"Music has been ripped from schools because of budget cuts, so anything to put music back into our schools is a good thing," said three-time Grammy-winning drummer, renowned music educator and author Mickey Hart. "In this case, it's rhythm-based music."
The former Grateful Dead "Rhythm Devil" (with drumming partner Bill Kreutzmann), Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Famer and celebrated world music artist is one of the special guests who'll be on the field at College of the Canyons' Cougar Stadium Friday morning to "Rock the Rhythm, Beat the Odds."
Along with Doors drummer John Densmore and other celebs, Hart will lead an expected 10,000-plus Santa Clarita Valley 6th- and 7th-grade students from all five school districts and local residents as they attempt to set a new Guinness World Record for the largest percussion ensemble. The record now stands at 10,102, set in Hong Kong in 2002.
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The event is the culmination of the "Beat the Odds" hybrid music-in-education effort coordinated at SCV schools by the Santa Clarita Performing Arts Center's K-12 Arts Education Outreach program, in partnership with Valencia-based musical instrument manufacturer Remo Inc., which is supplying all of the 10,000-plus percussion "sound shapes" needed for the attempt. The city of Santa Clarita and local business are also participants.
Mickey Hart photo by Michael Weintraub.
When Remo founder and CEO Remo Belli, who's on the outreach program's advisory committee, contacted him about participating in "Rock the Rhythm, Beat the Odds," Hart jumped on board immediately. He cleared the date from his current national tour fronting the Mickey Hart Band, supporting the acclaimed "Mysterium Tremendum" album, out in April. His first studio album in five years is the followup to the 2007 Grammy-winning "Global Drum Project" album.
"Remo's an old-time friend and a maker of a lot of instruments not necessarily for professionals, but for using as a lifestyle," Hart said on the phone this week just before sound check for a show in Montana. "He initiated this ("Beat the Odds") curriculum where all of these children will have received rhythm training and enjoyed it during this last year of classes in school. Now, they're taking it out to show their progress in public. This [event] is like a show-and-tell for how it could be done in school systems around the country, as I see it. That's how I got involved."
The "Beat the Odds" program and "Rock the Rhythm" event are designed to call attention not only to the value of music in education, but also music's value in life, Hart said.
"Music and rhythm opens up the imagination, opens up creativity," he said. "It makes for a better scientist, for a better person, for, also, a spiritual dimension. So, music is not just something to dance to. It's a really important energy to have in your life in general."
Originally launched through the organization UCLArts and Healing, "Beat the Odds" is a drum circle-based activity that seeks to maximize creative expression while building social and emotional skills and emphasizing the process of learning over performance. "Beat the Odds" integrates activities from contemporary drum circles and group counseling to teach skills in focusing and listening, team building, positive risk taking, self-esteem, awareness of others, leadership, expressing feelings, managing anger/stress, empathy and gratitude.
Through programs like "Beat the Odds, Rock the Rhythm," drumming in particular has proven its value far beyond just musical expertise, especially for young people.
"It brings kids who are perhaps on the edge together to make rhythm and noise, and to be intrigued and in the groove, because music tunes you," Hart said. "Music is a tuning system. It tunes everything — the whole body, your mind, your spirit, your interrelationships with other people, all of the above. So, it's just bigger than drums and drumming. It looks like drums and drumming, but it's a lot more."
The Mickey Hart Band 2012: Dave Schools, Gawain Matthews, Ian "Inx" Herman, Mickey Hart, Ben Yonas, Crystal Monee Hall, Tim Hockenberry and Sikiru Adepoju. Courtesy photo.
According to the National School Boards Association and Americans for the Arts, young people who consistently participate in comprehensive, sequential and rigorous arts programs are:
• Four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement;
• Three times more likely to be elected to class office within their schools;
• Four times more likely to participate in a math and science fair;
• Three times more likely to win an award for school attendance;
• Four times more likely to win an award for writing an essay or poem.
Hart has seen first-hand how the group dynamic in drumming especially benefits young people who need to boost their self-confidence.
"The idea of the strength of the group (and) the rush of group rhythm is really empowering, so they're using group and personal power," Hart said. "That's what you'll see on the field (at Cougar Stadium). You'll see a group getting together for something like-minded, and that offers an enormous amount of power, and it fills all of the other skills — not only just the coordination. It also has great spiritual overtones. It's important on a lot of levels.
"The word for it is called 'auditory driving,'" he said. "Basically, that's what you're doing: You're driving the auditory system, and it feels good. Everybody is going to have a wonderful, singular kind of feeling. And the energy we're going to raise out there, you'll take with you into life. That's what's important."
Music has long been proven to be therapeutic, especially for people with special needs, and Hart has been deeply involved in scientific and practical research exploring how that works. He's on the board of directors  of Music in the Brain at the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function  in New York.
"(The Institute) studies brainwave function and how music affects the neural cortex — how it affects what is broken," he said. "In diseases such as Parkinson's, dementia and Alzheimer's, the connections to the brain have been injured; broken. It seems as though vibratory stimuli, like music, like drums, reconnect those broken passages. It allows for people to come out of the darkness, at least for a while.
"But we don't know how it works — we just know it does work," he said. "What we do, then, is try to figure out scientifically what part of the brain lights up before, during and after an experience like this, so we can repeat it, so we can make it a science. We're looking for the code, the rhythm, and to decode what does what. I work with all of the staff and Connie Tomaino at the institute. We work with people in chairs, patients, and it's a scientific study. So that's what I'm there for."
