Demers sets a beat for patient recovery

Susan Demers of Voice of My Drum in South Hadley, shares her love of drumming to inpatients at the Weldon Rehabilitation Hospital in Springfield. She is seen here with inpatient Ronald Rheaume.
Reminder Publications photo by Lori Szepelak
Aug. 22, 2011

By Lori Szepelak

Correspondent

SPRINGFIELD — Susan Demers is a natural at drumming.

Even though she has only been actively pursuing her love of West African drumming for the past five years, she noted in an interview with Reminder Publications that since she was young, she was “drawn to the sound of African rhythms.”

On the afternoon of July 27, Demers, of South Hadley, was sharing her love and enthusiasm of drumming with several patients of the inpatient program at the Weldon Rehabilitation Hospital. Weldon Rehab is located on the grounds of Mercy Medical Center, and is a member of the Sisters of Providence Health System.

As patients and family members made their way into the dining room in the late afternoon to form a drum circle, it was evident that some were more intimidated than others about learning to play the djembe.

Demers quickly alleviated their fears. She explained that the djembe originates from West Africa and is made from a solid piece of wood that has been carved out to form the shell of the drum. The head of the drum is usually made from goat skin and sometimes from cowhide.

Demers added that the goat skin is attached to the shell of the drum by use of rings to keep the skin from shifting, and the skin is tightened by applying what is called “diamonds” using a Mali weave in the vertical roping to tune the drum.

“Some of the djembes have intricate carvings designed by master carvers from where the drums originate and others can be quite simple in design,” Demers said. “Every one of them is beautiful.”

Demers gave a brief introduction of what makes the djembe unique.

“Each person creates a voice with a djembe,” she said. “The voice of the drum is created by the energy of each particular drum’s goat skin head, the shell of the drum made from a tree, and the person playing the djembe.”

Demers, a medical coding specialist at Baystate Health, recently started volunteering her time at Weldon Rehab as her way to give back to patients in both the inpatient and outpatient units.

“My partner suffered a stroke in 2007 and was not able to move her left side,” Demers said. “Weldon staff helped motivate, encourage, and teach her to be self-sufficient again. They are patient, caring, and supportive to the patient and their family members. I felt I wanted an opportunity to help motivate patients, be supportive, encourage them to move, and to put a smile on their faces.”

Twice a month, Demers accomplishes that goal on the fourth floor of Weldon Rehab.

For the past few weeks, Ronald Rheaume has had a front row seat for the sessions by Demers.

“I enjoy all kinds of music and I love to see other people perform,” Rheaume said. “Drumming is positive energy and it’s a transformation of your own energy.”

From the opening drum beat Demers taught titled “Fanga,” which is a welcoming and farewell rhythm, to “Yankadi,” which is the dance of young women seeking a husband, the room was filled with smiles, laughter, and beautiful music.

“Making a connection with the hand drum is transforming,” Demers said, adding, “Whether a patient or a class member, the outcome is the same. When they begin to drum, and the energy from the drum and the drummer connect, you actually see and feel a transformation happen.”

Demers explained that the drummer’s energy lightens, the apprehension lifts, and the fun begins.

“Smiles light up people’s faces, giggles erupt and we’re all feeling positive energy,” she said. “It’s like a ripple effect, it starts from the core of your being and the positive energy keeps rippling outward until all feel the energy.”

Demers noted that hand drumming is beneficial because it is “stress releasing, relaxing, energizing, and invigorating, as well as it takes your mind off your challenges.”

“Drumming helps you to breathe and release tension,” she added. “It helps you to stay focused in the now. It promotes a sense of wellness. The beat of the drum can soothe the whole being, mind, body and spirit. The rhythmic beat of the drum allows one to feel its pulse and brings one back to their primal self and the core of their being.”

Drumming also promotes a feeling of community and unity with those individuals drumming together and with the individuals listening to the beat of the drum and taking in its vibrations, she said.

“Playing the djembe is an expression of oneself that can stimulate a feeling of self-empowerment, self-satisfaction and fun,” she said.

Demers spends her off-hours teaching West African drumming as part of her business, Voice of My Drum. Her classes are currently offered at Demarey Gardens, 285 College Highway, Southampton.

“I encourage each student to try out all my djembes to feel and hear which djembe resonates with them,” Demers said. “Once they have chosen the djembe that resonates with them, each student can sit behind their drum and say this is the voice of my drum.”

For more information on classes or individual instruction, e-mail Demers at voiceofmydrum@gmail.com or call 459-5215. For registration information at Demarey Gardens, call 527-1111.

Whether Demers is working with individuals in the hospital or in a tranquil setting, she knows she too will come away from the experience with a smile on her face.

“I learn a lot from all of these wonderful people,” she said, adding, “It is a gift I will always cherish. They place a smile on my face and on my heart every time.”



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