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Pinellas man shares connection through drums


Steve Turner stood with his drum strapped across his shoulders at the center of a circle of chairs assembled in at the multipurpose room at PARC.

"Are you ready to rock?" he asked the room full of adults with a range of developmental disabilities, each with a drum Turner had crafted.

To many of those who come to PARC, Turner's drum circles are the part of the month they look forward to the most, said Jewelie Boyce, the day enrichment coordinator.

"The smiles on the faces of individuals who sometimes don't do anything all day," she said. "You can see the expression on their faces as well as how they express themselves through the music."

Drumming is easy, Turner told the group. He'll play and they'll copy back. All they have to do is let their hands dance.

"Four … three….two … one," he yelled. "Ready? Go! Go! Go! Go!"

• • •

Turner, 44, remembers drumming on the side of the family coffee table growing up in Oldsmar and telling his dad he wanted to be a drummer when he grew up. His dad bought him his first drum at age 4 and he's been drumming since.

When he was 18, he started making drums. He went to the University of South Florida to study music.

Drums, he said, were therapeutic.

"You get to hit stuff and it doesn't hit back," he said. "It's not like a punching a pillow, which is kind of neutral. You turn negative, you hit, and positive comes back."

He began attending festivals and fairs, selling his drums and letting people try them out. Then one year, at the Largo Renaissance Festival, a group from Paul B. Stephens, a special needs school, visited his booth while on a field trip.

"I started noticing people make really cool connections with each other when they make music together," he said. "You see connections, genuine connections. You see it in the genuine smiles that meet each others' eyes."

He said he liked that better than haggling over drum prices and decided to make sharing drum circles his full-time business venture. Turner has since been a regular at special needs schools, youth detention centers, corporate bonding events and bereavement camps for children who have lost their parents.

His girlfriend, Jennifer Frances, runs Bess the Book Bus, a mobile bus that brings free new books to underprivileged kids in Hillsborough and Pinellas county. Together, they've toured the South stopping in cities to deliver "books and beats" — delivering books and music to youth across the country.

"It's been great," Frances said. "I can't imagine doing anything else."

• • •

Marc, a 64-year-old who comes to PARC, joined Turner at the center of the circle. He has been drumming with Turner for more than 10 years, since he first met him at a festival.

"I like drumming," he said. "I like when people follow me."

Marc sometimes joins Turner to lead circles for children at special needs schools.

Jono, 27, who lives in Belleair Beach and comes to PARC three times a week, said the drum circles are one of his favorite parts of PARC.

"I love to jam," he said. "It's overwhelming, very exciting at the same time."

Turner said he loves helping people feel that, leading them through West African folk songs and varying tempos and loudness.

The drum circles last about 45 minutes, and by the end, chairs are rocking, people are standing up and dancing and Turner is drenched in sweat.

"There's no room in your chest for your heart when you're done," he said.

"Look at your neighbor and say 'thank you. You are awesome,' " Turner instructs.

The room echoes him.

"Now say, 'I'm awesome.' "

"I'm awesome."

"I'm amazing."

"I'm amazing."

"And I'm super good looking too."

With wide smiles, the participants copied back.

"And I'm super good looking too."

Pinellas man shares connection through drums 02/21/17 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 22, 2017 10:09am]
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