Making Music for Life

RISE Hosts Drum Making Class for Youth (from Jan. 2018 Wichita Tribal News)


Sounds of multiple drums filled the RISE office's large conference room on December 28-29, 2017. Mixed among those sounds were youth voices and laughter, as well as a growing feeling of accomplishment. By the end of the two-day session, the majority of the 25 students owned their own completed hand drum.

 James Marquez

James Marquez at the RISE program's drum making class.


"I think people should make hand drums because if you've got a drum, you can sing anywhere you want," said Brian Frejo, the featured speaker and instructor for the workshop. "You can sing in your living room, outside on your porch or in your car."


Frejo, who is Pawnee and Seminole, grew up in Moore, Okla. and now lives in Milwaukee, Wisc. He combines his experiences with Native culture, hip hop and entertainment media to speak to youth throughout the country about making positive choices in life. Frejo's prior experience with RISE includes serving as a DJ and guest speaker for the program's 3-on-3 basketball tournament on Oct. 28, 2017.


[Frejo] knows the culture, whether that culture being Native American, culture being this generation or culture being tied with music," said Justina Prairiechief, the RISE program director. "He's used to doing substance and alcohol abuse prevention and suicide prevention."


Beginning in 1992, Frejo sang with Southern drums such as Rose Hill and Young Bird. By 1998, a friend gave Frejo a hand drum. Eventually, he started to build them, singing with them publicly by 2002. Now, teaching hand drum workshops is one of the ways he reaches out to youth as a way to teach life skills. One of the primary lessons involved with the class is on how to listen.


Brian Frejo

Brian Frejo


"When you remember how to listen, you can learn a lot and have an open mind," Frejo said. "You can learn how to do anything. That's what I share with youth. If you can make a hand drum, you can go out there and learn how to do all kinds of things. It's a lot of work. It takes time to do this…It's like anything else you want to do in your life. You listen. You pay attention. You work hard. You're going to do this from A to Z-all these steps it takes to get there."


In addition to gaining confidence and listening skills, youth participants learned the multiple steps in making a hand drum-soaking a hide, measuring and punching holes, stretching and lacing the hide and making a drum stick. Along with Frejo, RISE staff members Donnie Ramos, Rachael Palmer and Durell Cooper also gave hands-on assistance to the youth.


Frejo also emphasized the spiritual importance behind the drum, ranging from the healing nature of songs and praying with the drums to the choices of hides such as elk, deer or buffalo.


"It's powerful," Frejo said about the use of hand drums. "I've seen people lifted up-their spirits lifted up, their physical selves lifted up through ceremonies using these drums and these songs. Those animal spirits are a part of it."


The drum making workshop is one of a diverse range of workshops sponsored by RISE to meet their suicide prevention demographic of ages 10-24. Based on community surveys, cultural classes were one of the largest requested outreach methods.


 Caleb and Kevin

 From left: Caleb Holman and Kevin Marquez placing the finishing touches on their hand drums.


"We're trying to reach all different kinds of people," Prairiechief said. "Before, we had the basketball tournament. We've sponsored the football jerseys. We did the Paint Party in case there were artists. We're trying to reach all different demographics."


For Frejo, hand drums are one of the many "ways that connect our people," he said, and that "our young people need those positive factors and influences in their life" as a way of suicide prevention.


"We're reconnecting them back to their roots," Frejo said. "I believe through that, we can overcome all of these challenges and obstacles that we face in Indian Country. We want to see our young people live and enjoy their life."