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The City Journals

Local gives group drum lesson using bus as classroom

Jun 05, 2017 10:43AM ● By Tori LaRue

Heather Buhler, a Salt Lake County librarian, boards Nels Anderson’s DrumBus during a Kearns Library activity. Anderson taught Buhler and others how to play djembe drums. (Tori La Rue/City Journals)

By Tori La Rue | [email protected]
Nels Anderson traded a science lab workspace for a mobile music room when he started his own DrumBus business for the Northern Utah Region.
“I love, love biology, and I am still really interested in science, but academia wasn’t my favorite,” Anderson said while rushing around his multi-colored bus that’s jammed full of West-African drums called djembes. “I didn’t ever feel at home in those settings. I’ve always been into forts and huts since I was a kid, and this is like my hut.”
Business for the Salt Lake City resident now consists of teaching school, community, rehabilitation center, corporate and assisted living groups how to tap on goblet-shaped hand drums. But his program is not just about teaching rhythms.
“I’ve learned to love drums, but I didn’t get into this because of drums,” Anderson said while prepping the bus for an event at the Kearns Library on April 24. “They are just the perfect tool to bring people together in a really unexpected way. I can’t think of another medium where you don’t have to have any experience, and you can participate in a group to do something you never thought you could do in minute.”
Anderson’s Kearns event was intended for teenagers, and these 13- to 17-year-old participants blurted out questions and comments as they entered the odd bus:
‘Wow, that’s a lot of drums.”
“That’s so weird.”
“Those are drums? I am used to the rock band kind of drums.”
As they sat down, Anderson explained his purpose in bringing the DrumBus to the library.
“I am just trying to coax out your natural rhythms,” he said. “And yes, we are trying to make rhythm, and yes, I am going to try to teach a little technique, but most of it is just taking the group and taking what you give us and making an event out of it.”
Jordan Jones and Carter Harris, both 13, weren’t planning on attending the DrumBus activity on that spring afternoon, but they saw the bright red bus as they were taking a walk from their nearby school.
“We liked the sound and got curious about what was going on,” Jordan said.
The two clamored into the bus to find Anderson demonstrating different sounds on a drum. Hitting the drum on the outer rim made a lighter sound than hitting directly in the middle.
Jordan and Carter selected seats and within seconds were copying Anderson’s rhythms with the other teens who had already boarded the bus. Only some of the nine drummers had met prior to the event, but their sound was uniform.
To add difficulty to drumming, Anderson started a game where drummers created their own rhythms. The group played a unified beat led by Anderson until he asked one drummer a question. At that point, the participants stopped as the selected drummer answered the question with his or her voice and his or her drum simultaneously. Then the rest of the group repeated that new rhythm.
When Anderson asked Carter the longest word he knew, Harris said “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” as he alternated hitting the drum with his right and left hand from syllable to syllable. The rest of the group copied.
Carter and Jordan had to leave the activity early but said they were grateful for the impromptu crash course on drumming.
“I ended up learning that I really like the sound and was happy with just learning the basics,” Jordan said.
Although the Kearns DrumBus session was geared toward teenagers, all participants were welcome. Luis Vazquez and his 5-year-old son joined in the lesson after hearing the beat from the parking lot.
“We’re usually at the library a lot, but this was a new experience for us,” Vazquez said. “My son got to learn this new skill that he wouldn’t otherwise have.”
Jenn McKague, the Kearns youth services librarian, said she selected the program because frequent library attenders, especially teens, had asked for more music programs.
“There’s not so much music in the area, so we thought this could help,” she said.
By the conclusion of the two-hour jam session, Anderson had instructed more than 12 people. The transient crowd had come and gone as they pleased. And then, just as easily as he set up, Anderson drove his portable classroom away and onto the next event.

To learn more about the DrumBus program, visit