Rhythm Ambassador Rodriguez hopes to bring the collective beat to Lake Union

Arturo Rodriguez is a professional musician and teacher who has been introducing and cultivating rhythm in Seattle for over 20 years. One of his latest projects is a weekly open community drum circle and rhythm class located at Jeff Hengst’s Little Red Studio in Eastlake under I5.

The “music circle and drum church” meets at 11AM on Sundays and welcomes people of all backgrounds and experience levels, including those who have yet to explore music.

Through the drum circle, which has been picking up since its inception four months ago, Rodriguez hopes to introduce the joy of percussion to anyone from seasoned professionals to first time drummers. Specifically, it is the communal aspect of music that Rodriguez helps people explore.

Playing music in a group is a sacred activity, says Rodriguez, who has studied traditional and ceremonial forms of music around the world.

In his invitation to join the Sunday sessions he writes, “Everyone knows that if you connect batteries in a series you can increase the overall charge of the system. Humans can do the same thing, that is, we can connect or link ourselves up like batteries and therefore increase the overall charge of the group system. The increase in overall charge can be used to create amazing and astonishing changes in our overall health and emotional well being.”

Cleary Rodriguez’s ideas about music go beyond the realm of technique. His story reveals a passion for communication and collaboration, and for increased health through music. In his words, “The level and depth of Art in a culture is a reflection of the success of that society”

In 1987, Rodriguez moved to Seattle to pursue music and introduce concepts he had recently learned on a family trip to Cuba.

Over the next few years, he helped create a movement of inspired Latin percussion, based out of a University District retail store and community music studio.

Around that time, Grateful Dead Drummer Mickey Hart released a book called Drumming on the Edge of Magic that helped spark a national interest in percussion. Riding that wave, Rodriguez opened his studio and saw the Seattle Latin percussion scene explode.

“I was teaching around 400 people a week for 5 years, he said. “It spawned the percussion and drum thing here, people went crazy for it.”

Following the success of the University District studio, Rodriguez moved to Arizona to focus on his professional music career. Upon returning to Seattle some years later, Rodriguez felt that the culture had become less receptive to traditional and communal music.

The dot-com bubble, 9/11, and the ensuing years of war, he felt, had created a climate less encouraging of community involvement in music. Furthermore, Rodriguez noticed the economic side effect of many public schools being forced to cut their music programs.

However, Rodriguez recognized the potential for music within community more than ever during those times, and worked toward new visions of bringing music to everyday people.

He founded Interact and Learn, a company dedicated to public and private music classes throughout the Northwest, as well as “self study” courses, offered through books, CDs, and online instruction.

To reach children in the age of arts funding cuts in schools, Rodriguez also founded Rhythm Ambassadors, a non-profit organization providing musical instruction programs and performances.

Now Rhythm Ambassadors is collaborating with an organization called the Children’s Music Foundation for a new project: providing a dvd-based curriculum called First Note to schools across the country. First Note, Rodriguez says, is going to be “huge”.

The curriculum is designed to help kids meet state and national standards for music education. “It’s going to be phenomenal. It’s going national, in every school across the country and It’s from right here in your back yard.”

Last year Rhythm Ambassadors launched a trial run of First Note for 3,500 kids in 50 schools and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Fundraising efforts are underway; a recent event at The Triple Door raised over $100,000. Rodriguez is confident that the remaining $250,000 in needed funds will be met soon.

His open community drum circles are another manifestation of his mission to bring music to the people. Rodriguez has high hopes for the sessions which run from 11:00AM to 12:30Pm, every Sunday at The old Little Red Studio, located at 1506 Franklin Ave .

Rodriguez said the new location near Lake Union has promise, and he hopes more locals take interests.

“You have people there that are fairly affluent, and they are looking for alternative things that are fun to try out and experience. So (the class) could be explosive. I think we can get people experiencing real fun, and bring the creative side out people who have never experienced that. It’s a blast, it’s an awakening.”

By Caleb Knox

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