Instructor Jessica Shea gets a group at the Middletown Senior Center moving and grooving using the power of drumming.
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THE POWER OF PERCUSSION
MIDDLETOWN, R.I. (JUNE 1, 2021) – For most people, a drum circle is something you might see at a folk concert or a local park, not the Middletown Senior Center.
But Jessica Shea is changing that. Recently, Shea used the power of percussion to get more than a dozen drummers moving and grooving to tunes from Elvis to pop sensation Bruno Mars as part of a new program at the Senior Center.
With each participant armed with a pair of drumsticks, an overturned blue recycling bin and a metal folding chair to sit, the group sounded tight after a couple songs, with smiles and laugher throughout.
“I heard about it and I figured I’d give it a try,” local resident Betsy Brick said. “I like that it’s exercise and an upper body workout, but it doesn’t seem like exercise. After COVID, I want to get in better shape and this is one way to do that.”
The program is one of more than two dozen offered regularly at the Senior Center located at 650 Green End Ave. Shea’s class known as “Drums Alive” is held every Friday at 11 a.m. in the Main Hall. For a complete listing of programs, visit https://mdl.town/SeniorCenterPrograms online.
Director Arleen Kaull said it’s nice to have the Senior Center reopened after it was closed for more than a year due to COVID-19. Kaull and her second in command Chris Johnson kept extremely busy during that period, delivering free brown bag lunches to more than 30 residents across the community in need of sustenance and company during the pandemic.
As the Senior Center got ready to open its doors again, Kaull said she and Johnson agreed it was important to offer a mix of familiar classes like computer lab with something new and fresh to the roster.
Asking around, Kaull said Shea came with rave reviews for her work at the Middletown YMCA along with the senior centers in Bristol, Portsmouth and Tiverton. From Day 1, Kaull said the class has been a blockbuster.
“To see what she does and how much everyone is enjoying themselves, feeling young again, that’s the best,” Kaull said. “It’s so important to get this population out and about and having a good time and Jess certainly does that with her class.”
For Shea, a Portsmouth resident, it just feels right to help get people moving.
“I don’t care who you are or what age you are, movement is so important,” Shea said. “Drumming is good for your cognitive function, you get to use a full range of your motor skills and that doesn’t even include the social interaction you’re getting here. That’s good for your spirit and your soul, especially with what we just came out of.”
On one recent Friday, Shea opened the hour-long class by introducing herself and explaining first and foremost, she wanted everyone to focus on fun.
Switching on a standard from Elvis oozing out of a large black portable JBL speaker, Shea described and demonstrated what she was looking for from each drummer, hammering away on the recycling bin with the drumsticks.
Tunes like “Wipe Out,” “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “Happy,” “Dancing Queen” and “We Will Rock You” from Queen got participants drumming, tapping their feet and even dancing on more than one occasion.
By the time the 60 minutes were up, the group sounded as cohesive as the drum corps of the University of Southern California march band.
“It was so much fun,” said Carol Perry, a 1965 graduate of Middletown High who now lives in Portsmouth. “I thought it was absolutely wonderful like all the programs they offer here. I can’t wait to come back for more.”
“I’ve done other classes with Jess. She’s the best,” said Shirley Lally, a Portsmouth resident best known for her work monitoring the piping plovers at Second Beach. “It was great fun. To hear some of those songs brought back memories and I definitely feel like I got a good workout.”