Drumming up support

A new music programme is helping children in Higham Hill, writes Michael Bowden

Learning to play the djembe

Learning to play the djembe at Whittingham Primary School

Schoolchildren are taking part in an unusual cross-cultural music project that inspires confidence in their abilities.

Thought up by Vanessa Downie from not-for-profit dance organisation Khyal Arts and Whittingham Primary School’s head of music, Jane Aksut, pupils have taken to learning the tabla and djembe drums with genuine enthusiasm.

Every Thursday afternoon youngsters at the Higham Hill Road school go to class to learn how to play the Indian and African instruments. Lessons are led by Simon Rowe, who has 20 years’ experience learning the skills of drumming from Ivorian master drummer Henri Gaobi.

Simon is currently training to become a group sound therapist and believes “music is the medicine of a troubled mind”.

There are now plans to take the programme to more schools locally. Vanessa said: “We want to increase young people’s love of music as well as their skills in music-making, performance and team-work. Teaching transferrable skills of communication and empathy are also integral goals.

“Fortunately, we’re in a great position of having tabla drums available to us and decided to use them. An accidental fusion of Indian and African drumming came from the reality of underfunding and a lack of other drums.”

Khyal Arts’ activities are designed in the spirit of helping people become stronger and more in control of their own lives through support and building leadership skills. The organisation usually combines cultures in its projects, and there is a strong desire to share the legacy of their patron, Mahmood Rahman, who worked to lift morale among refugees during Bangladesh’s struggle for freedom and independence.

Vanessa added: “Witnessing the anticipation of walking into a room full of tabla and djembe drums, while being greeted by their enthusiastic and fun-loving drumming teacher, Simon, whose creative approach is very different from that of your typical school teacher, is heartwarming.

“The sessions have also built confidence in pupils and there have been clear signs of the therapeutic qualities drumming can have on people who take up the instruments. One child who rarely contributed in class has blossomed and now leads his class in drumming patterns, for example.”

Teacher Christian, who realised he has untapped musical creativity himself, said: “The children enjoy the drumming lessons. They learn techniques and increase their confidence, both personally and in the skill of drumming.

“Before long children found themselves working and building together, enhanced by the great rapport that had been developed with the drumming teacher.”

Khyal Arts works to bring cultural cohesion through accessible cultural programmes and activities.

Specialising in Indian dance and music, the organisation offers workshops, community performances and education services.

For further information about Khyal Arts and other projects and programmes the organisation runs:

Email info@khyalarts.org.uk

Visit khyalarts.org.uk