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At local drum workshops, kids learn life skills with 'Girls Rock! Rochester'

142 people showed up to Girls Rock! Rochester's last Rhythm and Drum workshop
Girls Rock! Rochester
Amanda Ashley Rodriguez
At the last Girls Rock! Rochester's Rhythm and Drum workshop, Amanda Ashley Rodriquez helped 142 people of all ages learn drums

Barbara Johnston — a local rock-and-roll performer known to her friends and fans as “Bennie” — wants people to communicate better.

For the past six years, the musician has been a facilitator with Girls Rock! Rochester, a nonprofit that uses music as a vehicle for personal growth, focusing primarily on girls and young people in the LGBTQ+ community.

But it is the organization’s Rhythm and Drum workshops — events open to anyone, regardless of age, gender, or sexual orientation — that Johnston says has the power to unite the Rochester community.

The result? A banging good time.

“We usually give everybody a chance to say something, even if it's like, ‘buh, BUH, buh,’” she says, impersonating drum sounds. “Somebody goes, ‘bup, BUP, bup.’ It's like, all right! And just you listen to each other and have your conversation with the rhythm. So it helps people, I think, get in touch with their inner voice.”

At the last drum circle, more than 100 people showed up, ranging in age from toddlers to folks in their 80s. They each chose a percussion instrument — or something resembling an instrument that makes sound when it’s banged on — and together created a soundscape through improvisation.

Girls Rock! program director, Amanda Ashley Rodriguez, says making music has the power to transform communities.

“Just learning to use your body, even for rhythm’s sake, and being able to create a soundscape — it's not only a way of communicating and bonding, it's a way of channeling and therapeutically releasing,” she says.

Rodriguez and Johnston believe the drum circle helps people develop communication skills far beyond just music.

“It brings people together because it's a separate language,” Johnson says. “It doesn't have to do with anything about you and your life and your life experience and your identity. It’s just, you know, what comes out of you. So it's a great way to just be together.”

Girls Rock! Rochester’s next free Rhythm and Drum workshop will be held at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday at the Central Library, 115 South Ave.

Jasmin Singer is the host of WXXI’s Weekend Edition and Environmental Connections, as well as a guest host for Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Connections.