Originally from New York, Hart joined The Grateful Dead in 1967, left in early 1971, returned in October 1974 and played in the band until its long strange trip ended with co-founder, lead singer and lead guitarist Jerry Garcia's death in August 1995. The Dead's polyrhythmic excursions and sound explorations opened Hart to a lifetime of rhythmic research and music-making that has earned numerous accolades from the music and behavioral science communities.
Hart's album "Planet Drum" with collaborators Zakir Hussain, Babatunde Olatunji and Airto Moreira was No. 1 on the Billboard World Music chart for 26 weeks and the first to receive a Grammy in the newly established World Music category in 1991. The Grateful Dead was inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame in 1994, and in 2007, along with his bandmates, Hart received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement award. He picked up his third Grammy for his 2007 "Global Drum Project" album with Zakir Hussain, Sikiru Adepoju and Giovanni Hidalgo.
Hart composed a major drum production performed by an assembly of 100 percussionists for the opening ceremony of the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games. He's also composed scores, soundtracks and theme music for a number of award-winning films and television shows, including “Apocalypse Now,” “Gang Related,” “Hearts of Darkness,” “The Twilight Zone,” the 1987 score to “The America’s Cup: The Walter Cronkite Report,” “Vietnam: A Television History” and “The Next Step.”
Hart's continued to tour occasionally with his fellow Dead Survivors, too — with guitarist/vocalist Bob Weir and bassist Phil Lesh as The Other Ones in the late 1990s and as The Dead in the early 2000s. Hart and Kreutzmann reunited and took their Rhythm Devils act on the road for grins in 2010.
Most recently, though, Hart's focus has been on his own Mickey Hart Band, whose latest album channels music of the ages — literally.
"'Mysterium Tremendum' deals with the cosmic light, the radiation that comes from the epic event of the cosmos, from the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago," Hart said.
"The stars, the planets, the galaxies, supernovas, pulsars — I take that light, those lightwaves, using radio telescopes from around the world, and change those light waves," he said. "We don't get sound from them, just radiation, and then just change it into sound with my scientific team. Then I put it into music, and sound-design it. I'm trying to have a conversation with the infinite universe, and these are legitimate modified sounds coming from different ages and different places of the infinite universe. So, that's what ‘Mysterium Tremendum’ is, and that's the name — this is a tremendous mystery, where we came from and when, and all of the rest of the worlds. This CD addresses all of that."
In a video interview about his fourth and latest book, "Song Catchers: In Search of the World's Music," vividly tracing the 100-year-plus evolution of recording technology and published by National Geographic, Hart was asked, "Why do you do what you do?"
He responded by saying, mischievously, "I'm a desperate man."
"My desperation is, perhaps, a little bit different from some other people's desperation," Hart explained, when this reporter asked him to amplify.
"Everybody's (desperation) could be, 'I want this really badly.' The desperation is to find the music, to find the sound that does it for you, and for everyone else. It's always been a search for the grail, the perfect sound, the perfect place at the right time. That's everything, because that tunes you into the whole clockwork that's at work in the universe.
"Everything is vibratory in nature in the universe, from the very first sound 13.7 billion years ago to the atoms spinning in your pulse, your DNA," he said. "It's all vibratory. So, it puts you in tune with all of that. That's what I'm after, and the 'desperate' quote was that I'll do anything to find it, then to go after it. You might say I'm over-enthused about it." [laughs]
Hart was involved in setting another Guinness World Record in Northern California in September 2004, for the world's largest drum ensemble (different from percussion ensemble), 4,374 (that record stood until 10,045 drummers set a new high mark in China in June 2007, which still stands).
"That was an amazing feeling, to be in the center of all of those fingers," he said. "It felt like I was being massaged by thousands and thousands of fingers. It was beautiful. I loved it. It was so powerful, and it's still with me to this day. So, Friday's event will be a very powerful experience."
Slated to join Hart and Densmore in directing the "Rock the Rhythm, Beat the Odds" percussion ensemble at Cougar Stadium are drummers Rikki Rocket (Poison), Poncho Sanchez (Grammy-winning Latin percussion ace), Gorden Campbell (George Duke, Jessica Simpson), Eric "E-Panda" Hernandez (Bruno Mars, Taio Cruz) and Mike Phillips (Janelle Monae).
The stadium gates will open at 10 a.m. and the event starts at 11. The world record attempt is set to begin at 11:30. Guinness representatives will verify the numbers and certify the success or failure of the attempt within 36 hours.
All members of the community are also invited to join the percussion ensemble — "Just show up," Remo Belli said. Remo's special commemorative "sound shapes" (similar to the one Belli is pictured holding at right) will be distributed free to all who attend to keep as souvenirs.
"I'll see you out on the field," Hart said.
For more information about the "Beat the Odds" outreach program and the "Rock the Rhythm, Beat the Odds" world record attempt, visit www.rocktherhythm.org , and check out the promo video. Find out more about the PAC's K-12 Arts Education Outreach Program at www.canyons.edu/Offices/PIO/CanyonsPAC/k12arts.html . And find out lots more about Mickey Hart and "Mysterium Tremendum" at his official website , Facebook page  and YouTube channel .
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Sound shape photo by Stephen K. Peeples.