Forty would-be students turned up at Liz Broscoe’s first drum circle more than a decade ago in Reno. She wasn’t exactly expecting them.
“I was so completely overwhelmed,” said the longtime professional drummer. “I’d been teaching a couple of years at [Lake Tahoe Community College], so I was well prepared for teaching, but I was not prepared for 40 people to show up.”
She made do, and sure enough, a fledgling community began thunking out beats on West African drums. That community is still gong strong—and growing in the form of classes and workshops.
“There are some amazingly beautiful people here in Reno who just keep coming back,” Broscoe said. Almost all are women, which doesn’t surprise her. After all, the djembe—pronounced “jim bay”— drums they use date to 14th-century West Africa, with an hourglass shape that refers to an early iteration as mortar pots.
“Women pounded the grain with large pestles and big sticks, and they created rhythm amongst themselves to pass the time more joyfully,” she explained.
Broscoe, who does business as Drumchik Productions, has played in rock bands for the better part of her life. She began teaching djembe and dundun—another tradition-rich instrument that usually pops up in ensembles—in the early 2000s, after tutelage from grandmasters Mamady Keita and Famoudou Konate.
She went on to write a drum-centric children’s book, Adventures of Durga, with a protagonist borrowed from Hindu texts and art, and a corresponding multimedia show, which had a five-year run.
“She’s a bitchin’ drummer ’cause she’s got six arms to work with, so I made her into a goodwill superhero,” Broscoe said.
It’s easy to picture Broscoe as a many-armed goddess herself, really. Her rhythm includes teaching workshops at the University of Nevada, Reno, classes at Lake Tahoe Community College, and programs for children in the Juvenile Treatment Center in South Lake Tahoe.
“Something happens in a drum-circle setting that opens the mind and makes them more communicative,” she said, in reference to kids at the treatment center.
An alpha state, a meditative state, hemispheric synchronization—call it what you will. The health benefits of music are increasingly recognized by the scientific community.
“All I could see was that people were changing in my class,” Broscoe recalled, “and that it was changing me. As a chick singer in a band, it was taking ’dig me’ off my forehead and putting ’community’ on my forehead.”
Dig this, though: Santa Cruz drum-maker Matt Hardwick recently asked if she’d help design a mid-range, signature djembe to feature in his store, Drumskull. The Liz Broscoe Drumchik drum is now selling well.
Broscoe also plays in the Tahoe-area Wesley Orsolic Band and heads a troupe called DEA Drum and Dance. Members hail from many backgrounds. Two are Japanese taiko drummers, and another is a French horn player, music therapist and “total square” by her own admission.
“Liz is a great leader,” said Reiko Shimbo, as the others murmured in agreement. “She brings people nicely together.”
And they clearly have a ball.
“Music is so innately emotional and social,” said Molly Warren, the self-professed square, after a solo session in which she hopped in front of the group, smacked her drum like a wildly beating heart and danced as if her bones were liquid. “That’s why this is therapeutic.”