Set in various rhythms, the African Drum Ensemble of the University of Indianapolis music department performed its first concert of the semester for the 2016-17 academic year. Directed by adjunct music faculty member Art Reiner, students of all majors, including non-music majors, played together the music of the diaspora on Dec. 7 at 7:30 p.m. in the Ruth Lilly Performance Hall.
The African Drum Ensemble is comprised of two separate groups, a Tuesday group and a Wednesday group. The groups are divided solely on the availability of time in the students’ schedules, allowing them their art credit requirement. The primary students enrolled in the course consist of juniors and seniors, according to Reiner.
Both groups had separate sets of music, with two pieces each. Each group was not only required to play the assorted African drums but also sing and dance. The pieces performed came from traditional arrangements from Nigeria, Northeastern Brazil, Puerto Rico and Southern Brazil. The Tuesday group performed “Jingo Lo Ba” from Nigeria and “Baion” from Northeastern Brazil while the Wednesday group performed “Bomba Yuba” from Puerto Rico and “Samba Batucada” from Southern Brazil. The last piece performed by both groups together was a traditional arrangement from Ghana. Together, the groups performed “Gpan Logo.”
Although someone preceded Reiner in directing the course at UIndy, with approximately three members into the group, Reiner has been teaching the course for 25 years and has seen the numbers multiply simply by word of mouth.
“I had some young women in here who weren’t music majors or anything, and they started telling people around the school, and that’s how it got to be more of the way it is now. It’s now like an all-campus kind of deal,” Reiner said. “The last 12 years or so, I’ve had two sections of it [African Drum Ensemble], and it’s full every semester, and I have waiting lists.”
Reiner said that the work to pass the course consists of being able to apply one’s self to music by playing an instrument, singing and dancing. Through those actions, he continues to see change in his students who pass through.
“They don’t even realize it until after a while, but they all start getting better and better at that stuff…. My favorite part is seeing them blossom and seeing them learn basic music skills and how they start together and stop together, get loud and soft and all sorts of things,” Reiner said. “I just like watching them get it together like that.”
For part-time student and full-time employee at UIndy, and secondary education major Kenny Winningham, the African Drum Ensemble course has been a part of his life for years.
“I actually started my undergrad here 10 years ago and I’ve since graduated, but I decided to come back for a master’s degree. My first major, though I changed it after two years, was music. One of my requirements was to perform in a small ensemble and a large ensemble. This was the only large ensemble that I thought was of any interest, so I took it my first semester and I’ve taken it eight times since then, including this one,” Winningham said.
Winningham was enrolled in the Wednesday group and performed “Bomba Yuba” and “Samba Batucada.”
“I liked [to perform] the ‘Yuba’ the best,” Winningham said. “It seems to have a pretty good beat to it. We’re so used to music that only has four beats to a measure, and I suppose there technically is in that piece, but it has a triple feel to it that can throw you off. You just have to focus and make sure you know what you’re doing. That’s what I like about it. It has a four time feel but a three time feel as well.”
Collegiate-level music at UIndy is taught by professors and adjunct faculty members with knowledge in music history behind the music they teach.
For Winningham, the music he learned for this concert was a stretch.
“At first, it was difficult because I’m so used to rock and roll that having to learn African-themed music was something entirely new. But with each repetition of the class, it became gradually easier. It can be a bit difficult to find the beat at times, especially if you’re distracted by somebody else’s instrument, but it does get easier over time. That’s for sure,” Winningham said.
Like Winningham, another student performed in the ensemble intentionally repeated the course. Senior music technology and recording, music theory and composition and electronic media major Sarah Smith has taken the course five times to fulfill a requirement and because she enjoys it.
“I needed another large ensemble for my ensemble grant, to keep it [the grant]. I also like Art as a professor. I think he’s a cool guy. And I played drums in high school so I was like, ‘This seems fun.’ So I’m in women’s chorus and this [African Drum Ensemble],” Smith said.
Having performed for years, Smith explained that her nerves do not come just from her own performance, but for her peers as they perform in a venue to which they may not be accustomed.
“I’m nervous sometimes just because of the group and how they react when they get out there,” Smith said. “When we’re rehearsing, it sounds awesome. Everybody’s grooving. But they get scared out there, and so the only reason I get nervous is for them.
According to Reiner, all students from all majors are welcome to take the African Drum Ensemble as a course because he enjoys teaching the basics of music.
When students return to campus after winter break, The Icarus Ensemble will perform for a Jazz Series concert on Jan. 25 at 7:30 p.m. in the Ruth Lilly Performance Hall.