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Project is bringing out the rhythm

December 7, 2011
By GARRETT NEESE , Houghton Daily Mining Gazette

LAKE LINDEN - Inside the Little Gem Theatre in Lake Linden, a circle of several people are thumping away on hand drums. Anchored by a starting rhythm, the group sets off along it, with some members branching off into counter-rhythms or joining in on instruments such as bells located in the center.

In short, it is people coming together to play music, which is the intent of the Community Drum Project.

The project, a joint venture between Greg Wright and Bill Anderson, started about six months ago. Both drum; Anderson also builds drums, while Wright is a drum teacher.

"We really wanted to bring drumming to the community, give people the chance to learn about hand drumming, some African rhythms, get out and have fun," he said. "It's a great way to build community, bring people who haven't known each other in the past, let them share the joy of rhythm and getting to play."

Anderson made a good portion of the drums used in Sunday's circle. Both he and Wright are importing drums and making djembes and bugarabus. One thing they'd like to do, Wright said, is start making drums out of wood from the Keweenaw.

The class focuses on African and Afro-Cuban rhythms.

"They just lend themselves to that kind of drumming, where the community can join in," Wright said.

One of the rhythms they tackled Sunday night is kpanlogo, a Ghanian social dance and music from the '60s.

Drummers got a sheet marking off suggested beats and types of tones. For instance, the part marked for a high drum is "SSB-S-OO/B-SO-O-" The letters correspond to styles and locations of contact with the drum: the bass (B) is produced with a hit to the center of the drum; higher tones on the outer edge of the drum is produced with a slap (S). Other letters might denote the open (O) or muffled (M) tone, or whether a part is played with the palm (H for heel) or fingers (T for toe).

A drum circle is held every other Sunday night in Lake Linden, alternating Sundays with the Orpheum Theatre in Hancock. An African drum workshop is being held at the Orpheum on Wednesday nights; while it's full, Wright said they hope to offer another one in the spring. There is also a drum circle the first Monday of every month at the Omphale Cafe and Gallery in Calumet at 6 p.m.

After the workshop ends, they hope to have a public performance, probably at a local theater.

Wright has been drumming since he was a child, graduating from pots and pans to a snare in middle school to a full kit in high school. He later studied at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.

But anyone off the street can walk in and have fun immediately, he said.

"It's mostly a chance to play by feel and enjoy the sense of rhythm," he said. "Everyone in the community has a voice in a drum circle."

Audrey Chamberlain of Houghton is finding hers. She already knew Anderson and Wright, but had no drumming experience before the Lake Linden circle.

"When I found out they had a class, I thought it would be a good opportunity to get in with a bunch of other people who didn't know how to drum," she said.

With a couple of trips under her belt, she's improving.

"I can't even quantify it, because I wouldn't ever have drummed in public a month ago," she said.

Even newer is Lynn Laitala of Lake Linden, who attended her first drum circle Sunday night. She admitted she had no idea what to expect when she came in.

"I think I'll come back," she said. "They're very welcoming."

For more information, call 281-2653 or email



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