Articles written for various community newspapers in the Lower Mainland, B.C. and special interest print and online magazines

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Drum Mama Studios

“I am woman, hear me roar!” These are the words drummer Sandi Millman uses to describe what it is like to participate in a drum circle.

A long-time musician on the Vancouver scene, Millman operates Drum Mama studio out of her Kerrisdale home. It is here she shares her love of rhythm and the healing properties of hand drumming with her students of all ages and levels.

What you’ll take away from Millman’s classes is a sense of empowerment that comes with being fully free to express yourself.

“This is such a wonderful way to connect with each other and we can have so much fun, and it’s not about being a great musician, it’s about enjoying the process,” Millman told the Independent.

Millman isn’t bashful while bashing away on the drums and her infectious energy betrays her South American roots. Originally from Chile, Millman said she thinks what is lacking in Canadian culture is our connection to our bodies. This stifled physicality can be seen in how we respond to music, she suggested.

“When you go to the corner, or there’s a musician on Granville Island, you don’t see people dancing away and totally getting into it,” she said.

“Where I’m from in South America, you see people dancing more. They get into it – they get into the groove. They’re a little more in tune with that energy, with connecting and rhythm, celebrating together, moving and dancing. It’s part of the culture. In our culture, we don’t really express ourselves that way, and I’m all about just bringing back that very organic, natural, primal way through the spirit of the drum,” she said.

To do this, music must be accessible to everyone, she said.

According to Millman, in some cultures, there isn’t one particular word for musician. Everyone is seen as a music maker and relating to the vibration of music is innate to humans.

“In our culture, there’s this idea that music making is for musicians, and a lot of people are left feeling they’re not professional, or they’re not allowed to play or entitled to enjoy music making, and, I think what I do is try to let people know, ‘Hey, wait a minute! We’re all born to make music [and] to make music together.’ It is our birthright to express ourselves with rhythm,” said Millman.

The holistic effects of drumming are manifold, she said. One of these effects is the serenity that inhabits your body, which can be similar to a transcendental meditation exercise or chanting a mantra.

“We’ll repeat the rhythm over and over, and what ends up happening is you feel, in many ways, a brain relaxation or a rest,” she said. “People leave the class feeling rejuvenated and feeling a sense of calm [after having] often come into the class feeling rushed.”

This rushing around manifests itself in an accelerated pulse and, at the start of each class, Millman encourages her students to keep their heart rate steady.

“I try to keep the beat from pushing forward and then, after about five minutes, everybody is relaxed into this beautiful groove together,” she said.

Coming from a classical dance background, Millman approaches drumming kinesthetically, which is obvious when you watch her tiny frame undulate gracefully as she plays. She spent 10 years accompanying modern dance classes at Arts Umbrella before moving onto playing congas at nightclubs around the city. It was when she became a mother that she realized she is most at home when teaching. However, she still manages to balance teaching djembe classes with her love of performing and has taken up the Middle Eastern doumbek as another punctuation on her percussion resumé.

Millman’s belief in the therapeutic aspects of rhythm is evident in her extensive training. She has worked to perfect her art with Cuban and African drum masters, but she has also studied with leading facilitators who use rhythm for personal and health empowerment. This has led her to work with such luminaries as Arthur Hall, grandfather of the Western drum circle, and internationally acclaimed music therapist Christine Stevens, who conducts research on the scientific benefits of drumming.

“Drumming has been such a healing part of my life. It has always been there when I was going through difficult times in my life from a teenager to adult. I want to share that,” Millman said.

There’s no beating around the bush when it comes to the reverence other cultures have for the drum, she stressed. In Africa, the drummer is the high priest. In some tribes, a drummer is equivalent to a psychologist. A book published by Mamady Keita of the Malinke people in West Africa describes which drum beats cure different body ailments and psychological disorders. Millman incorporates these teachings with her university degree in psychology and counseling to better coach students who discover a surge of strong feelings when they play.

“I’m very comfortable with giving space for my students to have their emotional experience to let it be what it is. For some people, I would recommend a private class if I know they’re grieving or having a hard time and then, that way, if something does come up, it’s totally comfortable for them,” she said.

Visit or contact Millman at 604-873-9495 or

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