Feeling the beat: Percussion and film will benefit healing


MANCHESTER -- His father wanted to play drums like Gene Krupa, the flamboyant jazz musician from the Big Band era of the 1930s and ‘40s. Ted Day wanted to play drums when he was growing up also, and wound up collecting several sets, some of them home-made, he said.

"I have a set made out of crockery pots, with rawhide stretched over it," said Day, now 65 and a resident of Castleton, Vt. "I brought back a drum from British Columbia when I was out there. ... I made a ‘shakere,' which is a gourd with beads wrapped around it that you shake. But I don't know how to play the drum."

Earlier this year, he decided it was time to scratch that off the bucket list, and he signed up for a drumming class offered by the Green Mountain Academy for Lifelong Learning, in Manchester. The class was being taught by Saragail Benjamin, an accomplished musician and entertainer.

"She had all kinds of drums and a djembe (an African drum)," he said. "So, we just started pounding away. The main thing I learned were a couple of basic beats -- and that I had a lot more to learn."

Benjamin became interested in druming and percussion while working at the Lincoln Center Institute in New York about 15 years ago, she said.

"People are innately musical," Benjamin said. "I loved percussion -- anyone can play it, and it frees the child in everybody."

Originally from Omaha, Neb., Benjamin came east to attend college at Sarah Lawrence and stayed in New York until last year, when she moved to Manchester. She worked in the music industry for most of her adult life, performing in off-Broadway shows, in summer stock theater and as a piano bar singer. She started a music theater workshop and began working with children. In 2000, she added group drumming to her repertoire.

"I realized it would allow me to connect with people in a lot of new ways other than keyboards and singing," she said.

Benjamin hopes to use the connecting power of percussion on Sunday, June 1, to create a music video of a drum circle to encourage sick children to stay the course and remain engaged with life as they undergo treatment. She wants to make the film for children undergoing care for cancer, like chemotherapy, or who just need a boost. They'll be able to watch the video and play along through a special drumming app.

Mixing music with therapy for children grew out of Benjamin's earlier work involving children with special needs. She worked with a child undergoing chemotherapy at a camp one summer, and she returned the next to discover he had passed away in the interim. It was a sad yet revealing experience, she said.

"I learned more and more about how drumming could help them, and that they had a higher survival rate," she said. "I thought that since I can do this, I should."

She will donate all the after-tax profits from the new film to benefit kids with cancer and other serious illnesses. She will lead the drumming circle and produce the video at the Maple Street School in Manchester that Sunday, June 1, between 2 and 4 p.m., outside in the school grounds, weather permitting, or inside the school's gym, if it rains.

Everyone is welcome to take part -- free -- and she will supply drums for all comers.

Percussion comes in many shapes. Drum kits in popular music bands and groups often have cymbals, snares, tom-toms and big bass drums played with drumsticks or brushes. Conga-style percussion instruments are usually played with the hands. Sometimes the percussionist helps the other musicians in an ensemble keep to the beat and other times, the percussion line has its own notes and melody, as well.

Benjamin uses what she calls "world percussion," involving a diverse array of instruments. The wilder the sound, the better, she added.

"Think of the drum head as a trampoline," she said. "If you hit the drum head hard, it will hit you back. Hold the hand firm, but not too tight and bounce it off."

There are all levels of technique and a musician can study drumming forever, she said.

"It all starts from the spirit and the heart responding to the music," she said. "I start with getting people in touch with the music they feel and, as we go along, I start teaching world rhythms and improving their technique."

Ted Day said he hoped to try to make it for the drumming circle and video shoot at Maple Street School and plans to try and organize a drumming circle of his own at his home in a remote section of Castleton.

It's a good way to relax and unwind while having a good time, he said.

"You just need someone to get a starting beat," he said. "Basically it's fun and it's something I've always wanted to do."

If you go ...

What: Drumming circle, film shoot

When: 2 to 4 p.m.
Sunday, June 1

Where: Maple Street School, Manchester, outside weather permitting or inside the school's gym if it rains

Information: (802) 768-8640, saragailbenjamin.com


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