MANKATO — Professional singer Sonny Bryan has spent time teaching the concepts of African drumming all over the country.
He’s lectured in Florida, Texas and Colorado. In Mankato, he’s frequently taught classes and workshops. But he learned one of his most important lessons while instructing a class in Hopkins that included five blind children. Unsure of what to expect, Bryant said he quickly realized “the blind children were the sharpest in the class. All I had to do was help them to feel the drum while explaining the basics. It was amazing how fast they caught on as they out-played the other students.
“If you can hear a drum and feel the rhythm, you can play an African drum.”
Bryant’s experience teaching high-risk and less fortunate children eventually led to his conception of the Drum Center, an educational facility he’s opened in Mankato on the corner of Madison Avenue and North Broad Street.
A few months ago, Bryant officially opened the doors of the Drum Center and began teaching the African drum to third- through sixth-grade grade children Ñ on a pro bono basis. Bryant’s mission is to teach children and community members about the African culture by providing diversity through a drum team-style experience. In the future, Bryant hopes to offer drum sessions for older students, as well as for adults.
Bryant’s assistant director, Mary Borowski, is a local community member who heard of his idea and offered to help.
As assistant director, Borowski coordinates the drum team rehearsals and coordinates a practice schedule among participating families. Borowski also assists in picking up children who are in need of a ride while also supplying snacks, refreshments, and a ride home when needed.
“Mary is wonderful,” Bryant said. “She helps to keep me organized and in line. I couldn’t do it without her.”
An African drum is essentially a goblet-shaped drum with authentic goat skin across the surface. They are handcrafted from a single piece of wood capable of producing a wide range of tones.
Traditionally in West Africa, the drum is used for many different reasons and occasions, such as weddings, funerals, or even to signify a time of rest at the end of an evening. Bryant said each tribe in West Africa has their own language that is conveyed through the music of the drum to the rest of the tribe.
“The beauty of the drum is in the rhythms and how each drum ties into the next,” Bryant said. “It takes all of the instruments to create the orchestra, just as it takes all of the drums to create the African drum experience.”