At the age of five, Rowan Storm’s enchantment with Middle Eastern cultures took root at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City. While growing up in an average American family, her imagination was filled with Arabic and Persian calligraphy, architecture, geometry, textiles, poetry, mysticism, hand drumming and music. Rowan is fortunate to have met with extraordinary individuals who recognized her nascent passion, and welcomed, encouraged and guided her to become a professional multilingual hand drummer and singer. As the only woman and only ‘foreigner’ on the stage and in the venue, Rowan’s career began in New York as a performer of traditional music alongside indigenous master musicians within their communities from the Middle East, Mediterranean and Balkans. Eventually Rowan’s performances widened to include broader audiences in the US and abroad.
As a world citizen, Rowan speaks and is literate with several languages and has lived as a musician in Greece, Switzerland and Iran. She has traveled, studied, taught seminars, and performed internationally with some of the greatest music masters of Armenia, Iran, Turkey, Greece, the Balkans, North Africa, and the Arab world; most significantly Souren Baronian and Mohammad Reza Lotfi. Rowan’s performance venues include LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art), CAFAM (Craft and Folk Art Museum), Bowers Museum, Mingei Museum, Berkeley’s Julia Morgan Theater, San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum, New York’s Metropolitan Museum, Costa Rica’s Teatro Nacional, European conservatories, Istanbul’s Cemal Reşit Rey Concert Hall, Athens’ Lycabettus Amphitheater, Greece’s Epidaurus AncientAmphitheater.
Rowan’s primary hand drumming expertise involves the two ancient families of Middle Eastern hand drums, the goblet drum and the frame drum. Beginning with early migrations from east to west, varieties of these two drum families eventually made their way to every continent. For millennia, wood and animal skin were the primary materials available to create drums with membranes. In many regions of the Middle East and North Africa, hot dry weather conditions provide the ideal environment for such drums, where animal skins remain attached tightly to drum bodies or frames and maintain a crisp sound. However, in other regions with more humidity, wood and animal skin absorb moisture, diminishing the brightness of sound. Long ago, in order to compensate for those sensitivities, all drums with membranes needed to be created with thick skins and heavy, wide bodies or frames. These properties and proportions have a particular relevance for frame drums, since traditional playing techniques involve holding and playing the drum with both hands.
Sensitivities of natural materials apply to all kinds of drums fitted with membranes. In more modern history, during the 1950’s many drum set players began to create drumheads with synthetic materials to avoid these issues. In 1957, Remo Belli and his colleagues revolutionized the world of drumming by introducing the first successful synthetic drumhead. During Rowan’s early years playing doumbeks made from ceramic or metal with animal skin heads, she required at least two drums at any performance ~ one to play, and one in reserve sitting on a heating pad to tighten up the head in time for the next piece. With Remo’s recent development of excellent doumbeks with synthetic membranes and bodies, those days with the heating pads are but a memory.
During many years of performing, Rowan increasingly recognized the striking imbalance involved in playing goblet drums and frame drums. Throughout the vast region from southern Europe and North Africa in the western Mediterranean, through the eastern Mediterranean, Balkans, Middle East, Central Asia and parts of India, hand drumming traditions are performed with the dominant hand in the lead expressive role, while the non-dominant hand provides more of a supporting role. Since traditional frame drums are created with a wide frame to counteract the tendency to twist under pressure from the membrane, playing techniques are limited by these physical properties. Goblet drum performance has similar limitations. Basically, in both cases the dominant hand creates two tones, bass and treble, while the non-dominant hand is either silent or creates one treble tone. The right side of the body is directed primarily from the left brain hemisphere, and control of the left side of the body comes more from the right brain.
Over many years of longing to liberate the non-dominant hand and give it a voice, while also serving musicality, Rowan collaborated with Cooperman Company to produce her first frame drum design, the Rowan Storm Signature Dayereh by Cooperman, created with a natural, tunable wood frame, and either a natural animal skin membrane or a Renaissance membrane provided by Remo Drum Company. Rowan’s dayereh design arose from her many years of involvement with Persian classical music. Several years later Rowan’s design for the Thinline Frame Drum was produced by Remo, with all synthetic materials. This was the earlier dream, since the frame of the Thinline is even narrower to accommodate both hands more effectively. In parallel, Rowan is the innovator of the Symmetrical Frame Drum Technique, which engages both hands equally in musical expression. Rowan’s unique teaching method promotes both rapid mastery of diverse hand drumming styles, as well as profound wellness as we balance brain function and creative partnership with both hands.