“Drumming in a group is a powerful, mind-blowing, life-giving experience,” says Andrew. “Music-making, performance, improvisation… these are ancient human activities that contain a lot of knowledge, beauty, and life energy. I try to give people access, as others have done for me.”
Andrew has led more than a thousand workshops in schools, prisons, Indian Reservations, homeless shelters, museums, universities, cities, and remote villages in the United States, Latin America, and Europe. A percussionist, composer, and improviser, he is the founding director of Continuum Culture & Arts, a nonprofit that supports artistic work and the people who create it.
If it’s not fun, stop. “My goal is for students to have a visceral experience, something that reaches them emotionally, intellectually, and physically. I want them to participate in something that respects them as humans with agency and imagination, that liberates and empowers them. I want them to experience a state of ecstatic flow through music. I want them to connect with their own creative powers, and with something ancient, powerful, and larger than themselves.”
How do you produce a vibrant learning environment?
“As much as possible I let the drums do the talking. When the groove gets to a certain level, and people’s hearts are 100% in it, and everyone is focused together, magic can happen. It’s like your body and spirit experience space-time in a different way, and it’s relaxing; worries wash away. Playing your heart out with a group of people is a powerful experience.
“When you achieve that, all kinds of cool things can happen. Students are focused, and can perceive and learn with a high degree of precision and refinement. They are open to ideas and to each other. They are excited, and tap into their own creativity.”
How do you foster youth leadership?
“I treat everyone as an equal co-creator. I let them make compositional choices and take key roles in the group. If the music is happening, they know it. They often amaze themselves by what they are doing, feel pride in their accomplishments, and their confidence grows.”
How have you evolved as a teacher?
“I’m getting better with practice, and sharpening my sense of social justice and my intolerance for BS. What has grown is my confidence in the intrinsic and irreducible power of music. It has a very special and important role it can play in the development of individuals and the health of society.”
What is an example of a good day?
“My favorite classes are when the students hear me playing before they even enter the room. When they arrive they are already so into it and excited they simply start drumming with me, and the group goes on and on without words for 20 or 30 minutes. The students are energized by the groove, they energize it back, and the groove sustains their attention and interest for a long time. That’s magical.
“I had a special ed. class of very shy and guarded 4th and 5th graders, where, after they got over their initial fear of me as a stranger, our classes basically became parties. They got so into playing percussion, grooving, improvising, and jamming that it would turn into a multi-media dance and drumming thing.
“One of my favorite days ever was at a summer camp for low-income middle school kids. On the final performance day we were in a park where several different camps were there to share their work. There was a lot of time after lunch and my group had a lot of pent up excitement and energy, which they manifested in a spontaneous drum/percussion/dance circle. It was pure, joyful adolescent exuberance for a long time, maybe an hour. Their music was both powerful and refined, and a combination of things I had taught or facilitated, and things they were bringing from their experiences. It was incredible, the best possible flowering of seeds that had germinated during our four weeks together.”
Photo by Peter Gannushkin