The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

    Drumming up some Culture

    Kyle Seidel

    A short, quick rhythm cuts through the calm room followed by the thunder of a dozen drummers.

    The energy in the room is high, hands are flying and sound bounces off the walls.

    There is no sheet music because everyone plays by ear. And if someone gets lost, they stop and catch the rhythm again.

    This isn’t the usual description of most organizations on campus, but it’s dead on for the West African Music Society, which has been together formally since 1996.

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    From 7 to 9:30 p.m. every Thursday, students and community members meet at the Phillips Auditorium in Haas Fine Arts Center to learn about West African culture by playing on djembes (pronounced gem-bays).

    While living in California, Gene Kulreck, the leader of WAMS and an Eau Claire native, heard west African music and fell in love with the music, culture and songs, he said.

    Kulreck went to Africa for a month to study dancing and drumming and around the same time moved back to Eau Claire, he said.

    He looked for people to play with and someone suggested he teach.

    “I’m not a teacher, I do not like getting up in front of crowds,” Kulreck said. “I like the music so much, I feel compelled to share the music and culture.”

    That’s what he’s trying to display to the students. He wants to give them a taste of another culture, he said.

    “I think there’s a really great benefit of learning about a culture,” sophomore Catherine Hennessy said. “Not just the history, but a part of it.”

    Hennessy, a music major and a percussionist, came to UW-Eau Claire with an interest in Afro-Cuban music, which the university doesn’t offer. WAMS was the next best thing, she said.

    “It’s more amazing than I ever thought it could be,” Hennessy said.

    The group is made up of both students and community members of all ages. They sit in a circle with djembes between their knees playing the three basic notes: tone, slap and base.

    One person plays the dundun (pronounced do-new), three drums that function like an American drum set and hold the beat of the group, freshman Hana Dehtiar said.

    “The community members really make it a prolific learning environment because you have so many different perspectives,” Hennessy said.

    The group varies from year to year depending on student leadership and community involvement, Hennessy said.

    Participation goes in cycles. In the late ’90s there were around 25 people in the group and in the early 2000s, maybe three or four. The numbers are now back up again, Kulreck said.

    Right now the group performs more, and is becoming more performance minded, Hennessy said.

    “It’s consensus based,” she said. “We’re performing right now because people are interested in performing.”

    WAMS doesn’t have a set performance schedule – it’s just whenever someone asks them to, and it’s feasible, Hennessy said.

    Recently they have performed at the Acoustic Caf‚, 505 S. Barstow St., and at the Folk Fair. In the past they have played at weddings and schools, Hennessy said.

    Upcoming performances include playing at The Cabin in May and at Putnam Love Stock, with other events that may be added throughout the semester, she said.

    “The group really wants to get the music out and the idea out to the community,” Hennessy said.

    Anyone can come to a meeting no matter their major or even if they don’t have any experience with music, Hennessy said.

    However, it’s helpful to have music experience, Dehtiar said.

    “There are so many advanced drummers that you have to learn quick,” she said.

    The beginning session is for new drummers to get acquainted with the group. The second session is for more advanced drummers who have been learning for a while, Hennessy said.

    “There’s a lot of people who have studied music forever, and others who have never touched an instrument,” she said. “It’s really nice to have someone new who’s interested.”

    People are welcome to come and participate until the music gets too challenging, then they can just listen along with the music, she said.

    Sophomores John Gnacinski and Bob Nejdelow both attended last Thursday’s meeting for the first time. Neither student is a music major but they both used to play drums at home, they said.

    Gnacinski heard about WAMS at BOBfest and heard them play at the Folk Fair last year, he said.

    “It’s challenging but it’s fun to do if you get it down,” Gnacinski said after his first hour of drumming.

    Nejdelow agreed.

    “The beats are really different than typical (drum) set beats,” he said. “They’re off beats. You have to unlearn rhythm. It’s pretty challenging.”

    Because the involvement in the group varies between students and community members, the people are really amazing, Hennessy said.

    “It wouldn’t be a group without the community members,” Hennessy said. “It wouldn’t be a group without the students.”

    Kulreck loves drumming and playing with people, he said.

    “It’s the excitement of seeing young and old people…” he said. “Seeing that excitement in their eyes when they learn a new rhythm and understand the culture where it came from.”

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