It was collaboration at its finest.
Jonah’s* steady rhythm kept the group on track during a fully-improvised song.
Bethany’s* leadership helped keep them upbeat and focused.
Mickey’s* free spirit contributed to some unique improvisation on the drum.
Paul’s* attention to detail helped shape different sounds during a quieter song.
Mandy’s* stability helped the musicians remain on track throughout the entire performance.
And they all received tremendous feedback from the audience.
Village Rhythms, Cunningham’s African drumming group, led by music therapist Kyle Fleming, performed at the awards banquet for the Illinois Inter-agency Athletic Association's (IIAA) "Bats, Balls, and Brains" conference in Bloomington in mid-January.
Cunningham is a member of the IIAA, which is an organization that provides opportunities to compete in sports with other residential programs in the state. At the banquet, our kids were treated to a delicious buffet meal and performed a variety of songs for an audience of over 20 staff from residential programs across the state.
"Several of the banquet attendees, all of whom work in different residential treatment programs in the state, came up after the banquet to tell us we did a great job," Kyle said. "Several more came up to me the next morning before conference sessions started and congratulated me and the kids on a job well done. There was even talk about having us come back next year."
Rhythms was started in the mid-1990s by Oscar, a former Cunningham staff member from Ghana. Back then, they performed several times a year, at one point even taking a trip to a reservation in South Dakota to attend a Native American Pow Wow. While learning a new instrument is a leisure skill that our kids can utilize for many years, it is also an exercise that helps them heal, learn and grow.
"Our kids are building self-confidence in their ability to learn the instrument, working on problem solving and conflict management skills, and working collaboratively with their peers to make a coherent musical sound," Kyle explained. "Each of our kids brings a different strength to the group depending on the song we're performing."
There are up to six of our youth involved in Village Rhythms at any given point. The group practices once a week for at least the two months leading up to a performance. This particular ensemble practiced every Thursday since late November, as they performed in Cunningham's Christmas Program in addition to the IIAA banquet.
"I mentioned to our kids in each rehearsal, as I mention any time I lead a drum circle during different events at Cunningham, that group drumming is meant to build group cohesion and help us become a stronger community, as drumming was and is used as a form of communication, celebration and mourning in many cultures," Kyle said. "It is only when we work together and listen to each other that we can make wonderful and beautiful music with group drumming, and I think these kids did a marvelous job of doing just that!"
*Our story is real but names have been changed to protect the privacy of our youth.