World Drum Ensemble performs authentic African diaspora music

By Lydia Hansen

Managing editor

Denny McGuire leads Michael Kral, Kim Glarner, Riley Huppert, Thomas Engesser, Omot Bawar, Samatar Sufi, Faysal Muhumed, Sonia Elsaadany and Zack Logdahl in a World Drum Ensemble concert. The class is open to all students, regardless of musical background. (Echo Photo by Lydia Hansen)

RCTC’s music scene is as diverse as its student demographics.

Home to a traditional choir and concert band, a jazz ensemble, the show choir Aires, and a community of electronic music composers, RCTC boasts its own drum ensemble.

The World Drum Ensemble, taught as a class by music instructor Denny McGuire for almost 16 years, is a percussion group that learns and performs music from a variety of cultural backgrounds not often represented in the typical college music program. The music the ensemble plays has origins in Brazil, Cuba, and West Africa, as well as the American South.

“You could say we play music from the African diaspora,” McGuire said.

The music he teaches originated from the slave culture of the Americas and contains elements from traditional African cultures that were incorporated into the musical styles of the countries where African slaves found themselves. For instance, Afro-Brazilian samba music is one style the ensemble plays frequently. Different salsa styles from the Afro-Cuban musical culture are also popular, as well as music from the Caribbean and West African countries like Ghana.

As a primarily percussion-based performance group, the World Drum Ensemble doesn’t usually incorporate other instruments, which could be used in these different musical styles. They do, however, occasionally add vocals to the pieces they perform. One popular concert piece is from Cuba and features students singing in an Africanized Spanish dialect.

“This presents a challenge because you can’t look up words,” McGuire said, but part of the ensemble’s goal is to perform the music as authentically as possible. “We don’t make anything up. It’s real music from the cultures we’re representing.”

For this reason, most of the drums, bells, and other instruments used are authentic as well.

“We’re actually playing drums that are from Brazil,” McGuire said. “I had the opportunity to buy some of the drums about 15 years ago, so they’re authentic instruments for this music from these cultures.”

Aside from performing a concert at the end of each semester, the World Drum Ensemble also performs around Rochester during the summer. This year, they’ll be playing on July 1 as part of the International Mutual Assistance Association’s “Walk Around the World” event celebrating World Refugee Day.

One of the best things about the ensemble, however, is that all it takes to become part of this diverse group of musicians is enrollment in the World Drum Ensemble class, which is available for the fall semester.

“You don’t need to know anything about drumming or music,” McGuire explained. “We’re wide open to anyone.”

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