Spreading Peace to the Beat of 1,000 Drums

Heather Scarlett

Worldwide unity inspires professor’s drum composition

Kent State University emeritus professor Halim El-Dabh shakes hands with members of the crowd at the Cleveland Ingenuity Festival. DAVID RANUCCI | SUMMER KENT STATER

Credit: Carl Schierhorn

One thousand local and international drummers came together in downtown Cleveland to rediscover the human soul through one rhythmic vibration.



• Recital conducted by Frank Wiley

• Music composed by Halim El-Dabh

• Ludwig Hall, Music and Speech Building

• Wednesday, July 19, 7:30 p.m.

The Symphony for 1,000 Drums, led by Kent State emeritus professor Halim El-Dabh, was held in Cleveland’s Public Square Thursday. It was the opening act for Cleveland’s Second Annual Ingenuity Festival of Art and Technology.

“One thousand is the massive nature of sound. One hundred would not be right,” El-Dabh said about the number of drums used at the event.

The festival, which was broadcast worldwide via the Internet on Web cams, was introduced with a procession of bells that led from Old Stone Presbyterian Church to Public Square.

Spectators surrounded the Square to view drummers beating on drums of all types and sizes. Many ethnic groups, ranging from Irish to Brazilian, played with drumsticks or beat the instruments by hand.

El-Dabh also composed the drummers’ music. The piece was inspired by three goddesses: Ma’at, the Egyptian goddess of balance and order; Oshun, the Nigerian goddess of healing and freshwater; and Isis, the Egyptian goddess and the lover of mankind, said Grant Marquit, El-Dabh’s assistant.

The vast audience – from belly dancers to common passers-by in T-shirts and jeans – danced and moved to the sound of the drums as they increased the music in volume and passion.

“The sound of the drum and the human voice are the greatest energies,” El-Dabh said.

About 15 to 20 of the drummers – including those from the Kent African Drum Community group led by Brian Klempp – were from Kent, said David Badagnani, El-Dahb’s assistant.

Randy Roberts, junior biology major, said he found out about the symphony at a summer solstice event where El-Dabh was playing.

“We’re drummers – it’s what we do,” said Roberts about being involved with the 1,000 drummers.

The idea for the Symphony for 1,000 Drums began with El-Dabh’s connection with James Levin, executive director of the Ingenuity Festival.

“The idea started with me talking to James Levin about my work that I did in South Africa,” El-Dabh said.

The South African program presented electronic works in sound and music, he said.

El-Dabh said he was also influenced by the drummers he met in the Congo, when he saw how strongly the music of the drums affected them.

The event’s message was a simple one: to spread peace and balance through music in hopes that it would reverberate throughout the world.

Bobby Sanabria, featured soloist and leader of the Afro-Cuban section of the drum corps, flew in from New York City for the event.

“It is a great unifying experience for people in Cleveland and around the world,” Sanabria said.

Another drummer, Carlos Jones, played in the “heartbeat section” on a Jamaican drum called a niyabinghi.

“It’s like throwing a pebble in a pond. So the vibration sent out today will go out all over the world. People could feel more peaceful and not know why,” Jones said.

Craig Woodson, professor of music at Kent State, attended and played in the classical section.

“The whole point (of the music) is unity, and in this case it was with drums,” Woodson said.

To represent the event, “The Mosaic for the Symphony of 1,000 Drums,” was crafted out of 1,000 pieces of broken pottery, Marquit said. Marquit was also involved in making the mosaic and incorporating the idea of the three goddesses into the artwork.

As the hour-long music session drew to a close, belly dancers swayed to the final beats of the drums. The crowd cheered and clapped to the last rhythmic beat.

“The global significance is to rediscover ourselves,” El-Dabh said. “Sometimes we forget we are human and need to rediscover our humanity.”

Contact general assignment reporter Heather Scarlett at [email protected]