Alisha Ross picked up her first drum in 2003 while attending the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. Ross's interest in drumming and rhythm led to her joining the Berklee West African Drum and Dance Ensemble. Ross then continued to cultivate her passion by traveling to Ghana, West Africa to learn more about the culture that surrounds rhythm. Ross further dedicated herself to her passion by enrolling at Tufts University, where she received her Masters of Arts degree in Ethnomusicology, which is the study of the music of different cultures. Ross performed with the Tufts Kiniwe African Drum and Dance Ensemble while attending classes at the university.
Ross founded Just Add Rhythm in 2012. For the past five years the organization has utilized the power of music and movement to help others discover their inner selves. Just Add Rhythm focuses on three main types of interactive rhythm experiences: team building (companies and organizations), educational (K-12th), and community (specific populations or groups).
Many people hear the term "drum circle" and have preconceptions about what it entails or the type of people that participate. Just Add Rhythm designs programs that require absolutely no musical or cultural background. The objective of these programs is to promote wellness through music.
Just Add Rhythm was originally formed in South Florida. In 2016 Ross hired a facilitator to continue serving the South Florida market while she herself relocated to Jacksonville, Florida. Since relocating, Ross has worked to embed herself in Northeast Florid, where she serves as an advocate for music and rhythm and how they enhance lives and relationships.
10 Questions with Alisha Ross
What is the mission of your organization?
Just Add Rhythm’s vision is to see more people drumming for good – for their personal joy and wellness, and for igniting positive change in their communities. Our mission is to provide top-quality interactive rhythm programs for empowering and purposeful experiences – not only for use right now, but for lifelong wellness. We work with people of all ages and backgrounds to introduce to them the joys and benefits of rhythm and music making.
When was your organization formed and how has it grown?
I founded Just Add Rhythm LLC in September 2012 with the goal of serving the South Florida community and beyond. Since then, I have expanded the business to include Northeast Florida as we continue to serve South Florida. My aspirational goal is to bring our services to anyone who wants to be empowered, healthy, and happy, whether it be in Florida, New York, Nebraska, or South America!
What strategies are in place within your organization for you to engage your audiences?
Just Add Rhythm’s programs are all about personal and group engagement. Programs are completely interactive and hands-on for the entire duration of the event, whether it’s a company team-building program, an in-school educational program, a summer camp, a senior care center, or a cancer support group – everyone gets an instrument, and they play it the whole time!
We bring a variety of hand drums, drums played with sticks, and percussion instruments for this purpose, and we provide brief instruction on how to play the instruments safely and effectively – then off we go to make music and magic together! The benefits come from actually playing the instruments for the duration of the program – bonding with fellow participants, building social skills and leadership skills, learning relaxation and wellness techniques, and feeling part of a supportive community.
Why is art and culture important?
There is so much to learn when you open your mind and heart and embrace something new – whether it’s an artistic experience you’re trying for the first time, a community group that celebrates a tradition you want to learn about, or a film that highlights a little-known part of history. These experiences have the unique ability to connect people from all walks of life. For example, when I facilitate a community drum circle, I can see such a variety of participants – small children with families, older adults on their own, and idealistic millennials who want to experience something meaningful and exciting. I see people come together who might not normally spend time together, and they’re laughing, smiling, and supporting one another through the rhythm and the group’s energy. These are the experiences that build communities and fill up our cups, so to speak.
What’s your organization’s next major milestone and is this milestone part of a long-term plan?
Just Add Rhythm recently hit a great milestone – I relocated to Jacksonville, while hiring a wonderful facilitator in South Florida to keep our programs down there thriving. The new milestone is now building our client base in Northeast Florida, and introducing the Jacksonville community to the group drumming experience.
What I plan to do once we get the ball rolling here is to hire and train additional facilitators, so we can serve more people in more communities – we want to help people feel empowered, healthy, and happy! I think this region has been very receptive to the ‘wellness through rhythm’ concept so far, and I really look forward to the opportunity to educate people on the enormous potential that group rhythm has in health/wellness, leadership, and communication. As I mentioned earlier, our goal is to serve anyone who wants our services, no matter where our clients are located.
