I just back from Jim Donovan's Summer Rhythm Renewal and it's really difficult for me to put this experience into words. It was my third year attending the event, and each year has been more transformative than the last.
The Rhythm Renewal is held in the mountains of Central Pennsylvania, at St. Francis University, where Jim is an instructor of music. The event consists of 4 days of drumming, dancing, concerts, impromptu jam sessions and plenty of opportunities for self exploration.
Although held on the grounds of a Catholic University, the event is not religious by nature, but I'd be lying if I didn't say that there is a certain spiritual and uplifting nature that comes from the music, the dancing, and being around so many like minded people.
Jim Donovan is at the center of it all - teaching a workshop each day, and having his band "Drum the Ecstatic" perform at a concert on Saturday night. Jim is one of the founding members of the band Rusted Root, but left the band in 2005 to raise his family and to teach - something he felt that he always was meant to do. (And he's pretty darn good at it!)
Having been a longtime Rusted Root fan, I first because aware of Jim in 2005, when he came to perform at a local music festival. Shortly after that, I attended one of his "Yoga of Drum and Chant" workshops, and I can literally say that the experience changed my life forever.
I attended the Yoga of Drum and Chant workshop because I wanted to drum - but ended up walking away with so much more. In this particular workshop, Jim uses simple drum rhythms played on a West African goblet shaped drum called a djembe, combined with vocal toning, (chanting) to allow people to turn off the constant mind chatter and learn how to be more "in the moment." Repetitive drum patterns played at a specific tempo allow "entrainment" to occur. Entrainment happens when both halves of your brain come into balance (synchronize) which can result in a truly transformative experience. The chanting, typically ancient Sanskrit and Tibetan mantras such as "Om" or "Om Mani Padme Hum" and are made up of syllables which can be thought as vibrational devices for deepening one's thought.
So if the drumming and chanting weren't already enough to keep me coming back, there was Jim's underlying messages of presence, (the opposite of multi-tasking) of removing bad habits and patterns that no longer serve your higher good, as well as openness and internal growth.
And so for the last three years, I've attempted to get to every one of his workshops within reasonable driving distance, culminating each year with the Rhythm Renewal in Loretto. You start to see familiar faces at each event, because so many people are tuned into what Jim is all about. Registration day at the Rhythm Renewal is always a treat - meeting up with such wonderful people that you haven't seen since the previous year's event.
The Rhythm Renewal also brings together a wonderful faculty of instructors that teach such classes as African Drum and Dance, North Indian (Tabla) drumming, Didgeridoo, Introduction to Shamanism, percussive workshops, and Women's Rhythms for Everyone. There is also an opportunity for any participant to be part of Saturday night's concert event by performing with the Rhythm Renewal drummers.
This year, I made new friends, talked to old friends, played a lot of drums, (kit & djembe) danced my ass off, took my shekere playing to another level, spent time to be introspective and generally had a fantastic time.
If all this wasn't already enough of a blessing, Jim invited me onstage to play shekere during the last song of Saturday night's Drum The Ecstatic International concert. The song was Santana's "Jingo" and yes - there is a video, and I will post the link as soon as it's available.