If you find yourself near the auditorium at St. John’s Home on a Friday afternoon, chances are you will hear the undeniable sounds of hand drums, specifically djembes and congas. You will also hear an array of other instruments ranging from tambourines and shakers to wooden blocks and bells. This is not just any kind of music – this music is special, partly because it is our very own residents leading the show. Known by staff, residents, and family members alike, the Now We Drum! group meets every Friday afternoon. Led by therapeutic recreation specialists, Ed Keegan and Alicia Montalvo, the group brings in anywhere from 30 – 40 residents depending on the week – and of course anyone and everyone is welcome to join.
The rhythmically and sonically diverse sounds you hear add to the ambience and energy of the room, which do not go unnoticed by fellow residents and staff members throughout St. John's. In fact, a handful of residents have joined the group after passing by the Auditorium and hearing the unique and upbeat music. “People in the halls are always smiling when they walk by and even come in to check it out,” states Alicia. “I think they are intrigued and happy to see residents enjoying themselves.”
The group started as a percussion ensemble in the music room and soon developed into a drumming group in 2016, shortly after Ed became part of the St. John’s team. With a decorated background in the music industry, Ed realized his passion for working with seniors and brought his 15 years of experience to St. John’s. As word spread, the group continued to expand and soon a decision was made to move the group to the auditorium. “It’s very satisfying because it continues to merge everything I’ve done in the past,” explains Ed. “I love that we get to come here and be who we are and bring our passions. When you bring something you are passionate about, it lights a fire in the residents.”
Like Ed, Alicia is also musically gifted and brings her ability to incorporate sign language. “We’re really raising the bar,” Alicia says. “There are people from all different backgrounds - people who speak different languages, people with various disabilities, people with dementia - and they can all do the same thing together.” The group generally practices for about an hour or so and at the end of class, Ed and Alicia make a point to talk about how each member is feeling. “It makes me feel good. All my life I’ve looked at myself as a person without a group and I realize that I am now part of a group,” NWD member Reed Rhodes states.
The benefits of this particular group seem to be endless and many members are willing to share the good news. For resident Bobbie Judge, it is all about the atmosphere and positive feelings. “I enjoy it very much and I can see that a lot of people do. We come down here and relax and make some music – it’s really good for us and it’s good to continue it.” Based on the feedback, the group does not appear to be going anywhere anytime soon, that is, if they do not get famous in the meantime.
Throughout the year, the Now We Drum! group has performed on multiple “tours,” each consisting of a theme and including various rhythmic patterns. Last week, the holiday spirit was in full swing as the group performed a special Christmas show for fellow residents, staff members, and volunteers. “I love seeing their passion,” Ed smiles, “It’s a huge impact and I like that it’s a cross section of the entire home. If you figure a 400 bed facility, we have about 10% participate every week.”
As for next year, the sky is the limit. One goal is to bring the Now We Drum! group out into the Rochester community, specifically elementary schools, where they can interact with children and understand that what they are doing is something special. “I want them to know that they have something to offer the community at-large beyond St. John’s,” Ed says. “That’s kind of how we stumbled upon the name – It’s a statement and it’s meant to be an exclamation point. This is our time – Now We Drum!”