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A Symphony of Individuality Amidst an Orchestra of Djembes

“Musical IQ” Percussion Workshop Returns to Hamaspik

It’s a mid-day in late March, and a group of young ladies with Hamaspik of Kings County’s Day Habilitation (Day Hab) program sit in a semi-circle in their Brooklyn recreation room, handmade authentic West African djembes before them.

Besides those typical percussion instruments, instructor Shmueli Perkel has his students holding shakers, maracas and unusual colored tubes called boomwhackers.  Other interactive percussion workshops offered by Musical IQ, Perkel’s full-time business, include the grade-school-geared “Lion King of Africa” percussion-fest.  Today, however, the older students will be orchestrating the Drum Orchestra.

Contrary to first blush, the orchestra turns out to be quite the hotbed of individuality.  Ask any horn or woodwind player with your local philharmonic and they’ll gladly inform you that the group performance grants its participants plenty of opportunity to express their unique voice.

It’s just that each unique voice adds an indispensable piece to the musical puzzle without which the greater composition would be incomplete.

That underlying message of individual worth was not lost on Mr. Perkel’s students as they wended their way through the Drum Orchestra, Musical’s IQ’s drumming take on the philharmonic.

Part by percussive part, each participant was figuratively led by the hand as they led with their hands, discovering quite literally hands-on that the finished product wouldn’t sound the same without their specific sonic contribution.

The end result, a band of some 15 young women (and their Hamaspik Direct Support Professionals) merging to form the Drum Orchestra, “was a lovely experience” for all, Perkel says.  “It’s very special to see them open up.”

More than learning about what being creative means, Perkel notes that the Drum Orchestra underscores the concept of individuality—a valued outcome that jibes with the increased push of late for person-centered supports from the New York State Office for People With Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD), Hamaspik’s state-agency partner.

According to Perkel, that orchestra-like sense of individuality can, and often does, carry forward in participants’ lives outside any of his workshops—especially for individuals with disabilities.

What’s more, he adds, the Drum Orchestra workshop steers participants, with or without disabilities, towards such social-skills staples as listening to others, responding, expressing, and otherwise knowing when to give and take.  “What happens between the lines is a product greater than the sum of its parts,” the veteran drummer, a South African expat, notes.

“We’re creating community,” he says of his most-recent successfully concluded Hamaspik percussion lesson.  (Since January of 2015, Musical IQ has been to Hamaspik at least three times.)  “But in creating community, that doesn’t mean we’re all the same.”