Drumming program popular with Good Shepherd residents

Activities employee Kris Duneman, left, drums with Good Shepherd resident Bob Gahnz, right, as part of a therapeutic drumming class at Good Shepherd instructed by Rushford’s Kerry Klungtvedt.
Kristin Burdey

New sounds have been echoing through the halls of Good Shepherd Lutheran Services this summer. While guest musicians are common visitors to GSLS, this music is being made by the residents themselves.

Rushford musician Kerry Klungtvedt has been sharing the gift of music with the residents of the nursing home in the form of a drum circle. The program, which has given residents the opportunity to express themselves in ways that many never imagined, is being held in conjunction with the Minnesota Conservatory of the Arts (MCA).

“Hey, you sound good! I’ll bet you guys have been sneaking into that room in the middle of the night and practicing, haven’t you?” Klungtvedt asked his drumming students at a recent session. “All I’ve got at home is a broken television,” he teased. “I can’t wait to move up here someday. You guys have all these great activities.”

Most Mondays the class is offered, at least a dozen residents wheel down to the GSLS activities room, with additional personnel both assisting and observing. The students wait for instructions from their teacher before joining in a number of activities.

Klungtvedt leads the residents in exploring rhythm, using common words and phrases to represent the musical beats like “Scrambled eggs. Scrambled eggs. Pepperoni Pizza. Pepperoni Pizza.” Klungtvedt leads as the residents mimic the sounds by tapping on drums or shaking handheld instruments. “One gal just loved the shaker,” Klungtvedt smiled. “She became the anchor of the group.”

Though most residents were very reserved initially, Klungtvedt said they eventually took to drumming. “They surprised me with how much ability they displayed,” he stated proudly, describing how they held a spontaneous open jam session at the start of the hour, indicating that as a group they had turned a corner into greater creativity and spontaneity.

Klungtvedt, who also teaches guitar and is a World Music Drum instructor, benefitted from training provided by the MCA by attending a class in Iowa last summer entitled “Drum up the Fun.” The week-long seminar enriched Klungtvedt’s knowledge of World Music Drumming, particularly for teaching young children, although much of what he learned could readily be tweaked to work well with an elder demographic.

The GSLS project was birthed last year out of existing programs at the MCA, an affiliate of Saint Mary’s University’s School of the Arts. The MCA is a full-service community arts school with a mission of education and performance that has been expanded to include older adults in the community through outreach programs.

In addition, MCA saw their physical need for equipment met as well, another factor that contributed to the program’s success. “We were awarded a grant for equipment last year,” said Klungtvedt. “We received nine tubanos (drums) and a large assortment of hand instruments. We had a few child instruments previously, so once we got all of the ‘real’ equipment, we were really able to get started.”

 Klungtvedt’s cousin, Cindy Sveen, Activities Director for Good Shepherd said the idea came up in conversation to bring a drum circle to the residents of the GSLS. “We started in January so as to bring them a little something different after the holidays,” explained Sveen. The plan was to begin with a four-week session, one hour every Monday afternoon. Sveen described some of the residents as initially uncertain at best. “They didn’t think that they could drum.” But after getting their feet wet, they seemed to get more comfortable with each passing session.”

Jamie Schwaba, managing director at MCA, explained that ongoing programs, including creative journaling and watercolor painting, have been very well-received. Schwaba began to hear from more residential facilities asking the question, “Can you bring that to us?”

With interest in creative programming growing, MCA began training staff to work with older adults, focusing on topics such as how to lead dementia-friendly programming. Schwaba explained that expressive arts such as drawing and painting are particularly enjoyable for seniors. “Unless they’ve pursued the arts throughout their life, they find that there are very different materials available from when they were kids. It’s really neat to watch them explore.”

 Schwaba noted that different activities produce different results with residents, such as the dance program that has been particularly good for non-verbal adults. “We weren’t really sure how it would go over, but it has been amazing to see.”

The benefits of a drum circle are multi-faceted. The physical benefits include use of the upper body, breathing, and rhythm, particularly impactful for chair-bound residents. Cognitive engagement is required to learn new techniques and to stay on task. Perhaps one of the most important benefits however, is social. “It is very good for them socially to be engaged as part of a group,” affirmed Klungtvedt. “It makes it more of a place you want to be.”

“It builds community,” agreed Schwaba. “Drumming, singing…different activities draw them out.” One activity the group does regularly is the Gratitude Circle. “I’ll put my guitar down and we’ll get the beat,” Klungtvedt said. Then they go around in a circle and everyone shares something that they are grateful for. “I’m grateful for everybody here today,” said one woman. Another resident expressed thankfulness for the drum circle. Another praises “all the nice people that take care of me.”

Klungtvedt, a graduate of Berkley College in Boston, would like to pursue a Music Therapy Equivalency Degree in order to become a registered music therapist, opening up a world of opportunities in hospitals and other institutional settings. Inspired by the success stories he has seen while working with MCA, Klungtvedt is aware of the power and the importance of music therapy.

In his work with autistic children, Klungtvedt has learned to read the needs of his students and adjust his technique to meet those needs. “Children discover the world through exploring,” he explained. “You let them lead; you mimic them.” Through individual lessons Klungtvedt was able to see children develop increased functionality in their homes. “It’s a joy to see the little successes.”

Some of the skills he has learned working with special-needs children have come in handy in other settings: particularly being able to personalize instruction to get the most success out of your pupils. “I’ve occasionally been bringing students in with me,” said Klungtvedt. “The residents love to work with the kids. People are really impressed with what’s going on here.” Schwaba agreed with his assessment. “It’s been amazing to watch. You really can learn anything at any age. It’s awesome, it’s powerful. It’s hard to put into words, but if you see it, you’ll know.”