A Gretsch Abroad — The Gretsch Foundation Expands to Europe with Drum Circles for Refugee Children
I have never been so startled in my life! It was a hot summer day in July 2016, when I was sitting in my car parked outside of my office. I was playing billiards on my phone or some other time-wasting endeavor, feeling frustrated that the WiFi in my car was not working all that well. Suddenly there was a Stephen Kingian knock on the glass window which shook the bejesus out of me. When I turned to see who it was, I saw two teenaged boys who were clearly not Danish and looking like they had just weathered a tornado. They held their hands up as if to say “we mean you no harm” and jumped back a little when they saw how startled I was.
It turned out that they were newly-arrived refugees from Afghanistan and had gotten lost in transit between refugee centers. This was no surprise as even local Danes cannot figure out the calculus of the Danish public transport system and all of its nuances. I offered them a lift and in that 20-minute car ride The European Refugee Crisis which I had read so much about in the papers was suddenly very real indeed. Their story was harrowing. They were on the run from Taliban assassins, hiding out in a wretched basement for weeks with little or no food, then a dangerous inflatable boat journey across the Mediterranean with a human trafficker. How could I possibly tell them about my WiFi troubles in my car? The clash of my world with theirs was so compelling, I felt it was my duty as a fellow human being on this planet to do something.
Since meeting those two boys back in the Summer of 2016, I have organized monthly drum circles for refugee children as an activity leader with the local Red Cross. As a 5th generation Gretsch family member and drummer, I have always felt great pride in my family’s mission statement to “enrich lives through participation in music.”
The precedent set by my uncle Fred and aunt Dinah Gretsch’s philanthropic efforts with music and children is monumental, and one which current and future generations of the Gretsch family must sustain at any cost through the existing Gretsch Foundation, the charitable arm of the Gretsch family.
Meeting and getting to know these wonderful refugee children has been a real eye-opening experience for me. Their lives in the refugee centers can be extremely monotonous. They often have to wait many months for a word on whether or not they can stay in Europe a little longer. The prospects are bleak for these poor children. My job as a drum circle facilitator is to take them away from their very dark worlds and bring them to a rhythmic place far away from it all. It’s a form of psychological relief in a way, and when they finally do lock in to the beat, it’s pure magic!
When I began, I thought that I would be doing most of the teaching in a rhythmic sense, but that quickly proved not to be the case. My western style of four-on-the-floor often seems too straight for these African and Middle Eastern children. The more experienced players always bring in dialectic rhythms that often are specific to the village they come from. These rhythms can easily be in time measures of seven or nine with accents not necessarily falling on the downbeat, so I have to listen carefully to these children. When we really get grooving the smiles on their faces for one brief moment are truly life changing.
— Lucas O’Connor
(Gretsch Generation 5)
Special thanks to Red Cross Denmark for providing the facilities and enduring some noisy drum circles. Also, a special thanks to Jonas Dyvad for being a super supporter and bassist for our drum circles, showing up every time without hesitation. For information on donating to the Red Cross in Europe please contact Lisbeth Eckhardt-Hansen at email@example.com.