, FLIPSIDE STAFF
If you go
Rusted Root founding member Jim Donovan will host Ecstatic Drum and Chant: Transformation Workshop from 7 to 9:30 p.m. Dec. 3 at York Mail Service, 1501 W. King St., York. Cost is $45 in advance and $55 at the door. The event is open to those 17 and older. Beginners are welcome. Space is limited. For details and to register, call 741-3049.
For details about Jim Donovan, visit www.jimdonovandrums.com.
Listen to the interview at www.flipsidepa.com.
Read more meet-the-artist interviews at www.flipsidepa.com/musicdirectory.