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Music from the Heart
Local resident empowers people through drumming

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Wherever Terri Segal goes, music seems to follow.

When she went off to university, she brought along her first African drum. Soon she led weekly drum circles, played benefit concerts and provided rhythm for social demonstrations. When she travelled to Costa Rica to teach English, again her drum came along. Soon, villagers joined her for a weekly percussion group at her hostel.

In Toronto, she gravitated toward the Royal Conservatory of Music's Living Through the Arts program. Here, 29-year-old Segal leads drum and percussion circles with people in need at non-profits across the city. Once a week she packs her car full with about 20 African drums (called "djembes") and percussion instruments such as maracas and tambourines.

Segal says her drum circles help people reduce stress and act as an outlet for creative expression. "We'll explore and express rhythm through our bodies, our movement, our voices and music making," she says. "It's an outlet to express yourself non-verbally and a way to connect with people. And it's fun."

As part of the program, she visits agencies where people need such expression. Segal has been teamed with such agencies as Food Share, which provides nutritious food to those who need it the most. Others have included Zareinu (a centre for Jewish special needs children), Woodgreen Community Services (a wide-ranging support centre in the city's east end) and the Community Head Injury Resource Services of Toronto.

Segal says her one-or two -hour musical programs help push people's worries away. "The drumming circles ignite that ability we all have to play and be silly," she says. "It gets us in the present moment. It's not about the past for the future, but what is happening right now."

Her program is crafted to fit the needs of the organization. While drumming and percussion sound straightforward, she says there are subtle themes being expressed. "I'll drum with metaphors of team building, education or wellness."

Above all, her work is an outlet for creative expression where people are free to do anything without risk of judgement. "It's very powerful," Segal says. "It helps them to access their emotions and feelings at a deeper level, in ways that they can't express in words. That surprises them."

For Segal, writing painting and music have always been a part of her life. She played guitar until the age of 15 before discovering African drums, which she describes as the "heartbeat" of a community. She was drawn to drum circles while attending McMaster University. There, at age 19, she became a drumming leader, using music for social action and community building.

In addition, she organized a benefit concert to support victims of a massive earthquake that struck Gujarat, India, in 2001.

For the past five years, Segal has run Rhythmic By Nature, a business where she leads drumming workshops for anything from a corporate retreat to a mom-and-baby group. Segal could lead a group of 150 people with her instruments alone, which include hand-carved drums from Ghana.

Segal chose this path when she sat back and thought of the one thing she'd always loved to do. "It's always been the arts," she says. "It's been imagination and inspiration, inspiring others to play as well."

She has seen the drums and percussion make a difference. Staff will comment on typically distracted individuals who are so focused while Segal is there. Plus, Segal knows it's working because she sees their "eyes light up" while playing her instruments.

"There's just something about the drums", she says with a smile.

-Jeff Jurmain
North Toronto Post, November, 2007