My eighth birthday is one that I will remember forever. That evening, my brother and sister asked me join them in the bathroom while my father, a display manager and sign maker, placed large placards with big red arrows on the floor all throughout our house.
Upon my dad’s signal, I opened the bathroom door, looked down and was amazed. All throughout the house, were lines of large red arrows leading in different directions. My father said “Bobby, follow the red arrows. At the end of each line of red arrows, you will find your birthday presents.” At eight years old, I was going to experience my first birthday treasure hunt!
The first line of red arrows brought me to our beige chair in the living room. As I lifted the cushion in search of my birthday present, I stared in amazement at a beautiful drum practice pad that my father had made from wood, rubber and love. It was the best present I had ever seen.
This drumming practice pad ushered me towards the beginning of a lifelong journey. I spent months, then years practicing on this rubber practice pad that my father made. When I was ten years old, my parents bought me a snare drum, and at twelve years old, I graduated to a silver Ludwig drum set.
At that time, I was living in South Jamaica, Queens. I was part of a small group of boys who knew that I didn’t like to fight, and I was bullied daily. That drum set became a safe place where I could drum out my anger, my frustration, my sadness, and I noticed that after drumming I would always feel better.
Could my drumming experience translate to other people? Ten years later, armed with 100 hand drums, I formed a drum circle to see if people who had never drummed before could gain the same benefits that I did, as a drummer – stress release, anger release and joy.
I created a drum circle of non-drummers to see what would happen. After just five minutes of drumming together, it was clear that this group of professionals was loving the experience. Whether it was releasing their stress into the drum, feeling the joy and play that the drum provided, or feeling the community and connection that were made, no one wanted to leave the drum circle when the first program ended.
In 2001, I published the first book focusing on the health benefits of drumming, The Healing Power of the Drum which explores how the drum helps to create feelings of empowerment and boost self-esteem, relieve stress and negative emotions, and create feelings of joy, no matter the age.
I now travel around the world offering my drumming programs to day care centers, public schools, camps, corporations and hospitals. Each year I am invited to countries such as Malaysia, Spain, Switzerland, Ireland, England and Singapore using the drum as a vehicle for positive self-expression and community building.
One of my favorite joys is to lead a children’s birthday party. Imagine a group of children celebrating a six-year old’s birthday when all of a sudden they hear rhythms and sounds from outside that seem to be getting closer and closer. The excitement builds as the front door swings open and extraordinary rhythms and scores of drums of every color, size and shape enter the house.
The leader starts playing instruments that no one had ever seen before – an Australian rhythm instrument that sounds beautiful, but looks like a yoyo. He plays a Tibetan bell whose sound is pure and sustaining.
The birthday child is empowered and gets to try out each instrument first. Then, each child is given an opportunity to play their own drum and amazing sounds are made.
A joyful rhythm composition is created for the birthday child that rhymes and highlights how special he is. Each child gets to play a drum solo dedicated to the birthday child, but the best is saved for the end as all the children join together to drum their love for him. Everyone leaves the party with a small rhythm instrument, a token of a day that they will always remember – a magical day filled with rhythm, drums and love.