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Copyright Morning Call April 8, 2006

A Drum Roll, Please -
A Circle of Drummers Gathers to Pound Out the Stress
 
By Wendy Solomon
Of The Morning Call

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.

wendy.solomon@mcall.com

Maureen 'Moe' Jerant * (610) 428-0544
Lv Drum Circle  * P.O. Box 541, Bethlehem, PA 18016