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Members of the Durango Drums drumming circle gather at Buckley Park recently for a Sunday session. Various levels of the group gather three times weekly./Photo by Waldemar Winkler

Drums over Durango

Drumming circle offers alternative healing, self-expression method
by Stew Mosberg

The drum has been around for centuries. In fact, one was uncovered at a Mesopotamian archeological excavation that dated back more than 5,000 years.
Other than using them as a means of communication, indigenous people throughout the world have and still do use the rhythm of drums to promote everything from healing and balance to self expression. Furthermore, studies have shown that drumming can also create and maintain physical, mental and spiritual health.
Vanessa Morgan, a trained acupuncturist and homeopathic healer, founded Durango Drums in January 2011 to teach and share her joy of playing West African percussion instruments. A growing group of regulars, as well as drop-ins, meet Wednesday and Thursday evenings at Community Midwives adjacent to Dietz Market on Highway 160.
In addition to the sheer fun of banging on a drum, “Music,” says Morgan, “is the language of the spirit; it transcends all spoken languages and connects all humans on an intuitive and spiritual level.”
At Durango Drums, students can learn to play two specific African drums: the dunun (doo-noon), a West African bass drum; and the djembe, a drum made of hard woods and goat skin. The dunun, which is played by the Malinke people, consists of a hollow tubular wood body, with cow skin on both ends and a rope tensioning system. It is struck with a stick, which is often accompanied by a bell-like attachment called a “kenken,” which creates a cadenced and melodic rhythm. The djembe, which is struck by hand, is also played by the Malinke as well as the Bamana people of present day Guinea and Mali.
Morgan, who recently gave up her alternative medicine practice to focus on drumming, began learning to play the djembe and dunun from her friend and teacher Martin Klabunde, in Tucson, Ariz., more than 10 years ago.
Klabunde is an author and musician whose self-prescribed mission is to provide a path of awakening through music. With more than two decades of teaching, performance and workshop experience, he has helped people from all walks of life through drumming.
Klabunde began developing his skills during childhood. From 1991-2005, he immersed himself fully in the indigenous cultures of East and West Africa, living and studying there with drum masters. He was eventually certified as Professor of the Djembe at Mamady Keita’s Tam Tam Mandengue International School of the Djembe.
Now, in something of a drumming coup, Klabunde will be visiting Durango Drums this Sunday to teach and to perform. Along with his drumming ability, Klabunde has mastered the ancient rites of portal drumming and healing ceremonies, which he will incorporate that into the workshop, as well.
Of special interest to local healers and health practitioners are the health benefits of drumming, Morgan points out. In fact, these virtues have been scientifically researched and documented in many leading national publications including the Washington Post, the LA Times as well as several medical journals. The most recent research verifies the therapeutic effects of drumming and has demonstrated accelerated healing response, boosting of the immune system, producing feelings of wellbeing, and overocming trauma.
Additional studies suggest there are other benefits of drumming, particularly when done in groups; a calming, focusing and healing effect on Alzheimer patients, as well as with autistic children, emotionally disturbed teens, recovering addicts, victims of post traumatic stress, and prison and homeless populations. And while the list of benefits is vast, one only has to attend a drumming session for a short time to sense the heightened consciousness in the room. Between sets and at times during the actual playing of the instruments, participants often smile broadly or join in a communal laugh; the camaraderie is palpable even for newcomers.
Watching and listening to a recent class, it was easy to experience the apparent connectedness to one’s self and the others in the room; some of which arguably stems from the focus needed to learn one of the 60 complex rhythms. The experience is one of being in the moment and is reminiscent of a meditative or trance-like state, a universally accepted practice for stress reduction.
“Group drumming, when synchronized,” says Morgan, “can open a doorway that creates balance for the participants in an open, joyful space that allows for creative expression and enhances self esteem.”

The West African drum workshop with Martin Klabunde takes place Nov. 13 from 12 noon – 5 p.m. Durango Drums offers five weekly classes for different levels of proficiency: Sundays 1-6 p.m.; Wednesdays and Thursdays 7-8:30 p.m. To register for classes and/or for the Martin Klabunde program, call Vanessa Morgan at (970) 403-4150. Drums are available free of charge when used at the workshops or can be purchased.