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Drum Safari

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Article by Nicci Lavine

Photography by Janie Jones

Originally published in Johnson County Lifestyle

In 2009, a team of archeologists discovered a 35,000-year-old treasure while digging in the southwest region of present-day Germany. While its age alone was enough to make it a significant anthropological find, age was not the only remarkable aspect about it. In a time when survival was the primary concern, it was surprising to find our ancestors took time to make musical instruments. A small flute carved from bone and ivory told the story of how ancient, and how intrinsic, the link is between humanity and music.

It’s the universal expression of music that inspire husband-and-wife duo Brandon and Teryn Draper to breathe life into their vision of living in a more unified world. The two recognize that the presence of music in each culture makes it a powerful point for connection. 

At its core, Drum Safari is designed to blur cultural lines through rhythms found across the globe. The program incorporates more than 400 percussion instruments from places such as Turkey, Mali, Ghana, India and Brazil.  

The program observes its greatest benefits when focusing on areas concentrated with immigrant families and children, Brandon says. For some children who may be first-generation Americans hailing from foreign countries, hearing a familiar rhythm can bring a powerful sense of familiarity, safety, and inclusion.

“We all have a rhythm inside our bodies,” Brandon says. “Our heart beats the same rhythm whether we are from Nigeria or from Niagara, New York. Through our programs, we hope to give children and their families opportunities to make rhythmic connections with cultures from around the globe. Most of our programs revolve around music, but we also provide an authentic, hands-on geography experience. It’s a powerful combination that helps to show how beautifully 'mixed' our world can be.”

While instruments are used, they are not the end of the Drum Safari’s education curriculum. The instruments are an accompaniment to lessons taught about animals, about health and wellness, even about mindfulness and self-awareness.  

After an instrument is introduced and played, it is then passed out to its audience. As the instruments are passed around, the children are challenged to “look for animals” with each animal assigned a rhythm and a phrase. In addition to a rhythm and a phrase, each animal also represents a particular lesson. For instance, the Jaguar is the embodiment of physical strength, energy, and a healthy heart. When the jaguar is introduced to the audience, the children are encouraged to run in place and “jump” like the powerful cat. 

“They don’t just learn some [facts and figures] and go away with information,” Brandon says. “We are drawing the creativity out of them. That way, it is theirs to own.”

Brandon is a professor of music at the University of Kansas. After 17 years of teaching in public schools, Teryn made the decision to homeschool their daughters and to manage Looking Up Productions along with multiple Drum Safari teams. When they are not educating minds, they pack their instruments and their young daughters, Eva, 9, and Ivy, 6, to share their program with youth across the Midwest and Mountain regions.

“We want to empower children and families to play together,” Brandon says. “We are trying to help all of us learn more about each other. As our mentor, Bongo Barry, said, 'the family that plays together, stays together.'”

After the two met while studying percussion at Bethany College, Brandon and Teryn seemed destined to fill their lives with music. They founded Drum Safari in 2003 under their parent company, Looking Up Productions, Inc. which functions as the couple’s musical-consulting entity. While living south of Santa Fe, NM at the time, they initially started by hosting free interactive workshops at local community centers. Little did they know how vast their program would reach only years later.

Since last year alone, Drum Safari has employed four separate percussion performance groups, hosted more than 200 live shows, and engaged more than 32,000 children. While the structure of the shows may have a thread of similarity, the programs are ever-evolving and offering new content each year.

Drum Safari partners with other local programs that center on music, such as Harmony Project KC. Drum Safari’s ambition is to pilot new programs, lay more groundwork for local festivals, and actively seek out and provide programming for areas that may not have the resources to promote musical and cultural education for children. By partnering with like-minded organizations, the Draper family hopes to create a movement that expands far beyond the mountains of Colorado with plans to eventually include Europe in their travel itinerary.

Drum Safari is offering classes in the spring and fall of 2019 for ages 6 to 12 through the Blue Valley Recreation Center.

For more information about Drum Safari or to inquire about booking, please visit DrumSafari.org or email DrumSafari@gmail.com.

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