By Mike Lauterborn

Teens stepped away from their usual focus on electronic entertainment to drum up some fun Saturday at the Westport Public Library.

Organized by Teen Services Librarian Jaina Lewis, "Drum Circle" gave young people an opportunity to experience and learn how to keep a beat on African drums. These were arranged in a circle at the center of the McManus Room on the lower level of the library, where program instructor Mark Zarrillo led the group through their paces.

"I've been doing teen programming for over five years," said Lewis, "including an anime club, zombie club and gaming. I had never done a drumming program and thought it would be something completely different. I like seeing kids get out of their element and collaborating creatively. It's an opportunity for them to learn a new skill, have some fun and make some new friends."

Zarrillo said he had been working with West African drums since 1995 and that drum circles have become popular diversions for many. "Drum circles have existed, though, for thousands of years, pre-dating organized religion," he said. In the modern era, drum circles have also proven to be beneficial, Zarrillo said. "Communication, team building and self-confidence are all advantages," he explained. "Historically, drum circles were a celebration in West Africa, where the discipline started. They marked harvests, weddings and passage into adulthood."

The drums Zarrillo supplied for the session were handmade and carved in Guinea, West Africa. There were two types: a goblet-shaped drum called a djembe and a cylindrical-shaped one called a doundoun. "Doundouns signify the rhythm for a dancer and the djembes support the doundouns," he said.

The djembe's skin is goat, and the drum is played with one's hands. The doundoun's skin is cow and the drum is played with sticks. "Doundouns effect a bass guitar while the djembes are more rhythm guitar oriented," he said.

Zarrillo began the session teaching simple beats, which the group imitated. Gradually, the beats became more complex. Then he split the group into two sections by drum-type, so that one set kept a bass beat while the other group played the rhythm end. He further guided each drummer on adding their own unique signature so that, ultimately, a musical pattern developed. The energy and music moved in circles, with each person contributing a piece.

Pre-session, 12-year-old Westporter Kait Smithson's hopes were high that she would be able to develop a better understanding of drumming. "I've never really played drums," she said, "but my mom would always see me tapping plates and the table, and thought I would like to try drums at this program."

As Kait tapped out a beat and recognized that she was not only keeping up with the group but leading them, she smiled broadly, proud of her accomplishment.