MSU celebrates Community Engagement Award winners

Thursday, January 9, 2020

drum circle


Mississippi State University is recognizing four outreach projects with the university’s second annual Community Engagement Awards.  Awards are given in four categories: community-engaged service, community-engaged teaching and learning, community-engaged research, and scholarship of engagement.  Winning projects receive $3,000 to further community-engagement activities. To be honored with a spring 2020 reception, recipients were selected by MSU’s Center for Community-Engaged Learning, Office of the Provost and Executive Vice President, Office of Research and Economic Development, and the Division of Student Affairs.

The 2019 SCHOLARSHIP OF ENGAGEMENT winner is the COMMUNITY DRUM CIRCLES project led by MSU Professor of Music Robert Damm. Goals of the project are 1) to facilitate drum circles which foster peace and joy, celebrate diversity, promote healing, and build community; 2) to serve society through life-enhancing rhythm-based activities and drum circles; and 3) to increase meaningful collaborations through programs which emphasize creativity, celebrate cultural diversity, strengthen musical skills and enhance knowledge.  Collaborators have included senior citizens in nursing homes/retirement centers, civic groups, arts organizations, social gatherings, spiritual gatherings, people of differing skill and knowledge levels, church groups in search of community building, families, and the general public. Dr. Damm’s current partners include Joan Mylroie (International Fiesta), B.J. LeJeune (National Research and Training Center on Blindness and Low Vision and Starkville Church of God’s International Sunday), Joe Ray Underwood (MSU Summer Scholars and Trinity Presbyterian Church), Bob Fuller (Friends of Noxubee Refuge), Dawn Barham (Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science), Kim Kavalsky (MSU Health Promotion and Wellness), Christy Lee (The Hudspeth Center and Care Program for Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities), Bert Montgomery (University Baptist Church), and Anna Chaney (Children’s Village – Cotton District Arts Festival). 

Upon his arrival at MSU in 1995, Damm began outreach to schools and community groups.  His first engagement was a tour of county Attendance Centers in Noxubee, Moor, and Alexander. His first festival collaboration was in 1995. In 1996, Damm collaborated with the Starkville Arts Festival, participating continuously as it evolved into the Cotton District Arts Festival. His public school outreach began in 1996 with a workshop for band directors, a drumline clinic for high school students, and interactive drumming with elementary school children. In 1997, Damm was invited to participate in the Bettersworth Leadership Lecture series. This program sent brochures statewide, offering “presentations from our most stimulating faculty members, discussing the subjects in which they have expertise.”  After the series ended, schools continued to solicit collaboration from Damm; this outreach became Music Education Partnerships.

Since January 2014, sixty four (64) drum circles have provided benefit to more than 3000 individuals.  A single drum circle may involve as few as ten people or as many as 80. Results for collaborators have included increased self-awareness, acknowledgement of peers, self-esteem, enhanced listening skills, enhanced communication skills, increased ability to work as a team, and experiences of synergy. Results have also benefitted collaborators with musical learning outcomes:  creativity, improvisation, ensemble, and a sense of groove.

Damm’s involvement in drum circles informs his teaching and scholarship.  Results include articles about African drumming in drum circles, the positive effects of drumming on children with autism, the musical and extra-musical outcomes of drum circles, and the benefits of drum circles for university students.  John Fitzgerald, past chair of the PAS Interactive Drumming Committee, wrote in an article that “Damm’s groundbreaking freshman-orientation drum circle class is a model for other colleges and universities to emulate.”  John R. Beck, past PAS president and current professor at the University of North Carolina, is engaged in a hospital research study using group drumming with stem cell transplant recipients to help reduce stress, anxiety, and pain.  He wrote “I used the drumming Robert Damm does at his university as an example of forward thinking in higher education when applying for the grant for this project.” 

Future implications and applications of the project consist of forging new partnerships, developing established collaborations, and designing drum circle protocols for specific populations. Where is the community drum circle going next? To prisons, hospitals, veteran groups, and corporate America. Dr. Damm’s commitment to community engagement reflects the African philosophy of human interconnectedness known as Ubuntu: I am, because we are.

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