The lobby of the Staples High School auditorium is not a place you’d expect to hear African drumming. But for a few days each year that open space resounds with the rhythmic, alluring — even hypnotic — beats, pounded out by enthusiastic and thoroughly engaged Westport teenagers.
The drumming is part of the school’s African Studies curriculum. Several years ago, at a Yale seminar, instructor Carol Avery was introduced to Baba (“Father”) David Coleman, a drum circle leader.
She invited him to Staples — and every semester he comes back. Eric Mongirdas and Ashley Gayanilo currently teach the course, and this week Baba worked his magic again.
“Baba’s message is ‘drum for peace,'” Eric says. “He teaches students to work as one, and feel the music.” It’s a bit deep, but the teenagers — experienced musicians, and those who have never played an instrument — quickly get into it. African drumming allows them to express their individuality, at the same time they’re relying on each other.
For many, drumming in a circle means stepping out of their comfort zone. And for any student or staff member passing by, the pulsating sounds filling the school lobby are inspiring, soothing, and very, very cool.