Steven Angel: The Power of Rhythm
|by Katherine Doughtie and Sandra J. Payne
"You can be teaching anything to a kid and if they are connected to you they are going to want to hear it," says Steven Angel, founder of the non-profit Drumming For Your Life Institute. "And drumming connects people."
After recording with Jimi Hendrix at the age of 16, touring Europe at 18 and burning out at 20, Steven Angel, 54, has turned his passion for drumming into an exploration of how rhythm, performed collectively in any environment, can facilitate an intensely rehabilitative and educational experience for all participants.
Founded in 2002, the Institute is dedicated to using the power of rhythm to maximize students' learning potential and to enhance the recovery and quality of life of patients dealing with cancer or addictions. Steven's trailblazing work taking drumming to other venues besides concert arenas is not only revolutionizing the learning curves of elementary students, but has also helped release the anger of juvenile delinquents, and contributed to the healing process of cancer patients.
I LEARNED HOW TO WORK WITH A LOT OF ENERGY
Steven started playing on bongo drums at the age of 3, watching Ricky Ricardo on "I Love Lucy" and performing for his parents and friends. Growing up on Long Island, New York, his first professional performance was at the age of 6 with the legendary jazz drummer Buddy Rich. At 7, he and his brothers started a band that eventually beat out Billy Joel in a Battle of the Bands for New York State. The band went on tour, opening for Herman's Hermits and The Animals, playing in front of 10,000 to 20,000 people a night. "That's when I learned how to work with a lot of energy," Steven recalls. "I use it in my work with youth today."
USING DRUMMING AS A WAY TO HELP OTHER PEOPLE
Steven recorded with Jimi Hendrix when he was 16, and at 18 he was traveling Europe with Atlantic recording artists Jimmy and Vella. By the time he was 20, Steven felt there had to be more to what he was doing with the drums. "It felt like there was a whole other dimension to this work, but I was young and I really didn't know what that was."
He started composing music, working in TV for several years. After going through his own healing process about 10 years ago, he decided he wanted to get back into drumming. "I knew it was going to be different than what I did before as a performer. I had one of those epiphanies where it just all came to me, and I knew I wanted to use drumming as a way to help other people."
ALLOWING THE CHILD TO CELEBRATE AND COME TO LIFE
Steven's first workshop was given to a group of music therapists at Chapman University in Orange, California. It went well and they encouraged him to start creating more exercises.
"I had a friend who was working at a youth detention camp, so I suggested that he bring me there. I brought along small drums and we did the exercises. We did a lot of work with curbing impulsive behavior and used the drums to work with and transform emotions like anger and fear. It had a profound effect on these teenagers and became very empowering."
Steven found that drumming was exceptional at breaking through barriers. "The kids had these rough exteriors, yet inside, there was a little child who had never been nourished or nurtured, and they'd never really been allowed to develop. The drumming allowed the child to celebrate and come to life."
The work at detention camps was brought to the attention of CNN, who then did a story on the process. "When the producer started seeing the effect the drumming had on these kids and heard them talk afterwards about it she had tears in her eyes."
THE SOUND OF CHILDREN DRUMMING ON THEIR BOOKS
Once again, Steven was in the limelight. Media attention from NBC and The L.A. Times prompted Diane Ventura of The Da Camera Society to contact Steven. Founded in 1973, The Da Camera Society focuses on bringing chamber music back to historic, traditional venues, and has extensive community outreach programs for young students. Diane had the idea of a rhythm-based education program, and with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, they developed this novel program together.
Steven knew it wouldn't be practical to use the drums in the classroom but then realized that the power was in the drumming itself, not in the instruments. "I started thinking wow, how fantastic how powerful and primal to have children playing on the very books that they are reading and the folders that hold their work."
A friend of Ventura's, Evelyn Soo was a national board certified teacher teaching fifth grade at Westminster Avenue Elementary School. Steven came in, and did a teacher workshop with her she immediately grasped the possibilities of the program. For a year, Steven used her class as a laboratory. It started off as a classroom management program but quickly developed into an educational program as well.
THE THREE Rs: RHYTHM, REPETITION AND RESULTS
The work is done primarily through different rhythm patterns, but also through the repetition of phrases that the students use. This helps children understand that they are reading from a more experiential perspective and creates better concentration skills for everyone involved. Additionally, teachers acquire basic skills that they can bring into the classroom to better connect with the students. "Teachers have to focus on the essence of what they're teaching, and are always in a creative process. It becomes very empowering."
