African beats bring community to campus

Photo by Caitlin O'Rourke

The Butler Community Arts School provided another groovy way for working adults—and students—to enhance their artistic abilities.

The school began an adult African drumming class last week to add to their adult piano class and adult big band class held in the summer.

Matt Harris, a Butler University  graduate who majored in percussion, said he was eager to teach the class.

“I wanted to share the music that I had learned,” Harris said. “Once a group learns and internalizes this music, the energy is indescribable. I wanted to bring that energy to people in the community that normally might never experience it.”

After details had been worked out, Karen Thickstun, who is in charge of the Butler Community Arts School, said she was very excited to include the class in their curriculum.

Thickstun said she is glad to add more to the program as she has had many requests from adults through classes for multiple instruments.

Currently, the class has about nine members, including a Butler student, a couple of Butler faculty and staff and other members in the community. Their second class was last night.

Mary Beth Sekela, a senior creative writing major, said she heard about the class from the Butler Connection.

“I’m the only [Butler] student in the room,” she said. “It was neat to hang out with a group of people I would never spend time with otherwise. The drumming is a hoot as well, obviously.”

Sekela has been playing the djembe, a drum that originated in West Africa, for about nine months. She said she is a bit ahead of the other students, but she enjoys playing with a group of people.

Catherine Usher, the administrative specialist for enrollment management at Butler, is also taking the class.

Usher and her husband recently took a motorcycle trip along the Blue Ridge Parkway to Asheville, N.C. On Friday nights, there was a drumming circle in a park downtown that they happened to come across. Approximately 200 people, ranging widely in age and nationality, came together to drum and dance.

“A lady let me borrow her drum, and I was hooked,” Usher said. “It was invigorating, and the energy was so positive and the group so diverse and inclusive.”

Usher said Harris is a great instructor and that the group has such good energy when drumming.

“The students in this class all come from different places and backgrounds and are very nice and interesting people,” he said. “Some have played drums before, and some thought it would be fun to start.  The wide variety of skill levels and backgrounds is what makes it so enjoyable to teach.”

He said that the class is working on a traditional West African drumming piece called “Ku-ku.” Within the first class, the students were able to layer four different rhythms within the group.

For interested Butler students, the Butler Community Arts School offers an adult beginning piano class starting June 6 and a big band workshop beginning July 21. Contact for more information.


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