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Rhythm Connect: Innovative New Music Store Teaches the Value of Rhythm (Rochester Blog)

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Rhythm Connect: Innovative New Music Store Teaches the Value of Rhythm

Rhythm Connect: A Unique Store Where You Can Hit the Skins

Family Rhythm Event at Rhythm ConnectRhythm Connect, which opened in Fairport in July 2010, isn’t your typical music store. Most music stores allow you to play the instruments, but usually the guy at the register gives you this look the whole time you’re playing, this look that basically says “you’d better not be getting your grubby fingerprints all over my merchandise if you’re not going to buy anything, you deadbeat.”

Rhythm Connect is set up to encourage playing. All the drum sets are properly set up and tuned, and there’s a soundproofed room off to one side for customers to test things out without worrying about annoying other people in the store. Ed Keegan, the owner of Rhythm Connect, seems to genuinely care about introducing non-musicians to drumming. He’s been drumming for 35 years, including four years with the US Army Band during Desert Storm and Desert Shield, and aside from running the store, he also goes to classrooms all over the area as a Teaching Artist for Young Audiences of Rochester. His store’s motto is “Rhythm Connect: Where Everyone’s a Drummer,” and it’s not just a slogan. “I want it accessible to everybody,” he says, “even if they’ve never drummed before, or if they’re a professional gigging drummer. I try to really create that vibe so all those different groups can feel like there’s a place for them here.”

An entire section of the store is set aside as a communal playing area where Ed holds workshops and classes on drumming. I recently attended one such event, called “In Rhythm Together: Wine & Drumming for Couples.” The cost was $25 per couple. We gathered in the drum-circle room, which has a kind of jungle theme – a fake waterfall, a leafy canopy for the ceiling, and copper-wire vines twining up the walls. Ed started by introducing the different instruments in the room. The center of the room was full of large hand-drums: djembes, congas, bongos, a big cluster of drums surrounded by a ring of folding chairs. Off to one side was a collection of every percussion instrument you can think of: tambourines, claves, maracas, guiros, guiras, agogo bells, rainsticks, and even a talking drum, which is hung from a shoulder strap and squeezed under one’s armpit to vary the pitch of the drum. Ed explained that some skilled musicians in West Africa can communicate across great distances by modulating the pitch of the talking drum to approximate words in their language. Ed is an expert on all things drumming. This Wine & Drumming event, however, isn’t about learning to drum in any formal way. Instead, the emphasis is on allowing one’s natural rhythm to come through and to simply get lost in the communal experience of a drum circle. After all, the drum is the world’s oldest instrument, and the idea is that we all have an innate sense of rhythm that tends to get thrown off when we over-think things. Ed kept saying that we shouldn’t try to play with our heads, that we shouldn’t really be thinking about what we’re doing. This might also explain why the wine was part of the event.

Ed made periodic comparisons between the dynamics of a drum circle of musical ensemble and the dynamics of a relationship; things about listening, about communication, about the importance of relaxing and enjoying oneself. Mostly though, we just drummed, either freely or according to some rule, such as going in a circle and matching and then slightly modifying the rhythm of the person before you, and of course we took breaks to pour ourselves more wine. The wine, by the way, was essentially limitless, though there was definitely an unspoken agreement to not pass out or vomit on any of the merchandise.

There did seem to be some real therapeutic value to the event, and it may have even gone beyond the mere stress-relief of getting tipsy and hitting things to make a lot of noise. Ed’s spiel about not getting overly cerebral and just allowing the rhythm to flow might have seemed like just another example of motivational workshop mumbo-jumbo if it weren’t for the fact that it really does seem possible to achieve a kind of meditative trance state while drumming with a group of people. Once you allow yourself to be fully absorbed in the activity of hitting the drum and lose yourself in the rhythm, you stop thinking or even noticing the passage of time. Doing this for even a short amount of time (this workshop was ninety minutes long) actually feels really good, like the relaxed waking-up feeling you get when you stand up after a professional massage. This refreshed, centered feeling is basically what Ed is selling, aside from the actual drums, percussion equipment, and formal music lessons. He offers classes and workshops for groups of schoolchildren as well as for corporate events, conferences and teambuilding seminars. He calls the corporate version a “drumming break” as opposed to a coffee break: a time, in between meetings and lectures at a conference, to unwind and also work on group harmony and communication. “Rhythm is a great metaphor for helping teams that need to work together,” explains Ed, “and a lot of times, whatever issues they might be struggling with in a workplace setting can, and usually will emerge in a rhythm event context. It levels the playing field for everyone, because usually no one’s a drummer.”

Rhythm Connect, which is located at 84 High Street in Fairport, NY, is the area’s exclusive supplier for Crush Drums, a new brand which debuted at the 2010 National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) Show. According to Ed, who seems to genuinely believe in the quality and value of the Crush brand, the company is owned by drummers and that the products are on par with high-end brands but at a much better price. Rhythm Connect also has one of the largest stocks in the area of Dream Cymbals, all of which are hand-hammered – Dream is another new company, this one started in 2006 by an orchestral percussionist.  The next upcoming event at Rhythm Connect, called Beat Stress, will be held on Thursday, October 13th from 7pm to 8:30pm.

Visit their website ( for more information on signing up. Ed also hosts free Family Rhythm Events which are geared towards kids. Instead of paying a fee for the workshop, everyone is expected to bring canned food to support the Perinton Food Shelf.

Eric Moll is a Contributor to The Free George.

The Free George is the online magazine and visitors’ guide of Upstate NY, covering things from Albany to Lake Placid, including Saratoga, the Lake George region and the Adirondacks. Check out our City Blogs section for our extended coverage areas as well.

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