Drum, Sing, Dance

The students had the opportunity to utilize traditional instruments.

The students had the opportunity to utilize traditional instruments.

O’Shaughnessy was starting to fill in with people. The space set aside for the 2013 African Drum Ensemble was soft and dimly lit as it always is. Stringed, multicolored lights lined the walls above the 20 or so drums sitting patiently in front of the performers’ chairs. I heard a lot of folks talking about this class when the semester took off, and it looks like it was filled to the brim with willing students. The music department isn’t known for disappointing performances, I thought, while settling into my chair for the Dec. 4 event.

The audience space was filled with chairs and couches congruously placed around the performers’ seats as if the crowd had brought them in themselves. When the music began, the community who came in support of the SFUAD music department—and even those that just came for a decent show—were all invited to dance along.

Fred Simpson, Director of the African Drum Ensemble, leads the students.

Fred Simpson, director of the African Drum Ensemble, leads the students.

As the harmonious beating of drums—combined with a call-and-repeat type chorus commanded by Fred Simpson—began coming together, the suddenly timid audience, nervously laughing off the idea of dancing in front of one another, loosened up a bit. Perhaps that’s a bit of a stretch on my part, assuming the mindset of an entire room, but as the percussions increased and our attention was lead to the story being told via drums and chants, any tension or uncertainty in the air had dissipated.

The night offered a wide array of entertainment for the audience and, by the end of the night, they had clapped and danced like they were performing themselves. The people who were actually performing, however, became more and more remarkable as the show went on. A seemingly diverse class filled with music majors is nothing new within the confines of the department. However, it’s clear that many of these students will not go on to playing with traditional African drum ensembles. Not to discredit their ability or musical stamina, both punctuated at the show, but they were trying something different and new. The student performers had discovered something personal to themselves in a genre that is in more than one way foreign.