She’s got the beat

Laurel Robbins

Photo By Diane Black

Her friend, Diane Black, calls her Reno’s Grand Dame of Drumming, but she’s more humble than that. She describes herself as mostly a student. At any rate, folks who’ve tracked the drums in the night in Northern Nevada to their source may have found Laurel Robbins there. She’s 52, and she’s been in Reno for six years. This time of year, she’s taking classes, and she’s hoping others will want to join one of the Liz Broscoe classes that begin on Jan. 4 at the Sierra Arts Gallery. For information, e-mail, or call (530) 318-2330.

Where do you drum?

All through the summer, I go drum for the fire dancers as they practice down in John Champion Park on Wednesday night around dusk. Out at Interpretive Gardens, there’s an all-night drum circle throughout the summer. It’s the Saturday closest to the full moon. It usually draws a pretty big crowd.

About how big?

We’ve had as many as 75 people there. They kind of come and go. There’s only just a small core that stays all night.

When did that end for the summer?

The last one was Halloween.

What kind of drum do you use?

I have a djembe. It’s a big djembe. It’s maybe two-and-a-half-feet tall. I believe it’s 15 inches across. Her name is Big Mama. She has a real nice sound, a nice boom to her.

What do you get from drumming?

It’s a basic thing when you’re drumming. You can just kind of go out of yourself. You don’t have to have any special skill to do it. You just go with the flow and follow along with everybody else. I started out with smaller drums where nobody could hear me so it didn’t matter if I could keep the beat or not. Once I started taking lessons and got a little more confidence, I switched to my bigger drum, and she’s loud. Lots of times, I can’t even hear the other drums over her. I’ve been taking Western African drumming classes with Liz Broscoe. My friends and I get together and practice on off nights. I can see a definite improvement. It just gives you a confidence to be able to drum with the other people. It just kind of brings you out of yourself. It’s awesome. It’s a basic thing. The drum is one of the first instruments. It’s just … it’s so … yeah, and um.

You’re not going to be able to describe it, are you?

[Laughs] It’s hard to describe. It’s just a basic feeling. If you’re in a stressful job, you come home at night, sit down with your drum and just kind of drum a little bit. It’s soothing. It’s very good for your soul. I just used to drum to music and stuff but since I started going to the West African Drumming classes, it’s really come together for me. I’ve learned some really, really good beats, and it really makes a difference to know the beats that go with the drum. It’s an African drum, and I’ve learned the African rhythms that go with it.

What else should the public know about drumming?

They should all try it. They can come and drum with us. I come, and I have extra drums, and people come and ask me if they can use my drums, and I say, “Hey, I can only drum one at a time.” I bring these other ones so other people can join me.

Part of the enjoyment is being part of a community, right?

It really is. They all care about each other. We’re all concerned, not just about each other, but about the environment and other things. Drumming is just such a natural thing. It’s your heartbeat and your pulse. It has so much to do with staying physically and mentally healthy.