Colleen Zajac, a 41-year-old real estate appraiser from Bethlehem, leads a busy life. Places to go, people to see, homes
to appraise. Her head is filled with details, details, details.
Like many people in the Lehigh Valley, Zajac has hit on a novel way to let go of the tension built up in her workaday world.
She pounds it out every week.
Zajac is a member of the Lehigh Valley Drum Circle, one of a growing number of free-form hand drum sessions across the
country loosely based on an African tradition. In West Africa, drumming has long marked rites of passage, such as puberty
or marriage, and every event has its own distinctive beat.
In Allentown, half a world away from the African continent, members of the Lehigh Valley Drum Circle sit in a circle and
slap rhythms on a variety of West African hand drums, frame drums, tambourines and gourd shakers. Many are first-timers who
have no musical background.
"I drum to reduce the stress in my life," Zajac says. She plays the djun djun, three-foot high intricately carved wooden
drums that she beats with sticks.
"I'm constantly thinking about what I'm supposed to be doing, when I'm supposed to be doing it and [this] just gets rid
of all that. Because the only thing I can concentrate on is drumming," she says.
On the first night of spring, Moe Jerant, founder of the Lehigh Valley Drum Circle, convened a free gathering open to the
public in Jerant is a world percussion specialist at the store and gives lessons on the djembe, an hourglass-shaped drum from
West Africa. Her business card lists her stock in trade as "stress reduction drumming" and for years she's been spreading
the joy of drumming at programs for senior citizens, the disabled and troubled children.
At 6 p.m. about 75 men, women and children trickled into the warehouse, some carried their own drums, others grabbed one
from the assortment assembled in the middle of a circle of metal folding chairs. A CD playing the syncopated sounds of Babatunde
Olatunji, a master djembe player from Nigeria, filled the room.
"Our culture and lifestyle, it's so fast-paced and it's pulling us away from each other," Jerant says.
But in no time, a community is a cavernous cinderblock warehouse behind Dave Phillips Music and Sound Store's showroom
in Allentown. slapping its hands in rhythmic patterns across the drums' taut goatskin heads.