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Giving Tree Music Helps Drummers Find Rhythm Within





Steve Turner has a pretty simple philosophy: "Use your powers for good.''

If it sounds like the catch phrase for a superhero, there is good reason. While mild mannered, Turner is something of a superhero to a lot of kids in the Tampa Bay region.

He doesn't have a cape and colorful underwear, though. He has a drum.
Turner is the founder of Giving Tree Music and travels around with his trailer full of hand-made West African goblet drums, called djembes, facilitating drum circles.

He started Giving Tree Music, named for the Shel Silverstein book that characterizes the selflessness of Turner's mission, in 2000 primarily as a means to sell the drums he was making. Realizing that his most powerful marketing angle was to have people actually play the product, he started guiding potential customers into drum circles.
 
Something happened, Turner says, when he started putting more energy into the circles themselves. He started to see how the experience was empowering for the participants.

In those circles, people were coming together in profound ways and developing relationships beyond drumming. More than a few couples were married as an indirect result of -- some even during -- Turner's drum circles.

Discovering His Own Special Need

His vision for Giving Tree Music and what it could become was changing. The transformation wasn't complete, however, until a group of students from Paul B. Stephens Exceptional Student Education Center found their way into one of his circles.
 
The Stephens Center in Clearwater is one of the few schools in the region that exclusively serves students with special needs, ranging in age from 3 to 22.

"The reaction was incredible,'' says Turner about that first time students from Stephens drummed with him. Shortly thereafter, the administration asked him to facilitate a drum circle on campus and the direction of Giving Tree Music shifted from being just a vehicle through which he could sell drums.

Turner was now in the business of making people's lives better. A noble aim for any superhero.

At Philippe Park in Safety Harbor recently, Turner drummed with the students from Stephens once again. A quick look around at the faces of the students and their parents and it was clear that business is good. There were more than 150 drummers and dancers and just as many smiles. (Turner's lone rule is that if you don't drum, you have to dance.)

"The kids just relate to the music,'' says Rose Egnacheski, a member of the Stephens Center staff. That seems to be the crux of Turner's success: Following the true definition of facilitation, Turner allows the participants in his circles to find the music in themselves and shows them how to connect with it and, in turn, each other.

Passionate About Helping Kids

As Turner defines his mission now, "I drive around with a trailer full of drums, getting people to make music together as a way of building community, teaching empowerment, and getting people to connect with the here and the right now.''

He and his trailer find themselves drumming with a wide variety of organizations and people these days. While focusing primarily on schools, juvenile detention centers and youth groups, Turner brings his message of connection and community wherever there is a need.

In more than a decade of traveling and drumming, he has run the gamut from corporations to churches, prisons to festivals, and swingers to nuns (literally).

His passion, though, resides with kids, perhaps most notably those from Paul B. Stephens with whom he has so much history. Since those first circles, Turner has returned to the school two or three times every year.

"There is no room left in your chest when you're done. It's so beautiful,'' Turner says of his experiences drumming with the students from Stephens.

The feeling is mutual. Gail Cox, the principal at Paul B. Stephens Exceptional Student Education Center, knows how special the connection is for her students. While the school also hosts concerts and other events for the students, few others interact with the children like Turner.

"To see him be able to engage all of the students the way he does is amazing,'' Cox says.

Turner may not be the traditional superhero, but the kids that have drummed with him might not be able to tell the difference. Or care to try.

Mitchell Brown is a freelance writer who lives with his wife and two daughters in Clearwater. He is passionate about living a healthy, happy life which is one of the reasons he loves the community in which he lives. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.
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