Harris brings unique perspective on music to local communities

Date: 5/30/2013

By G. Michael Dobbs


CHICOPEE — For Craig Harris, drumming and music is more than just entertainment — it's a mean to establish a link, a community between people.

Reminder Publications readers know Harris, a percussionist and former music teacher in Springfield Public Schools, for his many interviews with musicians coming to this area.

Harris, though, has done more than interview and photograph musicians. Since retiring from teaching, Harris has not just been performing himself but brought his "Drumming the Blues Away," program to libraries, schools and other venues across the region.

He explained that drumming together is a way to heal and come together as a group.

"We've become sophisticated," he said. "We have to establish those community ties."

With his drumming program, "people come together through rhythm," he added.

A beat is one of the earliest experiences for people, Harris noted. "You spent nine months listening to your mother's heartbeat," he said.

His program is not just about percussion, "but understanding culture and world communications," he said.

Harris has brought this program to "senior centers to small kids" and he emphasized it's not a drum circle. He said the program includes songs, stories and even a puppet.

His program — and approach — has been praised.

"It's a treat to see [Harris] using music and rhythm as a path to increasing students' understanding of academic subjects (language arts, science, and math), as well as themselves. He is truly loved by his students," Yvonne Newton, an English as a Second Language teacher in Springfield, said.

"[Harris] left youngsters and adults spellbound with his rhythms and insights into music. We look forward to his return," Mary Lak Senegal, president of the Western Massachusetts Library Club, said.

As Harris said in his brochure about the program, "Stress is about dreading the past or fearing the future. When one plays a drum or percussion instrument, they're immediately transported into the present."

His program is designed to eliminate stress at least for the moment.

"It's all intended for people to open up and find the musicians in themselves," he explained.

Harris said that his program turns the focus away from individual and into a group of people performing together.

Through his interviewing musicians, Harris said he has learned a lot, but it's only been through performance that he has reached a new level of understanding about being in the moment.

"When I play my instrument, it's a matter of being right then and there," he said.

Harris was introduced to music at early age through his uncle, whom he described as "beatnik" and saw seminal figures such as Bob Dylan perform. As he became a performer himself he said, "Backstage is more comfortable [to him] than my living room."

Besides being a musician, a teacher, a journalist and photographer, Harris is also an author who has written two books. "Intertribal Renaissance: Native American Music from the First Migration to Hip Hop" examines a field that many non-Natives know little about. That book will soon be published.

He has also finished another book, "The Band: Americana Pioneers," about the highly influential folk rock band. Harris explained the approach of the book is from a sociological point of view. It will be available through Scarecrow Press.

He added he has been onstage with the late Rick Danko and The Band was "very much a part of my life."

For Harris, all of his interests are interrelated. He said, "There are four things for any of us to be successful. "

The first is passion — "It starts with children. You never know what passion will be lit."

The second is experience. "You have to go do it," he said.

The third is knowledge. "I've made it my life's quest."

The fourth is professionalism.

Harris added that doing what he does is a "joy."

To learn more about his workshops, contact Harris at craigharrismusic@gmail.com.