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Drum band returns to give annual Sewickley United Methodist carnival a beat

| Wednesday, July 31, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Members of the Bethany House Academy Drummers perform traditional African drumming during the Sewickley United Methodist Church's carnival in 2012.

Drums can “soothe the soul,” said Keith Murphy, executive director of Bethany House Academy, who uses the instruments to help students.

He said he has seen it happen for students in the The Bethany House Enyimnyam drumming group, which will perform at about 2 p.m. on Aug. 10 at the Sewickley United Methodist's street carnival.

The carnival is scheduled from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Thorn Street between Walnut and Broad streets.

About 30 students, including the drummers, have been attending the carnival since its inception about five years ago, Murphy said.

“Most of what we play comes from our soul. We know a few traditional rhythms, but we constantly challenge ourselves to reach for unique beats that come with complimentary sounds,” Murphy said.

Bethany House Academy is a nonprofit group, founded in 1962 and which provides educational programs for children in the Northview Heights apartment complex, located in Pittsburgh's North Side neighborhood.

Murphy started the drumming group after he and some students went to Ghana, West Africa, in 1997.

“While they were there, they liked how the djembe drum sounded, however, they were also listening to seasoned drummers. So I decided to buy a few drums with the intent of the youth explaining to their peers in school and at Bethany House the history of the drum,” he said.

In the process of trying to reproduce the sound, the students' hands began to hurt.

“It was through this revelation that I decided the drum would assume a different purpose,” Murphy said.

The drums became a tool to address poor behavior, poor attitude, anger management, and conflict resolution.

“All participants who exhibited any issues were instructed to go get a drum, and we let them beat on it and encouraged them to play it as loudly as possible, to their favorite tune or song of course, until the pain in their hands built up and as a result of this the problems or issues got lost or reduced,” Murphy said.

Some spent so much time beating the drum to relieve stress that they started to sound good, and that is how the Bethany House Enyimnyam drummers got started,” Murphy said.

At one time or another most of the 50 children, ages 3 to 14, find their way to the drums.

The ones who spend more time in developing technique and learning the different rhythms are the ones who are chosen for travel to places such as the SUMC carnival, weddings, church events, and community days. Sometimes, eight members play, and sometimes as little as three perform.

“We encourage creativity and exploring as many options as possible to develop music that will elevate themselves and elevate the listener. Practice and perfect is our motto.”

For Kadera Lawrence-Murphy, 16, of Duquesne, drumming is a way for her to relax. She has been part of the drumming group for seven years.

“The obligation of being an honor-roll student and an honor-roll person to remain a part of the group is always being emphasized, and as a result I've seen great progress in both,” she said.

Kadera, Murphy's niece, now works at Bethany House as a summer youth counselor and drum instructor.

Murphy said the next step is to begin a drumming group in Bethany's newest facility, The Healthy Village Learning Institute, in McKeesport this fall.

“Eventually we will have the largest youth drumming group in Western Pa. by bringing both groups together.”

Joanne Barron is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1406 or jbarron@tribweb.com.

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