January 23, 2021

BY SARA HANAFI

A typical concert experience would call for an impressive stage with a massive floor space to hold a great number of screaming, excitable fans, and a dazzling light show to complement the roaring music.
Maneuvering through a candlelit living room with a crowd of people sitting cross-legged on the floor isn’t exactly the norm. Then again, neither is hosting an evening of diverse music in one’s own home.
Kat van Lammeren and her group were invited to perform at The Branches, an old-fashioned Victorian house in Uptown Waterloo where members of the local art community get together once a month for a night of creativity and expression through different forms of music.
But the dark, intimate setting didn’t seem to bother them – when they took to the makeshift stage, their smiles lit up the room.
“When we have a really good performance and we feel we connect with the audience, it’s the greatest feeling,” she said.
Van Lammeren’s group performed amidst a capella singers, folk bands and fusion rap artists, however, they still stood out as the most culturally diverse music performance.
The Organic “Groovettes,” as they jokingly called themselves, are an all-percussion drum circle group who play drum songs from around the world.
Normally van Lammeren would have played the show with her professional performing group, Organic Groove. However, some of the group members were unable to make it, prompting her to invite her advanced students to perform with her instead.
After teaching drumming for four years, alongside her fellow teacher and close friend Jenny Lorette for half of those years, van Lammeren said it was time her students showed off their skills.
“It’s something new that we’re starting to do more,” she said. “This show is unique because my students are playing, and these guys are good.”
“It’s a community thing,” Lorette said. “It’s not about sitting at home and playing my drum by myself. It’s about the people, and it’s connected me a lot with the community.”
Not only is van Lammeren a performer, but she is also a drum circle facilitator and drumming instructor at her own school, which shares the same name as her group. Her group classes, called Rhythmic Journey, are a separate venture where beginners and more advanced students can learn proper technique while playing Afro-Cuban, West African and Middle Eastern cultural rhythms.
Van Lammeren started Organic Groove 10 years ago after discovering her passion for drumming accidentally.
“I was just walking in a park one day in Kitchener and I could hear a heartbeat-like sound,” she said. “It seemed like it was calling to me.”
Van Lammeren said she couldn’t resist investigating, and she consequently joined the community drum circle. At that moment she met Gerima Harvey-Fletcher, whom she started drumming with, and soon after the pair began orchestrating their own songs and performing at a venue in Uptown Waterloo.
The performing group Organic Groove was born.
“Gerima and I are still in the group,” van Lammeren said. “That was 10 years ago, and we’ve been doing it ever since, but a lot of other people have come and gone.”
Currently, Organic Groove has five core members, including van Lammeren, Harvey-Fletcher and Lorette, who joined two and a half years ago.
“There are a lot of people who come drum for six months or a year and then they end up leaving,” Lorette said, “but for me, it’s been a really cool experience.”
Lorette joined the group as a way to get out and meet new people after she got divorced.
“I wanted to join a class that was creative,” she said. “My friend happened to go to the same yoga studio as Kat. She told me about Kat’s classes and we took the session together.”
The rest is history.
“I met most of the people who played (at The Branches) as my students,” van Lammeren said. “I feel funny saying that they’re my students, because really, it’s our circle of friends.”
Van Lammeren said quite often people, with the majority being women, join drumming when their life is in some transitional phase.
“My classes are 80 per cent women,” she said. “It isn’t on purpose, and we try to make any men feel really welcome, but I think it’s because it’s touching a need. Women are often quieter and have less of a sense of entitlement when it comes to drumming and making noise.”
Being part of the drum circle has also helped a lot of women with their self-confidence, breaking from traditional roles and being part of something separate from their lives.
“It’s a way for women to reconnect with themselves and get in touch with yourself, while finding a new identity and being someone you’ve never been before,” van Lammeren said.
Lorette agreed, saying, “We’ve had people say to us that they feel as though the drumming community is more accepting of them as a person and who they truly are than their church is. There is something about this community that is very inclusive.”
Organic Groove and Rhythmic Journey both have participants who range in age from 20 to their mid-50s, as well as people who have different mental or physical abilities, cultural backgrounds or sexual orientations.
Van Lammeren said she tries to create a safe space for people.
“I want people to feel like there’s something very common among everybody, and they do,” she said. “The main thing is the focus on community and music and bringing people together, because there’s a lot of isolation in society.”
“It gave me an entirely new group of people and it has me interacting with my community in a different way,” Lorette said.
“Now all of my closest friends are all in some way part of that community. I would say it’s very serendipitous.
“It’s changed my life.”