Women in senior years—including a centenarian—discover pleasures and benefits of drumming
It’s Thursday afternoon at Mount Sinai Hospital, and the rhythmic beat of drumming rises through the air and carries into the corridors. BOOM-boom-boom-boom, ONE-two-three-four.
Inside an activity room, an unusual group of tam-tammers are gathered in a circle. One is over 100 years old. The others are in their 80s and 90s. The participants clutch drumsticks and beat steadily on West African djembes, unified in the rhythms of pop and rock.
Welcome to the Mount Sinai drum circle, an initiative of Music Therapist Pierrette-Anne La Roche. Since its launch last fall, the activity has brought together seven participants, all women, who have forged bonds and discovered the pleasures of communal percussion.
“They’ve improved their ability to play in rhythm and have created a cohesive musical group—it’s been fantastic to see.”Pierrette-Anne La Roche
Ms. La Roche begins the weekly sessions with warm-up exercises, in which participants flex and wiggle their fingers and clap their hands. Once the musical portion begins, first with maracas and then on drums, she counts out the beats and approaches participants individually to provide support and encouragement. One woman, who is hearing impaired, follows the rhythm through visual cues from the others.
One day recently, the drummers beat out the percussion to Madonna’s “La Isla Bonita” and the rousing “Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves” by the Eurythmics and Aretha Franklin. Ms. La Roche’s repertoire of songs stretches across time, from the 1920s to today.
She says the drum circle can be a source of empowerment for the women, and drums—traditionally viewed as a masculine instrument—offer a new form of self-expression.
“This becomes a moment in their day when they take control of themselves, and the way they want to communicate,” she says. The activity has become a popular success. “When I cross paths with them, they’ll often ask me, ‘Is the drumming today?’”
Frances, a Mount Sinai resident, says she was surprised to be asked if she wanted to participate in the group. Over 100 years old—she declined to give her exact age—she says she had danced as a younger woman, but never took music lessons. She discovered an enjoyment for drumming that she didn’t expect.
“I’d never done it before. I never thought I would start now,” she said after completing a 45-minute session.
“I feel I’m not as bad as I thought I’d be. When I bang the drum, it gives me a good feeling.”Frances, aged over 100
Research shows that drumming’s benefits are wide-ranging, including better concentration, coordination and emotional regulation. The activity wordlessly connects people in a group ritual while counteracting feelings of isolation, depression and anxiety.
The drum circle at Mount Sinai was a long-time dream for Ms. La Roche, who was able to see it become a reality with the purchase of drums, stands and other material by the Mount Sinai Users’ Committee.
She’s part of the team of CIUSSS West-Central Montreal’s music therapists who support patients and residents through the therapeutic benefits of song and melody. Operating in sites across our CIUSSS, including the Jewish General Hospital and rehabilitation and long-term care centres, they’re marking World Music Therapy Week from April 10 to 15. “I’m honoured to be able to do this work,” Ms. La Roche says. “These women have shown that when music connects to them, it’s easy to connect to others. Music creates a bridge and a way of bonding.”