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October 13, 2006
 
Published on Times News Online (http://www.tnonline.com)

Learning to play

Djembe is its own form of magic

By DONALD R. SERFASS  dserfasstnonline.com


PATTIE MIHALIK/TIMES NEWSTIMES NEWS writer Donnie Serfass joins a group of 70 playing the djembe at September's Autumn Equinox Drum Circle, Allentown.

The thought of playing a djembe scared me.

That's because I'm no drummer. I'm probably the worst person to carry a beat. Actually, I'm the perfect example of a honky-boy without rhythm. I admit it. I'm not Ringo Starr or Buddy Rich. I'm more of a Mister Magoo.

Still, the spirit was willing even if the flesh was weak.

So when two friends recommended that I travel to Allentown to join a community drum circle, I just couldn't say no.

After all, Pattie Mihalik said the djembe is all about relaxation and can even put you in touch with your inner self.

"It's a lot of fun...like being back in kindergarten," she advised.

Friend Chris Parker said the beat of a djembe is something innate in all of us.

"It's like a heartbeat," she said. "The first thing you hear in your mother's womb."

I figured that there definitely must be something to it. If a djembe helps me to relax, and if relaxing helps to make me more productive, then I owe it to myself to give it a try.

The worst that could happen, I thought, is that I'd make a fool of myself in front of total strangers. Or maybe become the first person shunned by a community drum session.

The Autumn Equinox Drum Circle was held in a converted warehouse at the Dave Phillips Music and Sound Studio on Union Blvd. near the Allentown-Bethlehem municipal line. About 70 turned out, ranging in age from five to almost 80. Most were already drumming by the time I arrived.

Ardie Gadille, Schnecksville, welcomed me and gave me a few pointers to get me started. Ardie's been playing for four years so I learned a great deal by watching her. It didn't take long before I joined in on the beat. Of course, my first attempt at rhythm sounded more like popcorn exploding inside a microwave.

But then the magic started to grab hold. I relaxed. The beat seemed to appear in the air. Suddenly, I was drawn into the excitement, feasting on a smorgasbord of tones and rhythms led by percussion virtuoso Moe Jerant. Jerant encouraged us and provided helpful pointers.

"It's a pleasant, melodic king of thing," she said. "For the next hour, play like a little kid." Then she took us there - back to childhood. Jerant took us back in time. She also put us high on clouds.

I quickly realized that Jerant is to drumming what Knute Rockne is to football.

By following her lead, and also by watching a woman named Colleen playing djuns, or timpani-style mother drums, I became fascinated and absorbed. I began to drum in harmony with folks around me. In no time at all I was a full-fledged beatnik, exploring my world and myself.

Jerant led us on an expedition in percussion and all of us became happy gladiators. Some of the rhythms called out to the jungle, announcing our presence in the African wild. Other beats seemed to take us to Egypt where our echoes bounced across the Nile. Several of the women arose, dancing exotically to the groove. Djembe was working its magic.

Among the excursions, Moe coached us on breathing techniques and relaxation hints to feed our energy. Everybody bonded in the experience. Total strangers turned to each other and introduced themselves. Unfamiliar faces became friends. It was an experience shared, which, of course, is an experience filled with glory.

The 90 minutes seemed to fly by as swiftly as a Tarzan swing.

"It's time to float all the way down to the ground," said Jerant, guiding us into perfect landing. For sure, Jerant's charisma is contagious, a bright aura that spreads like wildfire.

"As you leave, remember that happiness is an attitude, not a result," she said.

For me, the result was a night I'll always remember. I drove home with an understanding that djembe is its own form of magic. It's not really a drum after all. It's more like a food - a tonic that tunes the spirit and touches the soul.

Two days later I returned to witness an advanced class and to meet more new faces. Once again I felt inspired, part of a special moment.

I'm convinced that djembe has something for everyone. It's a beat nobody should skip.

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