Sherry Gingras, drumming teacher and owner of Drumz, in Austin, believes that drumming can save the planet, and she is doing her part to facilitate that result. It’s a bold and immense goal, but she embraces it with joy, enthusiasm and an infectious passion for indigenous rhythms. During her classes, she not only teaches traditional African beats and drumming techniques, but also throws in generous helpings of insight, inspiration, historical perspective and lots of fun.
From the first moment she saw and tested her first djembe in an Austin music store 18 years ago, the West African drum captivated Gingras like no other musical instrument had done before. Shortly thereafter, when she took a workshop to learn some of the traditional rhythms and hand techniques, she came to understand the full power of these beautiful drums made of wood, rope and goat skin. “I saw how much melody was possible, beyond just their rhythmic capacity,” she says.
While people can play them alone, the djembes and djunduns are best appreciated and celebrated when played by a group of musicians. Gingras explains, “Individual rhythms are learned one-by-one; some people play support rhythms, and all of their parts merge and link to create the whole composition. Everybody is essential.”
This is where saving the world comes in. “I believe that the great value in drumming goes beyond just learning traditional rhythms. It’s more about becoming a healthier, more cooperative, less competitive and more tribal community so that we regain our sense of community, where material and personal gain take a back seat to the whole,” says Gingras.
She believes that there is much we can learn from our indigenous brothers and sisters because they never lost their connection to nature. They recognize the sanctity of all life, including the air, water, plants and trees. For Gingras, drumming is a wake-up call. “It calls in the spirit of the Earth and it deepens our connection not just to our inner selves, but also to Spirit—the spirit of the world,” she says.
We are connected to everyone and everything. “I try to help people realize this and increase their own awareness of all the rhythms that are alive and well around us all the time,” Gingras says, listing examples like the seasons, the rise and fall of the sun and moon, the Earth’s continuous motion, the tides and rain, frogs, birds and waterfalls. Increasing this awareness helps people in their development as drummers and as caring contributors to the world’s healing.
When playing together, the musicians experience what Gingras describes as “the pure joy of being alive.” The people playing the drums and singing are in the moment and joyful, and as the vibrations move out into the audience, they experience the same joy, too. Many get up and dance. “It’s very liberating and eye-opening because it’s like feeling a spirit that is part of you, and that is the spirit of all things. In those moments, everything is connected and all those barriers that we construct— our differences—at least in those moments, fade away. They’re not there at all, and we feel that common ground that we share,” Gingras says.
Another wonderful aspect of drumming is that it is accessible to musicians at all skill levels, from beginners to advanced players. “Many of the rhythms are very simple patterns that beginners can play, and when you put the whole piece together it’s so beautifully interlocked and orchestrated that you feel a part of the whole piece, as if you’re playing the entire, complex composition,” Gingras says.
Every day, more and more American companies, small businesses and organizations are recognizing the power of drumming to build community and improve morale. Gingras has facilitated teambuilding drumming sessions for large corporations in the past and still does some of this work for smaller businesses and organizations. She is also the founder and director of The Djembabes, an all-woman, professional drumming ensemble that people hire for entertainment at local clubs, community functions and private events.
The Drumz retail store carries a wide array of exotic and handmade world instruments, including drums, flutes, ocarinas, chimes, gongs, marimbas, rain sticks and singing bowls from Africa, Argentina, Asia and the Middle East. In addition to Gingras’ West African drumming classes, Drumz also offers lessons in flute, didgerido, cajon, balafon and other world percussion instruments.
By teaching music, selling world instruments, performing with The Djembabes and facilitating team-building sessions, Gingras passionately hopes to shepherd and influence her community. “I have a very strong concern for our planet at this time. The drum has led me to feel a stronger connection to nature and to the Earth, as well as the urgency of our situation here. The drum does ground people. Earth energy is present, and if people are open to that, it can make a difference as it lights up their passions and creativity. If some of that energy is directed toward healing the Earth, that’s all it will take. We have the capacity, imagination and resources to make the changes we need to create a healthy, flourishing planet,” she says.