Beating Drugs, Gangs and Violence with Drums & Rhythms
by Dave Mancini

Working with kids has always been a passion of mine. Over the last 15 years, I have visited colleges, high schools and junior high schools throughout the US and Canada as a guest artist and clinician. I perform with the students, share my professional experiences and present master classes and clinics.

I found that through music, kids could be encouraged, inspired and motivated, not only in their musical endeavors, but in other areas as well. In addition, I realized I could be a positive role model for them by encouraging them to use their creative talents in a positive way to avoid the temptation to involve themselves in any negative activities.

For the past several years, I have been an artist in residence at Texas Wesleyan University in Fort Worth. It was here that I met Lieutenant Leon "Rick" Flowers, who is involved in the outreach program "We Love Kids." Rick is a D.A.R.E. officer and specializes in both drug and gang prevention. Rick and I love working with kids, and once we discovered that we shared this interest, we began hands-on drum/percussion workshops with young people in the Fort Worth area. The students we work with range in age from elementary school through high school. It is not often that kids see a police officer play drums or percussion, so it puts the officer in a different light and they see him as a regular person. More importantly, they see the officer as their friend.

The primary goal of our workshops is to get the kids excited about drums, percussion and music in general, and to encourage them to participate in music programs that are available to them. In our workshops, we talk to the kids about the fact that they will have to make choices in their lives. Drumming and music are good choices, but it is important that we offer them this choice.

Rick Flowers and I recently presented three workshops at the National D.A.R.E. Conference in Washington, D.C. for police officers and teachers from around the country. In the workshops, we illustrated the use of drumming as a positive alternative for kids and instructed them in establishing drum ensembles in their own communities.

Establishing a drum ensemble in your community is relatively easy. There are three initial requirements to get started: a place for the ensemble to meet, a few drums and hand held percussion instruments and one or more instructors.

Drum ensembles can rehearse at schools, churches, community recreation centers or outreach centers. In Fort Worth, Rick Flowers works with an ensemble that meets once a week at a dance studio/rehearsal space that belongs to a local university. The university provides the rehearsal space at no charge for the group.

The instruments that we use for our drum ensembles include drum set, congas, djembes, ashikos, tubanos, as well as smaller instruments such as cowbells, agogo bells, tamborims, claves, shakers, triangles, cabasas, shekeres and wood blocks. However, it is not necessary to have all of these instruments. A small assortment will work very well. We usually have 8-10 kids playing at one time. I play drum set to accompany them, and we assign basic rhythms on the other drums and percussion instruments. The rhythms we utilize in our workshops are basic African, Brazilian and calypso rhythms.

If your ensemble meets at a school that already owns a variety of drums, then the challenge of obtaining instruments is solved. However, if you do not have access to these instruments, there are a number of solutions. We found that many individuals and businesses within the community are willing to help out with a program that benefits kids and keeps them away from drugs, gangs and violence. In some cases, music dealers and manufacturers have donated instruments and accessories. Individuals and non-musical businesses are sometimes willing to make a monetary donation for the purpose of purchasing instruments for the kids.

The last requirement for establishing a drumming ensemble is instructors. One instructor can supervise the rehearsal, but two are ideal, especially when there are scheduling conflicts and one of them cannot make the rehearsal. It also works well to have two instructors who alternate rehearsals. The important thing is that there is always an instructor available so that the ensemble can meet regularly, either weekly or every other week. The kids need to have something to look forward to on a regular basis.

In conclusion, just have fun working with the kids. The rewards are wonderful and know that you are making a difference in their lives.

For more information about "We Love Kids," please contact Dave Mancini at P.O. Box 812, Pittsford, NY 14534.