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Drum circle invites community members to join in on the beat

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Youth perform a holiday concert at the gallery recently. A mother of one of the children made them matching uniforms for their performances following a summer camp they completed earlier this year.

BlueMarble Drum Circle

The BlueMarble Drum Circle meets at Shenandoah Arts Council at 811 S. Loudoun St. on the fourth Friday of each month. Participation is $3 for council members and $10 for non-members. For information, contact Daniel Petersen at dcpetersen1@gmail.com or Jona Masiya at masiyajp@yahoo.com.
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Daniel Petersen shakes rattles in a drum circle.

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Masiya passes out drums to a circle of young drummers.

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Jona Masiya, at right, and his sons, Shalom, 4, left, and Blessings, 8, participate in a drum circle at the Shenandoah Arts Council on Loudoun Street in Winchester. Dennis Grundman/Daily

By Josette Keelor -- jkeelor@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- Some of the children fell into an easy rhythm quickly, seeming to lose themselves in the beat as they rapped their hands against African djembe drums. Others approached the rhythm as more of a dance, swaying, bobbing their heads, using their arms along with their hands or smiling at the assembled crowd of parents, siblings and friends.

The pulse was in the floor, on the air, within the bones of everyone in the room.

"I love it. It gets you moving, gets you going," said Betty Langager, of Stephens City, who came to hear the children of the Global Kids Ensemble play in their holiday concert last Thursday at Shenandoah Arts Council.

Indeed, the musicians did get the crowd going, as evidenced by those who danced quietly, tapped their feet or nodded along to the beat.

"African music is really tough to listen," ensemble director Jona Masiya told the crowd before beginning the concert. If audience members want to dance, he said, "this is fine with me."

"This drum circle has been about the community," Masiya told the audience later in the evening, before inviting members to join in on other percussion instruments for the final song.

In that Winchester gallery, the room vibrated with wall-to-wall sound from the work of 13 area children, but the youth ensemble is only a small branch of the greater movement marching its way across the Northern Shenandoah Valley, inviting people of all ages and experience levels to feel the rhythm of African music.

A member of the BlueMarble Drum Circle, Masiya teaches drumming at Shenandoah University, and also gives private lessons across the area.

Masiya met members Daniel Petersen and Julie Kirby at a performance he gave nearly four years ago.

"It's not an unusual thing to have happen ... to just organically become a circle," Petersen said. "We just decided right then."

After Kirby, of Berryville, suggested they unite, the group began meeting on the fourth Friday of each month.

"She was the one who actually brought me to Jona's performance," said Petersen, who lives in Front Royal.

"And I was the one who said, 'We should have a drum circle,'" Kirby said.

"This is what I grew up doing," said Masiya, who moved to the U.S. from Zimbabwe in 2006 and has a master's degree in music education from Shenandoah University. At SU he specializes in the mbira, an African drum with keys inside that he plays with his fingers.
When he met Kirby and Petersen in February 2008, he was playing with Ensemble Mawuya, a group he founded.

"It has been very active," Masiya said.

Petersen said it's mostly word of mouth that brings in new members, but Yahoo! and Google groups and the Shenandoah Arts Council's newsletter help, too.

"It's so easy for things like this to lose momentum," Kirby said. She knew, on that day four years ago, that the new friends who had such a passion for drumming needed to join forces.

"I started as part of a women's group, and I really only do it casually. It's a way to be joyful and connect with others. ... I just love to do it."

Now the BlueMarble Drum Circle regularly sees anywhere from eight to 40 people among its ranks.

At last week's youth concert at the Shenandoah Arts Council, Petersen joined in playing as Masiya led the group. Kirby, dancing quietly in the back of the room, simply enjoyed the drumming.

"Anything I do is just a blend of everything I've ever learned," Kirby said of her dancing.
The group played a song called "Kuku," which means "one beat" and usually is performed at social gatherings in Africa.

Another song with a faster beat, "Jiti," comes from the South African word "jive," meaning "dance."

The children who participate come from different backgrounds, but when they're in the circle, they're all of one mind, one rhythm. Many also play other instruments outside of the circle.

Isabella Trumpetto, 9, plays the flute, and first learned about drumming when she participated in a drum camp through Shenandoah Conservatory's summer camp last year, said her mother, Susan Leopold, of Linden.

"Oh, they love it," Leopold said. Her daughter and two friends attended the camp together, and all three subsequently joined the children's drumming ensemble.

"Now we get together about every other Sunday," she said. Last week's concert was the first since the summer camp, she said.

Leopold crafted all of the children matching outfits to wear for performances -- "Just so they would have a uniform," she said. "They're all pretty committed to it."

"We've had a very good experience," said Meenu Gopal, of Winchester, whose 10-year-old daughter Ankita played with the children's group. "This exposure of international music is so important to the kids."

Ankita played piano before joining the group, but no musical experience is required to join.
"Everybody has rhythm, you just have to let your mind get out of the way and let your body do it," Petersen said.

"It's not about getting good at it," Kirby said, "it's about the joy of it."

Participants mainly play the djembe drum, which Petersen, who has learned mostly western African drumming traditions over the years, said is easiest to play.

"I think that this is the most popular African drum that you might find in the U.S.," Masiya said.

It's easy to get lost in the beat of whichever song the group chooses to play, since it's really just a rhythm played over and over again. Participants know when to stop by a signal Masiya gives that begins and ends each song.

"I refer to it as being like 'aloha,'" Kirby said, "but it isn't."

The same eight-beat rhythm announces the start and finish of a song, and what happens in between is up to the members who contribute to the circle.

"They both approach it very differently," Kirby said. "With Jona it's inside of him, and with Dan he's very technical about it."

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