What would you like to see in the arts and cultural community in Jacksonville?
Since I’m new to the community, I haven’t yet had the opportunity to experience all that Jacksonville has to offer in the way of the arts and culture – but so far, it’s a lot! It looks like there are a lot of ways to connect with visual and media artists, to watch performances, and to attend festivals, but I’d love to encourage more hands-on participation in the arts – it looks like the Jax Makerspace offers some of those opportunities to the public.
However, what I also aim for when working with my clients is to offer up ways for people to integrate rhythm and effective communication into their daily living as well as with their companies or organizations. Meaningful rhythm and music experiences can pave the way for a more compassionate, empathetic, understanding, and collaborative community – and when we nurture this community and allow it to grow, to cross city lines and state boundaries and national borders, we just might create for ourselves a more wonderful world!
Does your organization partner with other organization(s)?
Absolutely! I often look for local grant opportunities so that we can partner with nonprofit organizations who would benefit from our services. One grant partnership we had in South Florida was a weekly drumming program for active older adults at a local community senior center – boy, did they have fun! We’re also currently partnering with a recovery center to offer evidence-based therapeutic drumming programs on a regular basis for their clients. Another project we had in the works in South Florida was to offer family drum circle programs at a local children’s hospital. I’d love to see if we can get something like that going at the Wolfson Children’s Hospital for families here in Jacksonville.
What is a program offered by your organization that you’d like to highlight? Additionally, what is an organization that you think more people need to know about?
One program that I believe very strongly in is what we offer to at-risk youth and also adults in recovery. It’s called DRUMBEAT, and it was developed by Holyoake, which provides drug and alcohol counseling and support services in Australia. The program is based on clinical research and is now offered worldwide as a supplement to talk-based therapy. I received my senior accreditation status to offer DRUMBEAT programs, and we’ve implemented it in a community mental health center’s after-school program for children in grades K-5th. The beauty is that it combines the accessibility of drumming with the effectiveness of talk-based support groups. The program emphasizes teamwork and bonding while also offering strategies and tools for building self-confidence and communication skills.
In addition, I would also like to promote the Drum Circle Facilitators Guild or DCFG, “a professional association of drum circle facilitators dedicated to serving communities through rhythm-based events designed to heal, empower and unite diverse populations. The Guild is dedicated to professionalism in the field of drum circle facilitation.” The DCFG is made up of a wide variety of professional facilitators, many of whom are also music therapists, art therapists, counselors, healthcare administrators/workers, social workers, and many other professions. Its members educate the public on the benefits of group drumming, and share the experience with people from all walks of life. I love being a part of the DCFG community!
How do you stay up to date with the art and cultural happenings both nationally and in Jacksonville?
I enjoy using social media to connect with my fellow artists, performers, and facilitators, and to see what artistic projects they’re working on in their respective communities, nationwide, and worldwide. Every day I read posts about African dance groups, theater troupes, professional belly dancing tours, and new art exhibits. I love it!
I also enjoy reading articles and posts on LinkedIn and social media from my network of artist and facilitator friends who share up-to-date research on the benefits of music, rhythm, and the arts in non-arts-related populations. Plus, I enjoy being on email lists for arts and culture. Since moving here, I immediately looked up the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville, as well as the St. John’s Cultural Council. I still receive regular newsletters for the arts and culture organizations in South Florida ,as well, plus those from many of my friends who are creative business owners all over the country.
How can others get involved with your organization?
If you’re intrigued by the idea of group drumming, but don’t know where to start with experiencing it, call me! I love discussing opportunities for new programs to implement in my community. You might be a teacher or principal, a community center employee, a company manager, or a parent who wants to introduce rhythm and music to your family. Maybe you’re a college music student who wants to learn more about the practical applications of music, and you want to assist with some of our events. The first thing to do is visit our website and read about some of our programs, then call or email me so we can have a conversation about how we can bring the drum fun to you and your community!
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