Director Craig Norton on the Power of Drumming to Unite and Heal Us.

Jun 20, 2021 by

This month audiences can screen Rhythms of Life (Curated by COMMFFEST) on the Planet Classroom Network YouTube Channel.  

We are all wired for rhythm.  Music is a communal experience. In Craig Norton’s Rhythms of Life, shot over the course of 3 years in the United States, Senegal and West Africa, we learn from the leaders and the musicians in the community drum circle movement how rhythm makes us feel and why it brings us all together.  The film also focuses on the wellness and therapeutic aspects of music as drummers speak about healing journeys from cancer, Parkinson’s, depression and other challenges.  

The Global Search for Education is pleased to welcome Craig Norton.

I’m so glad you made this film.  I’ve never heard about a documentary about drumming, so what inspired you to make one? 

I’ve been playing and leading drum circles for about 25 years. The idea spent about 20 years in my head until all the resources were in place. My professional background before drumming was in television and sound production so I had the skills to make it happen. By 2016, all the resources needed to make a feature length doc magically came together.  Crowdfunding and social media were absolutely essential to making the connections to the amazing subjects in the film. I knew I would have support from the people at the highest levels of the profession because it promotes what we do in a very polished, high profile way. The film gave me the excuse to finally go to West Africa which was top of my bucket list. I knew Tony Vacca was hosting these annual musician retreats to Senegal and so I signed up. I found village drumming the first morning of the first day in Sobo Bade and it was jaw dropping, as seen in the final montage of the film.  

Drum circles are extremely popular.  As you shot this doc in the US, Senegal and West Africa, did you discover universal themes that bring those interested in this artform together?  

Music connects us. ALL OF US! It’s an ancient technology that’s been used in healing and spiritual practices for centuries, on all continents. Now it’s being done in hospitals, assisted living facilities, group homes, treatment centers.  It’s fun, easy to be musical, there’s human connection without saying a word, and it feels really good! When I was in Senegal they spoke Wolof and French and I don’t speak either. But our drums were the common language.  

What did you learn about drumming and drummers around the world that you did not know before?

I knew the drumming community would be open and supportive to this project but I’ve discovered that this is my tribe. Drummers are a family of very creative humans with big open hearts. There’s no competition, even in our own communities, and we love sharing our innovations.  

Drumming and music as it relates to wellness.  Can you share some of your favorite examples of drummers and their healing journeys that we learn about in this film. 

Yes, much of the film focuses on how drumming is being used in a variety of ways for music therapy, both professionally and personally. School based programs have had profound results engaging with disconnected kids. The film features dozens of folks who have used rhythm through their journeys with cancer, depression, PTSD and Parkinson’s. I could have made the entire film about the Parkinson’s group that I interviewed. They were having a ball! 

What do you hope audiences will take away from this film?

This was a passion project for me to tell the world about this relatively underground thing that’s become a wellness and educational movement. I hope to inspire people to explore drumming on their own after they learn about it in the film. Before the pandemic, I was doing screenings all over the country and we always followed the film with a drum circle so everyone could experience it immediately after. Drums bring us together and give us a chance to be musical and playful, and learn about other cultures. Anybody can drum!

Thank you Craig!

C.M. Rubin and Craig Norton

Don’t Miss Rhythms of Life (Curated by COMMFFEST), now screening on the Planet Classroom Network YouTube Channel.

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