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Benefits of drumming go beyond music, Jim Donovan says

Jim Donovan says being in Rusted Root was one of the biggest and best learning experiences of his life.

As it turns out, his 15-year tenure with one of the area's most successful bands was only the beginning of his musical journey. Now, instead of performing before thousands of fans, Donovan conducts drumming workshops on a much smaller scale.

"When I teach, not just drumming but speaking and seeing people realize they can actually do (drumming), that's when I feel most alive," says Donovan, who will host and conduct the New Year's Rhythm Revival on Saturday at Schoolhouse Yoga, South Side.

Donovan has been conducting drumming workshops and clinics for 10 years. In 2008, he was named Drum Circle Facilitator of the Year by the readers of Drum! magazine. But while his prowess as an instructor has increased -- he admits he used to be afraid to speak in public -- he's also still learning new facets of drumming. Donovan, who teaches at St. Francis University in Loretto, Cambria County, where he also is the director of the school's world drumming ensemble, has studied with West African master drummers including Elie Kihonia, Mamady Keita and Kwabena Nketia.

But one needn't be the second coming of John Bonham or Neil Peart to participate in the workshops.

"If you can walk without falling over, you have rhythm," Donovan says, noting it's men over 35 who are most resistant to learning to drum. "It's everywhere, it's in everything, it's in all of our habits."

While the workshops can be enjoyed just for the sheer pleasure of making music, there also are therapeutic benefits.

"We listen to music because it expresses parts of us we don't have the words for," he says. "It helps to make our emotions feel more balanced. There's plenty of documentation about the effects of music, and specifically drumming, on the immune system. ... When you take a person out of a passive role and make them an active participant, that catharsis of transforming energy really happens. You come out feeling fantastic."

Donovan is quick to add that he's not a healer; there's nothing mystical or magical about drum circles and workshops. But he's witnessed benefits of drumming that transcend music.

"What we're doing is not necessarily trying to make people into the best drummers in the world," he says. "We're really finding ways to use the drum as a tool, to use working with other people as a model to take out into everyday life.

"What works in drumming experience, from listening and being present to giving all of yourself in a situation, can apply to any circumstance when you're trying to work with other people, or talking with your child or spouse."

Additional Information:

New Year's Rhythm Revival

Featuring: Jim Donovan

When: Rhythm Renewal Drumming Workshop, 3:30 p.m. Saturday; Yoga of Drum and Chant Workshop, 7 p.m. Saturday

Admission: $35 in advance, $45 at the door; $65 in advance for both sessions, $80 at the door for both sessions. Open to age 16 and older

Where: Schoolhouse Yoga, South Side

Details: 412-401-4444 or Web site

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