Cleveland Metroparks: Powerful Performers

With slender wooden sticks in hand, a young girl stands in the center of a crowd and begins tapping on the cylindrical drum in front of her. The crowd, many backing with their own distinct drums, taps rhythmically along with her, transforming the tranquil Garfield Park Reservation into a makeshift music venue filled with "drum power."

Billed as part of the Cleveland Metroparks Summer Concert Series, this performance is one of twenty free performances that have taken place at four Cleveland Metroparks reservations across Cuyahoga County. As with many arts and culture-based programs and events throughout our community, Cuyahoga Arts & Culture provided key funding for this summer concert series through its Project Support grant program.

The crowd on hand this unseasonably cool August evening is not your typical audience listening to a traditional concert in a park. "When you become part of a show, it’s so much better than just watching it," explains LaDonna Sifford, who works in Outdoor Education at Cleveland Metroparks. "The people here become performers." Indeed the crowd performs, but they first require some guidance from a spirited musician and educator named Olu Manns.

Olu begins his lesson by playing a simple baseline on the drum for someone to learn, practice, play, and then lead the others. Olu then asks individuals to create their own baseline beat for the crowd to pick up and play. The crowd loves it. They smile, laugh, bob their heads, and move their hips to the beats reverberating throughout the reservation.

Chris and Helen, who live in Garfield Heights, had walked over with their three young children, ages four, two, and four months. "I like that it’s interactive," says Helen, smiling while holding her happy baby. "It’s such a great atmosphere and community feel," adds Chris.

Later, Olu describes how the different types of drums scattered throughout the crowd – Dun Dun, Sangban, Kenkeni, Djembe, Sound Shape, and Shaker – make three sounds: bass, tone, and slap. "When you put these sounds together, you have rhythm," he says.

Building on the rhythm of the drums, Olu adds vocals to the beat and welcomes the crowd to repeat after him: "Love is the key if you want to be free. But you first must be free in your heart can’t you see." Soon the crowd is playing and singing along freely and confidently like a veteran band jamming in concert.

During one interlude, Olu says, "Raise your hand if you have some form of stress on a daily basis." From the younger child to the older adult, hands shot up. Olu explains that drum power is what unites people from different places with different faces, helping them to be free of stress and enjoy life.

The crowd has clearly embraced this and is ready to welcome others to join their beat.