African drummers Alf and Carol

A harmonious group of Melbourne seniors are proving you can grow groovier with age

Imagine if you could get together with a great group of people every Friday afternoon, relax, play some music, enjoy some lively conversation, and leave with your blood pressure lower, your arthritis eased, your memory improved, and a general feeling of happiness and peace with the world. Wouldn’t you want to keep coming back, week after week, month after month, for as long as the good vibes lasted?

‘There’s really nothing quite like it,’ says Alf Adins, who swears by the therapeutic benefits of African drumming – a pastime he took up eight years ago, at the tender age of 74.

Alf and his wife, Carole, are among several long-standing members of Drum Connection Seniors – a uniquely ‘hands on’ drumming collective that runs workshops for students of all abilities in the peaceful surrounds of Hurstbridge’s Allwood House. The daytime workshops have gained a particularly dedicated following among local seniors, who find that drumming offers an enriching combination of social connection and physical wellbeing.

Long-term memories

‘As well as the steady exercise, playing drums definitely helps my memory,’ Alf says. ‘If you play the same rhythm several times, it goes into your muscle memory and your body remembers it instinctively the next time you hear it. You may not play something for two or three years, but when the beat begins it all comes back to you.’

For Carole, 75, there are more tangible physical benefits. ‘Hitting the drums helps me with the circulation in my hands,’ she says. ‘I’ve had quite bad arthritis and it stimulates the blood flow and helps to ease the pain. Plus our group is very sociable and we’ve become good friends – which is another aspect we both love.’

Alf, Carole and others from Drum Connection Seniors will perform at Allwood House after a ‘come and try workshop’ during the Victorian Seniors Festival.

They’re well qualified as drumming ambassadors, with regular performances at the Hurstbridge Wattle Festival and Summer Soirée; lively ‘flash mobs’ at local shopping centres; outings to the Estia Health retirement home; and even the occasional performance with four members who double as limber belly dancers.

Made for seniors

Drum Connection is led by Annie Fletcher, a high school teacher and African music aficionado, who says she’s seen group drumming bring enjoyment and fulfilment into hundreds of older people’s lives.

‘It constantly amazes me how positively it seems to impact people,’ says Annie. ‘Over the years, we’ve had people join us who suffer anxiety or are recovering from illness or going through another transition. One lady started drumming after chemotherapy treatment and said it gave her back her “pre-chemo brain”. It’s stimulating and meditative, and a great stress-buster.

Plus of course, it’s immensely sociable.’

Annie’s classes are well geared for older people, with classes in the afternoons and evenings, and flexibility for participants to move between the sessions on offer. As well as beginners’ classes, there are classes for those who want to learn intricate rhythms, and a wide choice of drums – from the classic West African djembe and the Middle Eastern darbuka, to the big bass drums known as dun duns, which are played with sticks.

Proven benefits

Since Annie started her workshops in 2004, there have been numerous studies promoting the health benefits of drumming – and an increase in its use by psychologists and occupational therapists around the world. Annie has developed strong bonds with many of her students and celebrates their achievements and milestones with individual ‘badges’.

Two years ago, she delivered her first ‘octogenarian badge’ to Alf Adins. But she knows he won’t be the last. ‘Interest in drumming is growing rapidly, and our seniors’ cohort continues to grow with it,’ says Annie. ‘With role models like Alf around, the word is out that this is a fun hobby which is also super-healthy – and which people can keep doing long into their senior years.’

Drum Connection’s Festival ‘come and try workshop’ is at Allwood Neighbourhood House at 12 noon on Friday 18 October. Timid beginners are welcome, and those with prior experience will be offered extension challenges. Drums will be supplied and bookings are essential by calling 0407 102 578. The workshop will be followed by a light lunch and a performance by the Drum Connection Seniors at 2.15 pm.