Drumming Workshop at Capilano Keeps Students Spiritually Connected

“Open mind, open heart.” This is Ross Milforth’s motto to live by, and while it may sound clichéd, hearing it come from the soft-spoken man is a spiritual experience.

Ross held the first of three drumming circle workshops in the Film Studies building last Thursday, and he did more than just share his drumming skills with the students who attended. Participants were told about the meaning behind some important cultural songs, shown a few drum beats (such as the thunder beat), and what a break (lifting of the drum during a song) signifies. Ross also shared the cultural and spiritual importance of the gathering over many stories and aphorisms.

Ross hails from Squamish Nation, and works as a First Nations Liaison Worker around Squamish and the lower mainland. He helps indigenous students find their way to post-secondary school by helping with applications, registration, and tutoring. He also holds spiritual drumming and singing workshops. “Hopefully in some way what I offer is there to help them to help one another”. Ross’ mission in holding drum circles for students is “to help them connect with themselves as human beings, to know who they are and where they come from” while also allowing students to question and examine their beliefs and values “through a cultural and spiritual experience”.

The first song played was a medicine song called “Greeting of the Day”. With this song, drummers and singers are calling on the creator to bless the food about to be enjoyed. While everyone participated, only a handful of students used the unique drums, as singing and drumming at the same time can be rather difficult. The drums used are made of animal hides and cedar or pine wood. The point of the workshop was to not only “learn a few songs, but to also learn how those songs can help students connect with their spirit and the creator”. 

Ross shared many personal beliefs with students, and he captured their attention effortlessly despite his soft spoken demeanour. Between songs, he relayed the important message, “I was taught the first good medicine is a good thought” and also said, “it is important to connect with the creator so one can be rich in spirit.” 

Drumming is a huge part of the indigenous culture, and a highly regarded skill to have. In the wise words of Ross, it is referred to as the “heartbeat of mother earth, the heartbeat of the people. When we drum, we feel it. We refer to it as the spirit caller, and our connection to the creator.”

While drumming is important, singing is equally important when participating in songs. The songs can only be learnt through hands-on experience and sharing knowledge with others. Some drummers only know five or six songs and beats, while others have a repertoire of over 60 different songs up their sleeves. While the “lyrics” consist of deep hums and other sounds, the songs sound beautiful when everyone sings in unison and sometimes the room even vibrates if enough drummers are gathered together.

The event ended with “Chief’s Honour Song” which was a song about the humbleness of the leader and the equality of all the people. The workshop’s message not only applies to people of indigenous cultures, but of all cultures. By holding the workshops, Ross said that he “encourages everybody to hold on to their roots, to their culture, to their ancestry, and at the same time honour everybody else’s cultures”. According to Ross, “acknowledging one’s past allows for us to have something positive to draw upon when we have a hard day”.

Even if you don’t know much about indigenous culture, these workshops are a great introduction – plus, plenty of food and wisdom are always shared.

//Carling Grey

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