The results have been more than encouraging. The first year Steven and the school measured his classroom against two control classrooms. Because of the testing schedule, they were able to measure distinct before and after scores.
IN EVERY SINGLE PROGRAM, THE DRUMMING
CLASSROOM SURPASSED THE OTHER CLASSES
The second year there was only one control classroom to measure against, but again the percentages were dramatically higher in the drumming class compared to the others. "After a period of time, it just became undeniable to people and so they had to buy in," Steven said.
Based on these results and the enthusiasm of educators and students alike, Steven created programs to train teachers who want to incorporate drumming into their classrooms. The 12-week "Reading and Rhythm Program" has certified 10 teachers so far, and the "Rhythm of Learning" program has graduated 10 teachers. In addition, more than 1,200 teachers have taken his professional development workshop aided by grants from corporate sponsors such as Washington Mutual. "It opens them up to another world of teaching," Angel said.
THE READING AND RHYTHM PROGRAMS
Steven took his success and again pushed further. "All scientific research shows that if you improve fluency, you improve comprehension," explains Steven. With the help of Target Corporation, they again partnered with Westminster Avenue Elementary, this time focusing their work on a program that improves fluency.
They worked with one or two students from each class. Fluency improved from 40% to an astounding 138%. "The increases were really dramatic in a very short amount of time," Steven said. "The teachers were so excited, they went to the principal saying 'we have to bring this program in.' So the school started paying for the program.
"We now have 10 facilitators who work with us at about 20 school sites," Steven said. "We're reaching close to 30 schools. Our goal is obviously to get it to as many people as possible." Currently, the Institute operates most frequently in Los Angeles County, but has plans to expand to other cities.
The teachers who do participate are seeing the results directly in the classroom. "Students are trained to focus mentally and yet at the same time relax and trust themselves to take risks at a consistent and intense level," explains Angela Parris, a second grade teacher at Westminster. "Students actively reason key concepts in every area of the curriculum. The techniques are applicable to teaching/learning Standard Academic English, as well as in Mathematics, Science, and Social Studies. Students become better decision makers, problem solvers, questioners, and researchers."
Fueled by the improvements in students exposed to his programs, Steven's next dream to open a school that fully incorporates his revolutionary work is nearing fruition. The Rhythm of Learning Charter School has already hurdled several important milestones in the lengthy certification process. Plans are to open its doors in September of 2009. "It's quite an undertaking," Steven said.
ITS ABOUT YOUR RELATIONSHIP
TO YOUR PASSION
Steven sums up what he feels the process is about: "I've found that fulfilling one's potential is an open-ended journey. It never ends. When I work with children in the schools I say to them it's not about what you are learning, it's about your relationship to learning. It's about your relationship to reading. Teachers discover it's not about what they are teaching. You can be teaching anything, and if the kids are connected to you they are going to want to hear it, they want to absorb it. If they are not connected to you, then it's got to be something that really piques their interest for them to be excited. Otherwise they are back in their zone.
"So it's not about what you are teaching; it's about your relationship to teaching. It's not about your passion; it's about your relationship to your passion."
FINDING IT IN YOU
How does Steven feel about where his life has taken him since the days of rock and roll? "In some ways I feel like this has been my own path," Steven reflects. "I've incorporated different types of healing and educational processes into who I am and what I'm about. But, to be quite honest, the path that I'm taking is uniquely my own and I really enjoy it, yet it's a dual thing as sometimes it is a lonely path."
WHEN THE WORK, THE PURPOSE AND
THE PASSION ARE COMPLETELY
INTEGRATED WITH THE JOURNEY,
YOU REALLY CAN'T LOOK AT IT
"For me, the core thing is trust -- trusting yourself, your intuition, what you feel. Trust the journey. It's really all integrated -- my work and my journey. You can look at it as sacrificing when the life purpose is separated from the journey; then you can start talking about all the things you're sacrificing. If I had continued on the rock star path I could have had all this or that in my life, but as this integration of passion, journey and purpose continues it becomes my life work and my life being. I don't look at it as sacrifice, because in one sense there is no other choice."
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