Seniors keep the beat going

  • Hands are a blur during the drumming group at the Shelburne Falls Senior Center on Monday afternoon. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Hands are a blur during the drumming group at the Shelburne Falls Senior Center on Monday afternoon. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Participants in the drumming group at the Shelburne Falls Senior Center on Monday afternoons. The group has been meeting under Baird’s instruction for around seven years. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Irene and Larry Baird run the drumming group at the Shelburne Falls Senior Center. “Drumming is healing,” Baird said. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 12/17/2021 4:17:24 PM

SHELBURNE FALLS — While senior centers are typically thought of as tranquil settings for quiet relaxation, the thunderous booms of West African drums resonating from Shelburne Falls Senior Center on Monday afternoons break the mold.

“First part, everybody!” leader Irene Baird yelled to the circle of around one dozen seniors. “One, two, three!”

Hardly a word was uttered among the drummers as they maintained a unified tempo. The cadence held a rhythm only practice could afford.

Occasionally, Baird roared a passionate cry or broke from the uniformity for a solo. Eyes around the circle broke the trance at times to meet another pair across the room, prompting mutual smiles. Never Baird, though, until the number was finished and she blew the circle a kiss.

The drumming group performed a handful of these arrangements over the course of an hour, as they have been doing each Monday afternoon under Baird’s instruction for around seven years. She said she’s made it a point to ensure those in attendance show a commitment to regular attendance.

While some improvisation is involved, a large amount of the music played is carefully rehearsed. Her seriousness was contextualized by the way she looked at drumming.

“Drumming is healing,” Baird said. “It’s a healing instrument ... It’s like a lift emotionally.”

Drum music has been the backbone of a lifetime’s worth of international, intercultural experiences for Baird. She practiced drumming techniques while living abroad in places such as Sydney, Australia and West Guinea. She emphasized her experience living in West Africa as particularly impactful and pays tribute through her West African drumming practice.

“I was there,” she said. “I had no running water. I had no electricity, and I was so impressed at how well they made things work.”

Baird stressed that she loves “diversity” and feels that the drumming group brings much-needed perspective to locals, some of whom have lived in the same region their entire lives. Playing, she said, helps the drummer appreciate the associated culture.

“I feel it in here,” Baird said, motioning to her heart. “I play with respect.”

The Shelburne Falls Senior Center Drumming Group meets each Monday at 1 p.m. at the senior center, except on the first Monday of every month, when the session begins at 12:30 p.m.

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-772-0261, ext. 261 or jmendoza@recorder.com.


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