LAWRENCE – Brandon Draper’s Drum Safari is booming.
The University of Kansas School of Music lecturer will have four teams of musical entertainers performing nearly 80 Drum Safari shows for children in five states this summer. Draper’s wife, Teryn, recently quit her job as an elementary school music teacher to run the operation full-time. He turned down 100 requests for shows this year, and he is already booking shows for 2019.
Upcoming stops will include sites in the Greater Kansas City area as well as cities in Leavenworth, Lyon, Morris, Saline and Sedgwick counties.
It’s not unlike a homegrown version of “Stomp” or Blue Man Group.
“I’ve had extensive experience on the road with rock bands, and I’m applying all those same things to Drum Safari,” Draper said in a recent interview. “We book the dates; we perform; we collect our fees; we sell merchandise. But we come home and go to bed at a reasonable hour and get up early the next day and do it all over again.”
In addition to teaching jazz drums and world percussion, Draper leads the Music Enterprise Certificate program at the School of Music, and Drum Safari is a shining example of how to make it as a performing artist in the 21st century.
Draper began training with master percussionist Arthur Hull and the late KU graduate “Bongo” Barry Bernstein as a drum-circle facilitator at the turn of the millennium. When Bernstein died suddenly in 2010, Draper bought his collection of hundreds of drums and carried on with his summer tours of libraries, combining performance with education.
“Libraries have summer reading programs with a theme, and they like to have these performances to get kids excited about literature and reading,” Draper said. “Every summer, Barry created a new show that fit that summer’s theme. He’d bring hundreds of instruments and do an interactive show where everybody gets to play together His motto was, ‘The family that plays together stays together.’”
Draper has modified that format somewhat for Drum Safari. Two musicians, and sometimes more, are involved in each show.
“I start by playing a little bit of music and talk to them about how drums were used to communicate and send messages before the phone and before the internet,” Draper said. “I teach about the history of the different instruments we have.”
Draper has created shows with African and South American themes. Animals native to those places are particularly intriguing hooks, he said, so he commissioned original artwork by Kansas City illustrator Robert Hatem to use as scenery at performances.
“What’s a safari? You look for animals,” Draper said. “So we talk about endangered crocodiles. … The animal itself has a rhythm. For the elephant, it’s stomp, stomp.”
He combines lessons in musical, natural and world history with positive messages about health, from “mindful movement” like yoga to tips for healthy eating.
Draper even involves his daughters, 8-year-old Eva and 5-year-old Ivy.
“They do raps on the mike,” Draper said. “It’s a lesson about how it’s important to listen to all ideas, big and small. It’s about listening and communicating to build a better world.”
Then Draper brings out the big guns, distributing drums to everyone and inviting them to play along.
“They have different sounds, different colors, just like all of us,” Draper said. “Inside all of us is a heartbeat. It’s how they play together that makes things beautiful.
“We try to leave them full of new ideas, rhythms, ideas about how to have healthy habits, to exercise and use music for playing together.”
Photo/Video: Brandon (left) and Teryn Draper lead a Drum Safari performance at Theis Park in Kansas City, Mo. Credit: Rick Hellman / KU News Service